Comment: The Tipping Game

I don’t quite know how to categorize this post, so I went with “Comment.” I have a comment to make about tipping.

In North America, tipping is expected in the service industry. Good service. Bad service. We tip. We tip at restaurants, spas, and hair salons. We tip for cab rides. We tip hotel staff for service. We tip. We should tip to say thank you and to show appreciation of great service. North Americans are expected to tip.

And when the service isn’t all that great? I still end up tipping. Do you? Why? If the tip is a reflection of service received, and service is bad, why should I (or we) feel obliged to offer a 15% tip? It’s a curious question. One that I have discussed with others recently as we’ve expressed frustration and interest and curiosity about the tipping practice in Canada.

Outside North America, tipping practices vary. In France and Italy, tips aren’t common. In Japan, too, you never tip. And this is a country whose citizens pride themselves on providing excellent service. When I was there, I wanted to tip everyone, but since tipping is frowned upon, I didn’t dare!

Although tip percentages in North America vary, they seem to hover around the 15% mark for many of the services I tend to use (e.g., restaurants, spa, salon). Emily Post’s tipping etiquette guide offers reasonable guidelines regarding many industries and services.

Lately, one thing related to tipping has really bothered me (and some of my friends, too). Let me explain.

Some of my regular – and new – restaurants and cafés are self-service whereby you order at a counter and you either bring the food back with you after it has been served on the counter, or it is brought to your table. In these establishments, you pay your complete bill before you receive your meal. The machine that you use to pay with your credit card or debit card gives you an option to tip (some machines start at 18% tip).

Tip in advance of receiving service or a meal? I just don’t get it.

At one place I go to in Waterloo, you order and pay for your meal at the counter. You get your own water from the water dispenser. You pick up your coffee at the counter and bring it to your table. A server brings you your meal (not always the right one!). You clear away your own dishes. Regardless of all the work you do, a tip is requested at time of payment (before any service, besides someone taking your order, is offered). How do you know if or what to tip if you’ve not yet received any service? Do I tip because someone has said hello to me and taken my money for order? It seems odd to tip pre-service. Frankly, the whole situation bothers me. Am I alone in thinking that it’s rude to request a tip for service that hasn’t yet been offered?

I wonder what would Emily Post say about this. What do you think? I’d love to know!