The lovely Jay Rayner's take on the dreaded subject of tipping


Agree. Just to point out that Jay Rayner is British and this article is written from a British perspective. The acceptable tipping % in USA is much higher than that of the Britain.

Obviously, tipping is the custom now, and should be continued until we slowly move away from it. To paraphrase a statement from an old Chowhound thread: “If we could have started all over again, we could have done better”

Tipping is fine, but tipping should be truly discretionary and truly exceptional. It shouldn’t be expected – which is where we are. Not only that, the expected tipping % is going up through the years. 20% is no longer exceptional. It is the norm. There are plenty other service occupations which do not accept tips, and there are plenty ways to show our gratitude. When a Sur La Table sale staff guide you through 10 different kitchen knives and help you select the one you really want, you don’t take out a $5-10 tip and it on the table.

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Yes, I know JR is British. That said, I think he’s right about the subject at hand, regardless of location.

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Agree. Just saying that if he thinks 10-15% tipping is silly in UK, then it is even more so for the 20% culture here in US.

Rayner is right. And, although he is writing about the UK, the basics are international

I do not like old fashioned tipping which, in the UK, is at the “going rate” of 10%. It seems to me to be demeaning. I am OK with the increasingly common added discretionary service charge - usually added at 12.5% in London and 10% in the rest of the country. I regard it as simply part of the bill - I have never asked for it to be removed or amended. If it was simply merged into the menu prices, as happens in a number of other countries, I would be happier still.

He mentions VAT (Value Added Tax) which is similar to an American sales tax and is levied on most taxable items at 20%. In the UK, VAT is always incorporated into published prices and is not shown separately as in America. Our custom is that cash tip or service charge is based on the tax inclusive amount.

There are arguments in favour of employers recognising the efforts of their staff and this could easily be done by way of bonus payments or, for front of house, by commission on sales, as happens in many other industries. It would foster a collective effort to make the business a success.

By the by, last autumn we ate at a newly opened place in Miami Beach. Although we did have a “lead server”, service was really a team effort as you would often see here in Europe and, if memory serves, four people brought food to the table at some point. The menu announced that an 18% service charge would be added to all bills. The roof did not fall in, there was no wailing or gnashing of teeth.


Would I be right in assuming that this is because restaurants have not increased their prices so that the “old rate” no longer produces sufficient income for the employees?

It’s not good to rely on recollection - but my recollection is that when we first started visiting America (first trip was 1980), restaurant meals were really cheap in comparision with the UK. Now, we no longer find them cheap, generally speaking. OK, bottom end meals in America remain cheaper than here and high end seems about the same. But it’s the mid range places, where we generally eat, where prices seem dearer than comparitive UK places - where many bistro type restaurants have very competitive three course fixed price menus.

That is certainly a good explanation. That being said, I have a feeling it is the other way around. I mean. Most of us don’t get a “memo” that servers’ paid wage has not gone up. My gut feeling is that people have been getting more and more generous, and tips have been slowly increasing from a 10% norm to a 20% norm, so the restaurant owners believe that they can hold the same paid salary. It is really a question of “chicken or the egg”. The way things are going, I won’t be surprise that 25% will be the norm soon – or have already the case. I even noticed myself starting to tip 25% for normal service in my last San Francisco trip.

So you think that it is because the US restaurants are starting to becoming more expensive, or that UK restaurants are getting more affordable?

Combination of both, I think. And, no doubt, exchange rate changes over the years. I recall regularly seeing American posters on Chowhound saying how expensive they found London but I don’t think there’s been one for a couple of years or so.

The general economic climate has certainly impacted on the British hospitality industry and it is now commonplace for the mid-range neighbourhood bistro places to offer very competitive menus. Like this one, which is a favourite of ours. Three courses for £19 ($27), bearing in mind tax is already included and tipping is not a cultural requirement.

By the by, you’ll see there’s a note on the menu that “all gratuities are distributed between all staff”.

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Wow. That is a very attractive pricing.

" The lovely Jay Rayner"
Thank you for the laugh!

I would love tipping to be removed, as Danny Meyer has done. I would far rather pay more for the meal, and be served by someone paid a decent wage, and not dependent on the whims of individuals. I don’t think it necessarily leads to better service, and my concern has also been about the back of house staff - the dishwasher for example being a key person in the kitchen, but not able to get tipped.
My own personal bugbear about tipping is when you have had excellent service from one individual throughout the meal, but then the shifts change, and you feel you are giving the tip to the person who brought coffee and the bill, rather than the one who did all the work up to that point. This happens quite a lot if you eat early-ish.

if you’re going to talk earnings, there’s a whole long list of people we “should” be tipping.


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