The tipping point

Tipping in restaurants used to be pretty predictable. You’d automatically add 15 percent to the bill, or if the service were excellent, you might bump it up to 20 percent. I do like the fact that these days a machine is presented so your credit card doesn’t leave your hand. In the paper-based system of the past, I always wondered when my card disappeared whether someone was making an extra copy for later use to buy a flight to Paris.

But along with this newfound safety comes a catch. The machine offers a selection of various percentage tip amounts and there has been a steady inflation in the choices. What used to be 15 percent grew to 18 percent and I’m now seeing 20 percent as the favoured option. Of course, “other” is also offered, but somehow we’ve all been shamed into not choosing that possibility. We’re just happy we got through the various steps required to complete the card reader transaction. And all of this higher mathematics includes another bit of foolishness because you’re basing your tip on not just the food and drink but a total that includes the HST.

And why do we just tip waiters? I tip my barber, but the sales clerk who helps you choose clothing gets no gratuity, neither does the garage mechanic who installs your snow tires. And, here’s the worst part. Too many waiters don’t even look at your tip amount – generous or otherwise – and say “thank you.” If only you knew in advance, you could base your tip on the waiter’s response as well as the quality of service.

I prefer what happens in Florence where some restaurants operate on a system known as percentuale. The staff meets every morning to share 12 percent of the previous day’s revenue, including tips on credit cards. The amount each receives is taxable but the arrangement means that everyone cares about how well their colleagues perform. Most other places in that Italian city don’t like you to add the tip to the credit card payment. The protocol is that you pay the bill and then separately give the waiter cash so there’s little likelihood of paying tax. And, in Italy, where being a waiter is an honoured profession, you always get a grazie and a smile.


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