Tipping woes in the United Kingdom

While attending University in the United States, a long time ago, I worked as a waiter to supplement my expenses. Although the wages were not great, depending on where you worked and how many tables you were assigned to, the tips could be great and it helped make ends meet. Because of that experience, I have a lot of respect for wait staff and especially young kids trying to supplement their income while in school, which is why the way tips are handled in the United Kingdom (UK) is upsetting.

Tipping in the UK, and in Europe for the most part, is unlike the United States where I lived for 13 years. In the States it is given and accepted that you will tip anything between 10-20% depending on how good the restaurant is, and of course, your waiter. That is how restaurants can get away with paying their waiters next to nothing. Although tips were originally meant to be given before you ate, hence the term TIP = To Improve Performance, they are now a reflection of the performance after the fact. Contrary to the States though, in the UK you are not required to tip but when you do, staff are pretty happy with 10-15%. I always thought that this money goes into waiters’ pockets but in almost all cases it does not. In fact, most businesses keep your tips for themselves.

After reading an article in a paper about how widespread this practice actually is, I started asking waiters about it every time I would eat out. “Do you share your tips with the owner” should have been met with a straight forward “no” as the answer. Instead, every time I have asked that question I was met by embarrassed looks and waiters looking over their shoulders before replying. The fact is, most places keep either all of the tip or the lion’s share of it! Waiters are not even allowed to talk about this with the customers. This is made even worse by the latest practice being adopted everywhere where businesses will automatically add an optional service charge to your bill that ranges from 5 to 15 percent. Most people don’t think about it twice and simply pay it by tapping their cards electronically or through their devices like the Watch Apple Pay. Most also don’t even realise that the charge is optional in the UK. Almost everyone though, mistakenly thinks that waiters get to keep the money. Restaurants have found another source of income by stealing money out of their staff’s pockets and scamming consumers through another tax, and it should be made illegal.

Wait staff are trying to bring this abuse to people’s and the government’s attention and stop the practice through changes in legislation. In the meantime, my humble request to everyone visiting a restaurant in the UK: ask to have the optional service charge removed from your bill and pay tips in cash. If you don’t have cash, ask if the waiter gets to keep the tip, and if they don’t then refuse to pay it; it’s your right to do that. Remember: cash is always king when it comes to tips. I am more than happy to supplement a waiter’s minimum wage with tips, but it sickens me to be taken for a ride. Be kind, be smart, ask before you pay. Waiters deserve better that this.

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