This is why I don't tip in restaurants
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This is why I don't tip in restaurants

“How much do you want to tip?” is often a question at the end of a pleasant night out with friends as we throw our credit cards on the table. My response of “I don’t think we need to tip in Australia” provokes a range of responses that none of us want to pick up because we are now on our way out and the waiter is close by. Nor do I ever want to bring this subject up at the beginning of an evening – a sure-fire dampener.

So when do we explore this?

Tipping seems to be an imported practice that, in a country that has a pretty fair wages system, should not be allowed to grow.

Tipping seems to be an imported practice that, in a country that has a pretty fair wages system, should not be allowed to grow.

Photo: Jessica Shapiro

With the issue of wage theft in our hospitality industry being discussed again, it may be a good opportunity to look at this closely-related subject of tipping. Victorian Labor is considering taking the issue of wage theft to the next election and making it a crime. NSW and South Australia are also looking at it.

The most common response to “why do we tip?” is that the poor service staff are underpaid. However, in Australia, they are covered by the same award system as every other worker. It is just generally accepted that these employees, many of whom are backpackers or recent immigrants or students, are being underpaid and that we, the customer, should make up the difference. Will it ever change if we keep covering for the employer who is paying them illegally?

The other response to the question of tipping is sometimes that it is for “service”. We don’t tip other people who provide a service. When did you last tip the assistant at Bunnings for helping you find the right screws?

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Tipping seems to be an imported practice that, in a country that has a pretty fair wages system, should not be allowed to grow.

It is not a good way of providing an incentive. What do we do when the service is bad? Not tipping may be punishing the wrong person because it may be the fault of the kitchen staff or the manager. If there is bad service, we should let the manager know. If the meal and the service are great it may have been helped by the kitchen staff. Should the customer be judging the performance of staff and providing the pay, or is this the manager’s job?

Do we do it because it makes us feel better – like giving to a charity? Do we succumb to peer pressure when we are out with a group? If we treat service staff as professional hospitality people, we shouldn’t be passing out gratuities – it is demeaning for all parties. Do we like lording it over the less fortunate? Ego certainly plays a part with some people; watch people tip when they’re on company expenses and they are not paying. Do we do it to compensate for guilt involved in the unequal relationship that comes from someone waiting at your table?

Any further encroachment of this practice in Australia is not going to help the fight against inequality, fair wages or even assist in the battle to introduce a logical tax system. While we have imported a few good things from America – let’s not take this one. Let’s pay people fairly and be proud of it.

Paul Phillips has worked extensively in Human Resources Management in corporate and consulting roles and has an interest in equitable payment for employees.