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The continuing conundrum of British tipping

The continuing conundrum of British tipping

Early in May, business secretary Sajid Javid raised the topic of tipping in restaurants, stating that tips should ‘go to the people you intended it to go to’. His comments are in reference to restaurants being able to hold back as much of the tips left for their serving staff as they wish, something which a considerable portion of restaurant chains regularly do.

Javid’s comments came as he announced a two-month consultation on proposals to remedy the unfair nature of tipping as it currently stands. The proposed changes include clearer guidance for customers that tipping is not compulsory, either limiting or preventing employers from being able to make deductions from tips (not including necessary taxes), and making the current voluntary code of practice around tipping statutory, thereby increasing the compliance by employers.

It’s an issue which raises its head every so often. Less than two years ago, Andrew Percy, the MP for Brigg and Goole, made similar comments about tipping. Percy stated in September 2014 that employees were ignoring the voluntary code and ‘creaming off’ their employees’ tips and that customers were in a ‘state of confusion’ about the whole system of tipping in Britain. The comments from the business secretary suggest that nothing has changed in the intervening time.

Tipping has arguably become more complicated than it needs to be. Not only does the tip you leave at the end of a meal no longer necessarily all go to the person who served you, but it’s also likely that you now look at other factors aside from the quality of the service you received to determine whether or not you tip at all. If you see a ‘service charge’ added to your bill – usually a percentage of the overall amount – it’s likely that you see this as being paid in place of a tip.

In actual fact, service charges and tips are not the same thing. A tip is a voluntary payment counted as a ‘personal reward’ to the server, whereas a service charge is classed as part of the restaurant’s income, which means each establishment can choose what to do with it. Many are discouraged from tipping when they’ve paid a service charge, delivering a double blow to the restaurant’s employees.

Things become even more complicated when you factor in the difference between a ‘tip’ and a ‘gratuity’ (yes, there is one). Whilst both come under the personal reward umbrella, a tip is usually left in cash whereas a gratuity is made through a card terminal, blurring the lines further as to how much your waiter or waitress will actually receive.

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