Tipping in the United States vs. the United Kingdom: Who Gets It Right?

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Lets talk about tipping

A Cornell professor has written a lot of papers about tipping, with some interesting results for the urban male.

Now I know living in the United Kingdom we don’t tip, anywhere as much as Americans. Not only that, the percentage we tip is far below the scale of the U.S. But I’ve spent a lot of time in the states and understand how much waiters, waitresses, attendants, etc get paid and how they really rely on tips.

However, it’s worth remembering the definition of tipping… Paying a optional gratuity for services rendered

What is interesting from the papers and many surveys is that two things stick out for SBM readers…

Black customers tend to payless when tipping especially to a black server.

White servers on average are more likely to get a decent tip than a black server.

Tipping is optional in the UK but most people find it customary to pay roughly 10% as a tip unless you really enjoy or hate the service. You also generally only tip at restaurants and bars. Most would be offended if you handed over extra money for a tip when holding a door or doing there job.

In the states, I gather this is not optional but no one will ever return change if you were to over pay your optional fee.

If you live or travel outside the United States, this entire discussion on leaving a tip in a restaurant might seem ridiculous. Most of the world operates on the simple premise of a service charge or a fixed price, no tip expected.

Parking my slight distaste of compulsory tipping, there is something which feels very unequal about the whole process. Here’s a little experience I had when I was younger living in London.

I worked in a discotheque in Leicester Square (equivalent to Times square in New York) between jobs while studying at university. It was hard going and work ran from 8pm – 4am on the weekend. I was the only male and also the only black in a all European line up. We worked on the bar serving drinks till 3am.

Because of its location, we use to get a lot of Americans through the door and they would tip well. On an average night, the woman around me would get £140 ($210) in tips and I once witnessed a woman get £170 ($270) in a night. I, on the other hand, was over the moon one night when I made £20 ($30). As you can imagine, I said screw it by the 3rd week. It simply wasn’t worth it and got a nice cinema job where I didn’t have to work for tips.

Now I know some of you will say, “well, that’s just about being a man with women.” But I can assure you I was as friendly and flirtatious with the many women who came to the bar as the women bar staff were with the male customers. I got the feeling that even if I had got my kit off and given away extra shots, I wouldn’t have achieved the £140 mark on a single night.

On reflection, being reliant on tips sucks (yeah I said it) and before you say compulsory tipping would solve the problem. No, it wouldn’t and won’t. In the UK there is a minimum wage, so everyone was being paid that at least. I won’t even touch on minimum wage because I understand that’s a very hot issue there. If I had not been paid the minimum wage, I would have been down a river without a paddle (aka royally screwed).

Another thing which comes out of the boat load of studies, is the fact countries with compulsory tips are more likely to be corrupt. Now I wouldn’t dare come on Single Black Male and call the United States corrupt. That would surely get me banned from writing here ever again, but you have to wonder right? Before you hit the comments with hate, have a word with Transparency International.

So what do you guys think? Hit the comments…

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  • http://twitter.com/MademoiseleOgus @MademoiseleOgus

    Interesting read. I've never worked in the food service industry, but I do find it upsetting that waiters/waitresses do not get minimum wage. On another note, as a frequenter of restaurants I must say I do feel a bit bothered about tipping when more often than not, the waiter who takes my order is not the same person to bring my food/drink. Can anyone explain that?

    • Ian Forrester

      Really good point… Sometimes I'd love to tip the chef rather than the waiter who ruined a great meal by some rubbish unfriendly service. (not that I'm saying its always like that)

  • Cathy

    I think tipping should be optional! I work in the healthcare setting and I do my job but no one is tipping me! So why should I tip someone 18% for doing their job? I don't understand it? Why don't waiters just get paid minimum wage and be done with it already!?! I have friends with 4 kids who won't go out to eat where they have to tip because by the time the bill comes they can barely afford that and after tax you want me to add another 18% for gratuity!? America is a** backwards. I tip 10% no more no less I think 20% is just downright ridiculous!

    • http://www.cubicgarden.com Ian Forrester

      It is weird the choice of places to tip. I mean why don't we tip our GP/Doctors/Nurses/Bin people/etc?

      Minimum wage is a serious issue which I won't go into but I got to believe it would solve a lot of the pain of going out and tipping.

      What I find seriously annoying is the fact if you do lay down a 10% tip in certain states, you will get chased out the restaurant for tipping too low… shocking!
      My recent post Tipping, who gets it right?

  • niksmit

    Mr. Forrester, I think you're wrong to anticipate much push-back on your opinions and statements here. I am all about a living minimum wage and less tipping. Some American cities have more of tipping culture than others and after living in one of those that required a tip for someone at every step of the day for minimal service, I am VERY over compulsory tipping. I want to tip to show how grateful I am for excellent service, not to make wage. I like flat and transparent fees.

    • Ian Forrester

      Well thank you Niksmit, I was wondering if I might start world war 3 when writing this.
      Glad to hear some american cities are more enlighten about tipping and paying decent wages.

      Nothing wrong with over tipping if the service was excellent, the problem comes when there is a minimum. Being chased out of a restaurant to pay the extra 3% on top of my 12% seems ridiculous to say the least
      My recent post Tipping, who gets it right?

  • Chocolate Vent

    When people talk about African Americans tipping less, why don't people ever remember that many of us make less to begin with? I'm not saying it's right or it's wrong, however, if I have a lower income to begin with why am i expected to tip the same amount as someone who makes more than me?
    My recent post When Do You Tell Someone That You’re Not Going To Sleep With Them?

    • Ian Forrester

      I think there is something in what you say Chocolate Vent. It might be a perception thing but like it or not the data certainly backs you up.

      But it doesn't explain why blacks get less tips across the board
      My recent post Tipping, who gets it right?

  • http://twitter.com/Kitten88L @Kitten88L

    I was a server for 3 years in college. That was my full time job as I went to school full time. That job paid for my food, medical expenses, rent, utilities, and part of my tuition. See, I was on my own when I was 18 and I didn't have the luxury of having my parents help me out while I was in college.

    I needed my tips to survive. Making $3.25 an hour, you couldn't survive otherwise! Servers don't even make minimum wage, so again, they count on their tips to pay the bills.

    Thank God, I graduated college and went on to get my Masters. I'm very fortunate where I'm not in the server struggle and I have been blessed with a good life as a teacher.

    Still, I can't help but to feel a certain way when I see/hear people say they don't want to tip. If you don't want to tip, why go out to restaurants? If you are saying that you can't afford to tip, again, why dine out to those restaurants? There's always the fast food places. And God help the poster that says that they only tip 10%. I don't know how they do it over in Europe, but servers in the U.S. need their tips to live off of.

    Bottom line, if you can afford the restaurant-you should be able to afford the gratuity. Standard is 18%-NYC is 20%. Karma is a real thing.

    • Ian Forrester

      Kitten88L, its not that we don't want to tip, its we're not happy with having to tip regardless. The restaurant or place of business should pay enough for you to live without scratching around for tips to live.

      Note something….

      The studies were mainly done in America and the results still slide against Blacks. So its certainly not a walk in the park for most. With a Tin Conspiracy hat on, you could say maybe some know this and its a small way to keep us down?
      My recent post Tipping, who gets it right?

  • hhh

    Wassup from across the pond.

    my only question is what is the salary that you were working during the night? would that be as low as what some servers/waitresses make over here?

    i typically give a 20% tip on food, because i know the salary isn't the best…and it's easier to compute 20% than 17 or 18% lol.

    oh and go Blues #TeamChelsea lol

  • ian forrester

    Hey hhh?

    Nope I think it was about the same as servers get over here at the time. I worked in Starbucks half year before the discotheque and it was about the same.

    Optional tips is fine, its being made to tip even when the service was crap…

    You will hate this by the way – http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/great
    My recent post Tipping, who gets it right?

  • Hairbear_FLL

    At the end of the day, if you cannot afford to tip on your food, then you should not be eating in at a restaurant. You can order to-go and save your money.

    If you did not feel the service was good or up to par, by all means voice it to management. They do not know that you had poor service. If not, then tip the customary 10%, 15%, 18%, or 20%. (I put 10% in, however that's really for bad service, and highly not recommended)

    I personally tip well, because as a former waitress and bartender in college, I understand that this is how these individuals earn their income. And by all means, understand that at certain establishments, all the money does not go just to the server. They typically have to tip out, the people that bring out the food, sometimes the hostess (oftentimes not), the bartender (if a restaurant), the busboys (people that clean up the table), and the barback (the individuals that carry the ice and help the bar run if a bartender).

    Like I said if you can not afford to tip, then eat at home, order to-go, or eat at an establishment that does not require tipping (Boston Market, Chiptole, etc).

    • http://twitter.com/Kitten88L @Kitten88L

      Agreed!!!

    • ian forrester

      Kitten88L, its not that we don't want to tip, its we're not happy with having to tip regardless. The restaurant or place of business should pay enough for you to live without scratching around for tips to live.

      As the song goes… Its not about the money… :)
      My recent post Tipping, who gets it right?

  • Ariesgirl

    For me it's not about how much (or little) I make when tipping. It's all about the service. I understand that waitstaff get paid very little and tend to rely on their tips, but if you're not giving good service then you shouldn't be expecting a tip. I look at tipping this way. When I sit down you are at a customary 20%. Your actions after that determine what the tip will be. For exceptional service I will go above and beyond the 20%, but dismal service gets you nothing. I recently had occasion to leave no tip for a waitress and didn't feel bad about it. She was awful. It took her forever to initially come take our order, she did not check in on us during the meal, and then it was another hassle to get the bill and pay. That lack of service deserves no tip. If I know I am working on tips, commission, etc I would make sure to do my very best every time, but that's just me.

    I really think it's time to pay waitstaff at least the minimum wage to avoid all of this. But I also must say that federal regulations requires these businesses to make up the difference between the 2.13 server minimum wage and the 7.25 federal minimum wage if their tips do not get them there. Not saying that should be anyone's main reason not to tip, but it is a fact that tends to be overlooked.

    • Hairbear_FLL

      Not trying to beat a dead horse. However next time I would speak to the manager. It's a fine line when serving at a restaruant. You want to give the customers ample time to look at the menu and respond, then obtain their orders, and come back with drinks (not to mention refills), and sometimes its a guessing game when trying to deliver the check. Too early and the customers will feel rushed, too late and they feel annoyed.

      I wasn't there so do not know exactly what happened. However, closed mouths dont get fed. If you dont like something speak up. Nobody can read your mind. If you want quicker service, let the waiter know, flag another waiter, a busboy. Being silent will get you no where.

      And on the flip side, if you receive execeptional service, talk to the manager as well. Ultimately, its a business, and managers want happy customers to return and spread word of mouth. Retention of good waitstaff is key, which is due to their experience and income made. So good tips actually help everyone, if you think of it.

      And if they paid waitstaff minimum wage, then the cost of the meal goes up. That goes for every food industry.

      • ian forrester

        Don't get me started on the REAL price of food :)

        But I do agree, saying nothing gets you no where fast. Speak up and say something, heck if they can't take vote with your feet, don't go back . Also saying about great service is very good too.
        Can't tell you how many times I've had a conversation with the server and manager about the great service there supplying. But I'm a loud mouth :)
        My recent post Tipping, who gets it right?

  • http://www.theurbanbeaux.blogspot.com Calicker

    Living in the south (Tennessee), tipping is not considered a big deal. Their is an expectation to pay 10% but anything over that is because of superior service, great rapport, and just an enjoyable experience. I take all of those factors into consideration regardless of color or sex. One other factor that is always in the back of my mind is "time". Time not in the essence of preparation of the food or delivery but "time" as in how long have I and my company occupied a "waiters" time, potentially, preventing them from other money-making opportunities.

    My recent post: #StayCalm&PassTheTorchToAMillennial
    My recent post #StayCalm&PassTheTorchtoAMillenial

    • http://cubicgarden.com/2013/07/09/my-crisis-masculinity-and-how-feminism-set-me-free/ ian forrester

      Well thats a really interesting way to look at the issue of tipping Calicker. Certainly would stop the whole server sucking up to you trying to get a bigger tip problem.
      My recent post Tipping, who gets it right?

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