I was beginning to think I’d forgotten how to count.
The menu at the bar where I was standing said the two drinks I was buying were $5 each. I had handed the girl a $10 bill. But she insisted that I was two dollars short.
“But I’m not!” I argued. “You are,” she replied. “That’ll be another two dollars.”
It turned out that when the menu said $5, it actually meant “$5-plus-an-extra-dollar-tip-per-drink”. That makes $6, by my calculations.
A whole extra dollar for having someone take my order while I stand at a bar, where I had to wait for my drinks to be poured out and transport them myself to the table.
That was when I suddenly and miraculously remembered I’d forgotten how to speak French (we were in the French-Canadian city of Montreal); muttered “Je ne comprend pas” in a terrible accent and wandered away, leaving my $10 and an angry bar worker behind me.
I hate tipping. Hate it. And if there is anything I hate more than tipping, it’s enforced tipping.
My friend had a similar – but even more outrageous – experience, also on the other side of the Atlantic, where, having left a 10 per cent tip after a meal on holiday in San Francisco, the waitress actually pursued her out of the restaurant, waving the money she had left, shouting to her that her tip was “too small”.
The local culture, it transpired, was to tip 15 per cent. That waitress chewed off her nose to spite her face – my friend rescued her hard-earned cash from the woman’s hand and swiftly departed.
A study out this week found that two-thirds of British consumers are, like me, reticent about leaving a tip at a restaurant or bar, regardless of the quality of service received.
And of those who did tip, the netvouchercodes.co.uk survey found, the majority of consumers felt the 10 per cent rule of thumb was adequate, with only 12 per cent of those polled willing to tip more.
The whole concept of tipping is anathema to me – in Britain, at least. The argument across the Alantic is that service professionals are not paid a basic minimum wage. It is expected that their salaries are boosted up to an acceptable level through the tips they receive.
Here, restaurant and bar workers are paid the same as many others on the minimum wage: many shop workers, cleaners, the list goes on. But they are not tipped. Of course, the minimum wage is not a great salary and I’m not trying to pretend it is. There is a growing movement for employers to pay the living, not the minimum, wage and that is nothing other than commendable.
But, for restaurants, like shops, the cost of service should be included in the bill. If, Mr or Ms Restaurant Owner, it costs more to hire good staff and you want them to be paid a decent living, then put the menu prices up and compensate them properly for their hard work. If you’re already paying a decent wage, then good for you. Just don’t ask for more.
I would go as far as to argue that if we continue to tip, the restaurants can continue to get away with paying terrible wages. It’s a chicken and egg situation.
It’s a bit like when a builder quotes you for a job and “forgets” to point out that the quote does not include VAT. Which adds an extra 20 per cent on what you have to pay. I have no idea why they do that. It’s not like you’re going to get the VAT money from a different bit of your bank account, or like the builder any more because the extra fifth of the bill isn’t his fault. No, it is just another way of pretending things are cheaper than they actually are.
Of course, in Canada, consumers are used to adding extra bits on when calculating the final price. It would probably seem odd not to. The provincial taxes, for some unknown reason, are not added on until you take an item to the till. Which means that every time you buy something – anything – you have to do a bit of mental maths before you can work out what you’ll ultimately be expected to pay. On that particular trip, I became very adept at calculating 14.975 per cent of anything.
I just won’t be utilising that particular mathematical skill in restaurants and bars any time soon.