To tip or not to tip? The Staff Canteen takes a closer look at tipping etiquette

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th January 2017

A survey conducted by the AA has found that over half of British diners find tipping etiquette in restaurants confusing and awkward.


We wanted to know why and who better to ask than our members and followers? Across our social media there seemed to be an obvious divide, while some believed tips should be given at the guests discretion for great service and food others said a service charge is ‘incremental in the business’ and a cash tip on top is an added bonus.

The AA’s survey showed restaurant-goers were uncertain over how to tip, how much to tip and who gets the money left as a tip. It appears service charge has become a clouded issue resulting in over half of the 19, 317 customers surveyed by the AA feeling ‘awkward’ and ‘concerned’ about where that money goes.

But not all restaurants have adopted the discretional service charge approach, interestingly Michelin-starred the Black Swan at Oldstead, North Yorkshire still leaves it up to the diner and they believe it actually works in their favour.

Manager and owner of The Black Swan, James Banks, said he doesn’t add a service charge to his diners’ bills, preferring to leave the customer decide if they want to leave a tip or not. With all tips going to staff.

“We divide our tips up equally between the staff,” explained James. “Front of house, back of house, cleaners and kitchen

James Banks, The Black Swan at Oldstead
James Banks, The Black Swan at Oldstead

porters. Everyone who has worked that day. It’s not just the people who serve but the whole thing. Even the most basic of things like washing the pots, if that’s not done right then the whole thing falls apart.”

He added: “I think some customers are quite surprised and possibly even more generous because of that. I think people are generally quite pleased that we leave it up to them.”

The subject of service charge has always been a contentious issue with diners, but last month it returned to public debate after Michel Roux Jr admitted his service charge was treated as revenue at Le Gavroche. He has since announced that the restaurant will be scrapping the 13% service charge by the end of January, raising prices on his menu to compensate instead.

Michel Roux Jr said he made the decision because he was “fed up with the ambiguity” between tipping and service charge.
In a statement he said: “Hopefully others will join me in making it clearer for the public to understand what they are paying for, and this move will also ensure there is complete transparency for our front of house and kitchen teams.”

>>> Related: Michel Roux Jnr announces plans to go 'service included' at Michelin-starred Le Gavroche

So is that the key? Transparency? An online survey from Hotel & Hospitality Services revealed that most restaurants welcome tipping but would like the process to be made more transparent, with 81% saying they would welcome new legislation that required all restaurants to share tips with waiting staff.

Commenting on the results, Caroline Walford, Customer Support Manager, AA Hotel and Hospitality Services said: “Tipping is optional and while there is no legal obligation to leave one, our research brings to light a social dilemma affecting the majority of British diners. Perhaps this survey points towards a lingering British embarrassment surrounding money or perhaps it’s time for more clarity for both consumers and those in the hospitality industry.”

Caroline explained that ‘a standard tip tends to be 10% of the total bill’ adding: “This amount is discretionary and if your service or dining experience has been exceptionally good or unusually disappointing the amount you leave can reflect your experience accordingly.”

General Manager at Burnt Truffle, Emma Underwood, believes it’s ‘vital that the staff get properly rewarded for their hard work’. At Burnt Truffle tips are split between front of house and back of house on top of staff wages. She understands how hard it can be in a competitive industry for restaurants who aren’t making enough money to pay decent wages.

Emma Underwood, Burnt Truffle

Emma Underwood

and Gary Usher

She explained: “The issue is that no restaurant is charging what they should be charging.
“No one charges enough money for their products, every single restaurant is devaluing their products. We compete against restaurants in our area who charge hardly any money for their products so we have to do the same thing.”

She added: “We’re quite open in that we don’t make any money, that’s why we crowd fund our new places, but that’s because we pay our staff well.”

So back to our original question; to tip or not to tip? From the responses we got and the survey results above it's always going to come down to personal choice. Some will happily pay every service charge where as others may feel it's an unjustified amount.

The idea of going 'service included' and raising the prices may well be the way forward, but ultimately it comes down to what works for each restaurant and most importantly their customers because without customers any form of service charge quickly becomes irrelevant. 

>>> Read more editorials here

By Lauren Phillips

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th January 2017

To tip or not to tip? The Staff Canteen takes a closer look at tipping etiquette