And this version of "tipping" is something completely different.  Or so I learned today.

... that is the question.

ever since my first trip to London i've struggled with how and where to "tip" in England -- when to tip, who expects a tip, who you should never tip and how much to tip if i DO tip are constantly on my mind now that i live here.  this is because it turns out that whether or not one needs to tip a person for a miscellaneous service is very different from what it is in the States.  and different further depending on what part of America you come from.  you see, i spent the last 10 years living in Los Angeles, California where you tip everyone for everything whether they're parking your car, opening a door for you or delivering you a surprise vase of flowers.  in LA it is a rare occasion that you get ANYthing without a tip involved.  living in LA means you need a constant stream of 1- and 5-dollar bills in your wallet for all the different people you may encounter throughout the day who expect a tip.

then i discovered London.  a place where you can walk up to a bar, order a £7 pint of beer and actually pay £7 even (not eight or nine, as you would in American bars including tip).  in fact, it's not just bartenders who don't get tipped here.  in a lot of restaurants you can't leave a tip for the waiter or waitress if you try.  i recall one particularly good Spanish restaurant where the experience was so lovely i wanted to leave a tip -- even though it's not customary.  when i paid for the meal i paid by credit card, and there was no place to add a tip.  i then asked someone who worked there how i could add a tip and he replied that there was no way to do such a thing.  i felt obliged to scrape the bottom of my purse for loose pounds in an effort to leave a decent tip.  it just didn't feel right to NOT tip.

it was around then that an Englishman explained to me that servers in England get paid a much higher wage for their work than their counterparts in America, therefore they don't rely on tips from customers.  in fact, if you DO leave a tip people look at you weird and the server will probably awkwardly pick up your money and drop it in a pocket with a confused look on their face.  and all of this confuses me because SOME of the restaurants i go to in London add a "service charge" at the bottom of the bill, and it's not optional. 

i would normally say that the "service charge" is the same thing as leaving a tip, except for two important things:  the service charge is non-negotiable and has nothing to do with how good your service was, and second, the service charge isn't the same amount as a normal tip would be.  in America you generally leave 20% of your bill as a tip.  some slightly frugal people may tip 15%, but it's safe to say that the only time a person leaves no tip at all is if the server or food was unbearably bad or unpleasant.  so the "service charge" thing in England is just confusing.  not all places have one, and the ones that DO have it don't add enough for it to equal an American 15-20% tip anyway.

so what do i do?  i rely on whomever i'm sharing the table with to explain to me what is right.  i have no clue how to reward a good server if tipping is not customary.  and that gives rise to a new question:  if the servers don't rely on tips to make their money, what motivation do they have to PROVIDE good service?

the answer is:  there is no such thing as "good customer service" in England.

but English customer service is a whole other blog -- and not a complimentary one at that -- so i'll just stop here.

07/25/2008 12:41pm

Tipping is different all over the world! In Mexico in most places tipping is not allowed, even at the Four Seasons. You have to make someone take a tip on the side when you're in some countries. Sometimes it even insults them. Who knows? I do what I want when I get good service and have seen people leave one penny for ultra lousy service.


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