Tipping points


FAST FOOD places where one lines up, picks up his order, and pays the cashier allows one to get back all the change and leave nothing behind as a tip, even if there is a transparent box at the end of the line for that purpose. Of course, you can drop some coins there, including the new P20 one.

Specialized coffee shops (defined as those that don’t serve rice, except maybe for breakfast) require the customer to state his preference to the cashier and then pay up. Sometimes, he is asked his name so he can vigilantly wait for it to be called to collect his cafe latte’ with skimmed milk: Mr. Mike Fenis! The name is broadcast loudly to inform everyone how to address this customer should anyone want to make his acquaintance. (Just call me Mike, please.) This ordering model also does not require tipping.

However, when the cashier gives a number the size of a bingo card to display prominently on the table for the latte’ to be delivered with the bill, the loose change is expected to be left behind as tip — watch out for stores that empty their coin drawers.

Dine-in restaurants with receptionists are different. Is being present there as you make up your mind on what to order (Sir, the paella will take 30 minutes) and then for you to wait for the delivery of your order why servers are called “waiters”? Doesn’t waiting apply to both servers and customers?

Waiters in the First World, like Western Europe and North America, consider themselves entrepreneurs in disguise entitled to cash dividends, courtesy of customers’ tips. Manhattan waiters seem permitted by law to give free rein to strident remarks aimed at parsimonious tippers or, heaven forbid, non-tippers. They are practiced in the art of declaiming in a loud voice — Madam was there a cockroach swimming in the soup I served you? The cheeky ones run after the small tipper retrieving his bag in the coat area to hand back with undisguised contempt the meager offering left on the table — Sir, you may need this for your subway fare.

There are developed countries, notably Japan, that have eliminated tipping to servers like bellboys, taxi drivers, and waiters, maybe considering this practice a subtle insult, implying a master-servant relationship. The practice may entail higher prices as the server’s share is already included in the charge, instead of added on as a tip. Still, it saves the tourist from figuring out the system as the bill presented covers everything.

The word “tip” is supposed to be an acronym for “to insure promptness.” Since it is given or withheld after the service has already been provided, it often applies mostly to repeat customers who intend to come back to a particular restaurant and be insured of courteous handling.

The culture of tipping in the public service sector for routine requirements like licenses and permits is the door to petty, and then not-so-petty, corruption. (Face shields seem to require enormous encouragement.) Extra payment for a routine task may first only ensure jumping the queue, and then progressing to exemption from rules all the way to getting special deals. The tip is the second cousin of graft.

Membership clubs understand the adverse effects of tipping and therefore disallow it, except maybe for banquet functions. Otherwise, service quality may be influenced by the generosity of tippers. If you already gave business to the restaurant with a hefty bill, are you still required to add another 15% for the waiter?

How come shoe salesmen who help you with varying selections and sizes don’t expect tips after the purchase? Maybe they get a commission instead? A service charge works more fairly as it is distributed to all the service staff, not just given to the last person who happens to pick up the change folder.

Tipping points don’t always refer to gratuities. Malcolm Gladwell in his eponymous book refers to “trends that turn into epidemics.” No better example can be given than the present pandemic that started with two or three contagious persons from abroad spreading the virus to almost three million in this country alone in the last 20 months.

Does a political movement also have a tipping point? It can even be just a color to bring back the country… to the pink of health.

Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda