MIAMI is often referred to as a place where rules are made to be broken, but going by my recent visit, restaurateurs have thrown out their rulebook when it comes to tipping, too.
I’d treated myself to a lunchtime taco at a laidback South Beach Mexican joint – one where the painfully slow service meant it took 20 minutes to find someone who could muster enoughto print my bill.
Which was strange, given my waiter’s keenness to get his hands on my cash, starting with a non-negotiable 20 per cent service charge added, apparently, to ensure staff could afford basic healthcare.
I assumed this was a tip, only for my waiter to return and highlight the line requesting a gratuity of at least 20 per cent.
Disclaimers stating that these increasingly common add-ons can be removed upon request mean nothing, especially for Brits, who are notoriously bad at kicking up a fuss.
Certainly, if my Miami waiter spilled a drink in my lap (unlikely, given he was nowhere to be seen), I’d have less qualms about skipping the tip.
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But when it comes to so-called healthcare surcharges, risking interrogations about your decision to (apparently) deprive staff of basic healthcare means coughing up is often easier .
This is despite recent research from New York-based consumer financial services company Bankrate suggesting that 30 per cent of Americans now feel American tipping culture is “out of control”.
It’s no longer just restaurants and bars, either.
Certain taxi apps I use in America – Lyft, I’m looking at you – make it tricky to book rides before you’ve tipped previous drivers.
And requests for tips no longer just appear on receipts.
I’ve seen them on a growing number of point-of-sale screens at bars, coffee shops and even airport stores.
Some of these suggest 30 per cent as a recommended tip.
On the plus side, I find it much easier to skip the tip when a computer makes the request.
The downside? It’s surely only a matter of time before these computers request larger tips, no doubt accompanied by disclaimers stating that these enable access to basic necessities such as software updates.
In all seriousness, while prices are undoubtedly rising, it’s just not hospitality workers feeling the pinch – it’s customers, too.
Which is why I’m urging us all to do as I’ve started to do and take a stand, requesting that service charges are removed and only tipping when the service deserves it.
Otherwise, the rot will simply spread. After all, this sense of entitlement is now spreading beyond the tip-hungry US.
Recently, during a week on Egypt’s Red Sea, staff had clearly noted the stateside trend for tipping housekeeping staff.
I deliberately ignored the tip envelope in my room, only to find myself chased along the beach by a member of housekeeping staff keen to remind me that I was welcome to show my appreciation with a tip.
Why can’t we be more like Japan, where tipping is seen as an insult?
Earlier this year, seconds after leaving a Tokyo restaurant, I was accosted by the waiter who’d served me.
I’d momentarily forgotten their dislike of tipping, and he wanted to return the tip I’d absent-mindedly left. He was simply proud to do his job.
Sadly, it looks like requests for larger tips and service charges are here to stay.
Professor Brian Warrener, an expert on tipping based at Rhode Island’s prestigious College of Hospitality Management, points out that in an era when it’s normal to fork out for things which were once free, it’s unsurprising other industries want to get in on the act.
“Many consumers say they dislike extra charges but they’re accustomed to paying them in other industries,” says Professor Warrener.
“Hotels now apply fees for parking, and airlines now charge for bags, snacks and roomy seats – all amenities which had traditionally been included.”
But bowing down to these requests simply enablesowners who think fair pay isn’t something worthy of factoring into their operating costs.
My tip? Stop tipping. And, believe it or not, you can have that advice for free.