Stephen Jardine: Gratuities have to be earned

Stephen Jardine
Stephen Jardine
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HI, MY name is Stephen and I’m your columnist today. I will be serving you some opinions on a hot topic in the food and drink business and that will take me 500 words.

I know you’ve already paid for your newspaper but if you like what I write, a gratuity would be much appreciated.

It’s not hard to see why tipping hasn’t taken off in the media, but it is going from strength to strength in the world of eating out.

There was a time when we used to laugh at Americans and tales of waiters pursuing hapless Brits out of restaurants demanding their 15 per cent gratuity.

On this side of the Atlantic, tips meant the small change from your purse or pocket or a credit card slip rounded up to what you thought you could get away with. That has now changed, and tipping is on the up.

In London, lots of restaurants levy an automatic 12.5 per cent service charge on top of the bill, arguing it is needed to ensure staff in a traditionally low-paid industry can enjoy a decent wage. Although supposedly discretionary, in reality 99 per cent of people pay it regardless of the quality of service they received.

The practice has now arrived at a few places in Edinburgh. On an average £70 meal for a couple, it adds a tenner to the bill, which seems a brave move in the grip of a recession.

What annoys me most is when the service charge is added but the amount on the credit card slip is left blank in search of a further gratuity. That seems like having your cake and eating it.

Tom Lewis runs Monachyle Mhor Hotel and Restaurant, in Perthshire, 
and believes tipping should be left to the customer.

“I’ve got a real bugbear with service charges,” he told me. “You should tip because you want to tip not because you have to. I tip when people deserve it.”

Progressive restaurants now have credit card machines which offer you tip options such as 5, 10 and 15 per cent which will then be added to the bill. That takes away a lot of the pain and indecision while ensuring staff do get rewarded. But will the 12.5 per cent automatic service charge catch on and be the shape of things to come in Scotland?

“My restaurant will never, ever levy an automatic service charge,” said Roy Brett, the owner of Ondine in Edinburgh. “Tips need to mean something so they must be discretionary. They are a reward, a chance for the customer to say thank you and they must be earned not expected.”

In the current economic climate, I suspect the advance of the service charge has been stopped, but the simple answer is for all of us to say “no thanks, we will decide the tip ourselves”. On top of that you can ask about the gratuity policy and where the tips go.

If they go straight to the owner, my tip would be – eat somewhere else.