The Tipping Point

Food for thought, in a well-argued article on Slate Magazine this week…

Tipping is an Abomination

Despite the rather dramatic headline, this article offers an interesting perspective on the whole concept of tipping for service in restaurants in the US.

Personally, I am a fan of service compris (service cost included in the menu prices, or sometimes at the end of the bill) – a concept found in some countries in Europe (France, Germany, Switzerland, and some parts of Italy, in my experience). It takes away the arbitrariness of tipping, and assures that the wait person gets paid for the work they did. So they didn’t do such a great job? Then don’t go back. And let the Manager know why you won’t be returning. This is a lot more humane than stiffing a wait person making less than minimum wage in the US.

Service compris is not a lot different than the 15 – 20% automatically added to the bill for groups at many restaurants in North America, which assures that the wait person(s), who may have devoted a huge part of their shift to serving that table, get paid.

Oh, and I once got scammed at the Olive Garden bar in Times Square – where they added an automatic tip to our bar bill (not a large group – just four of us). Never having seen this anywhere in my travels in the US, I didn’t expect it at a restaurant chain, and I didn’t read the line items, so I tipped over top of that. To add insult to injury, the service had not been good, and that server made 30% off of us. Note to self: review bills more carefully ;^)

Wait staff at European restaurants apparently make a decent living under the service compris model (it probably helps that these countries all have national health care ;^) – and being a wait person in a fine restaurant is considered a respectable career. Service doesn’t seem to suffer under this model – a good server gets more and better shifts, advancements etc, and a poor server will lose their job. A tip can be added for outstanding service, but is not expected. Ten percent in these countries is considered extremely generous and would only be for a fine dining experience with excellent service. Otherwise, it’s a couple of Euro, max – and often just a rounded up number. This is the way the locals do it…

The 15-20% expected now in North America (even for marginal service) seems pretty crazy by comparison, and I don’t see it as an incentive for good service, because it is expected, and most people will tip at this rate, even for poor service – which then only serves to perpetuate it. Btw, paying servers less than minimum wage doesn’t happen in Canada – that is a pretty tough way to go, and I am very surprised it is legal in the US.

This article also hints at differences between races in the US and their tipping tendencies, which makes for inconsistent service and possible overt racism by wait staff. Add to that the widely diverse tipping practices of different nationalities, and the whole tipping culture thing is a big mess in North America, and elsewhere.

Tipping practices on live aboard boats, in fact any dive boat, are also a hot topic. A boatload of Russian, British, German, Swiss, Australian, Asian, etc, etc divers may leave absolutely nothing in the way of tips for the crew, as tipping is not a cultural practice for them, and often not a practice in the country they are visiting. The crew’s livelihood, as I understand it, pretty much depends on tips, as they are paid low wages for their work.

I was on a trip a few years back on a luxury live aboard in the South Pacific, which had a good crew. All of the North American passengers left a generous tip, as we always do, due to crew expectations that North American passengers will be generous. We are talking several hundreds of dollars per person – the tip being based on a percentage of the total cost of the trip – something else I’d like to debate – because, really? we are tipping a percentage based on the whole enchilada – fuel, provisioning, administrative, marketing, profit margin, etc, etc, and not just on the service portion of it? This does not make sense to me, but, again, we go along with the practice, because it is expected, and because we know the crew depends on this income.

One of the passengers, a Brit, was a well-traveled diver, with apparently no shortage of funds, but she announced that she doesn’t believe in tipping crews, and so she stiffed them. Much as I dislike the tipping culture and expectation on live aboards, I don’t think that this is a fair way to protest the practice.

Personally, I think, like restaurants, the boats should pay their crews a living wage, incorporate that into the price of the trip, and stop leaving wages of their staff dependant on tips, which are so open to the vagaries of different nationalities and individuals. This doesn’t mean people won’t tip for great service – just that the income level of the crew will remain steady and predictable, with any tips being an added bonus.

And I also resent the idea that, after paying several thousand dollars, per person, for a trip, that we need to then pay the crew, via an arbitrary tip, at the end of the journey. It’s cheeky methinks…

About Judy G Diver

Born and raised on the west coast of Canada, I have always felt a strong connection to the sea. But for many years, I stayed on the surface, afraid of what lurked down deep. When I was in my early 30's, with three young children (aka the P's), my husband (aka Mr G) signed us up for a SCUBA certification course, as a surprise. Although I had my fears, my stubbornness prevailed, and somehow I made it through four murky, frigid, cold water dives in Vancouver to successfully pass the course. Soon after we went diving off the west coast of Mexico, in the Sea of Cortez, where my eyes were opened to the beauty and other-worldliness of the life down under. And the rest, as they say, is history. I currently have well over 2000 dives under the belt, and I have been fortunate to travel and dive in Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, Fiji, Palau, Philippines, Galapagos, Costa Rica, Hawaii, California, Egypt, Mexico, several islands in the Caribbean, and here in British Columbia. In addition to this blog and my personal website (, which is linked at the top of the blog, my stuff has been published in a variety of magazines and websites, including a regular monthly feature for Scubadiving Magazine for several years. All links to this work can be found in this blog.
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