11/12/2015 8:20 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

In Defence Of Tipping

Waiter Serving Couple in Restaurant
moodboard - Mike Watson via Getty Images
Waiter Serving Couple in Restaurant

Danny Meyer, a prominent restaurateur in New York who owns upscale restaurants like Gramercy Tavern and The Modern, recently announced that he would soon be dispensing with the practice of tipping in his restaurants.

Meyer felt that doing so would help the management to compensate all the employees equitably, competitively and professionally -- in the "tipping system", waiters make more money than others working (sous chefs, cooks, dishwashers) in the restaurant, who also play a big part in ensuring customer satisfaction. According to Meyer, the lure of tips was preventing his staff from taking other positions in the restaurant and furthering their growth, as they made more cash in their current positions. Meyer now plans to include a service charge, which though it will make the menu items more expensive, will also spare customers the hassle of calculating an appropriate tip. In fact, Meyer is only trying to emulate the practice that has been in vogue in most European countries for decades.

I don't want to ruin a good lunch or dinner by seeing a look of disappointment on my servers' faces

There is this story, probably apocryphal, that the concept of tipping started in the movie halls in England, where the ushers were paid small sums of money for receiving the guests with deference, and escorting them to their seats. In one particular incident, one of the persons who had come to watch the movie did not pay the customary tip to the usher. As the movie was a crime thriller, the usher came to the seat of the person and told him, "Oh, sir, let me clear the air of suspense for you. Mr McDonald is the actual murderer in this movie."

Another story is that the phrase "To insure promptitude" was inscribed on a bowl in an 18th-century English coffeehouse that was mainly frequented by the aristocrats. These aristocrats made gratuitous payments to the waiters for their deference and proper service.

Those who have visited the United States will know that tipping is part of an American tradition that applies not only to waiters but also to cabbies and bellhops. If you fail to pay up, you might well be confronted openly, unlike in the subcontinent, where waiters feel awkward to ask guests for tips.

In one of my trips to the United States, I hired a cab from the airport to a hotel in Washington. At the destination, I paid the cab the metered charges. As I was about to alight from the taxi, the driver told me, "Sir, where is my tip?" I learnt for the first time that it was customary to give tips to drivers. On my return, when I hired a cab from the hotel, I learnt from the driver that he hailed from a village near Ludhiana. I struck up a conversation with him and learnt about his family, who were mainly farmers. On reaching the airport, I paid the metered charges and the customary tip. He returned the money to me and said "Janab aap tho hamare desh se hain, aap se paise keyse leh sakta hoon (Sir, you're my countryman, how can I take money from you)?" I was left completely speechless, and had to literally thrust the money in his pocket.

I wonder how guests will be treated at Danny Meyer's upscale restaurants in New York once the tipping is dispensed with. Can they expect the same level of service, or are they likely to be treated with disdain? Only time will tell.

In India, as most of the waiters are barely paid minimum wages, they look forward to tips to supplement their incomes. (However, in five-star hotels, it is rumoured that the waiters make more money than the sous chefs!)

Here, in India I have decided to continue with the practice of giving tips to waiters, as I don't want to ruin a good lunch or dinner by seeing a look of disappointment on my servers' faces. Moreover, in the event where the food or service is shoddy, I will have the ultimate control on the situation by paying a small tip or no tip at all, to show my displeasure. I certainly will not let go of this power!

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