The World’s Smallest Violin is Playing Just for Me

“Gratuity”, also known as “tip”, is defined like this:

gratuity

noun – gra·tu·ity – \grə-ˈtü-ə-tē, -ˈtyü-\

Something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service; see tip

Example of gratuity in a sentence:

A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to the restaurant bill.

Related words:

donation, gift, present; bonus, favour, reward; contribution, offering

                               

Today over lunch, I had an interesting discussion with some of my colleagues – NorwayJakarta and the just-now introduced Manila – regarding the insane and somehow also non-existent rules about tipping.

In my world – in an ideal world – a tip symbolises that a paying customer is so satisfied with the service that has been provided for him or her in various situations in life that he or she is willing to pay more than the actual price. So far, it seems like my views are backed up by Merriam-Webster’s definition above. Comforting.

For instance, people I think we’d all happily agree deserve a nice tip, if good service has been performed, could be:

  • Waiters and waitresses in restaurants who actually know stuff about what’s on their menus, and can recommend good shit that go together nicely with other good shit
  • Non-jerk cab drivers who don’t rip you off, drive comfortably, and know the quickest way to your destination
  • That hotel dude who’s struggling to carry your ridiculously overpacked and intensely heavy bag up to your room. Also, every time your bag is ridiculously overpacked and intensely heavy, the hotel in question is almost always not really a hotel, but a resort or another establishment that doesn’t really believe in elevators

These cases are normal, tip-wise.

But, there’s a major dependent variable here. Let’s consult the homemade equation I just made up to see if we can find it:

Service Performed + Nicely Done = Tip is Deserved

Interesting.

It would seem like a tip is appropriate only when a service has been performed in a nicely (satisfactory) manner.

But wait, there’s more.

The Plot Thickens

If you remove the Service Performed part of the equation, there wouldn’t be any need for a tip – in fact, there wouldn’t even be anything to tip.

It would also seem like the Nicely Done part is significant, because a service performed just for the sake of performing it would mean that the person performing the service has barely put in any extra effort in making you, the customer, feel extra satisfied and inclined to reward him/her.

If you go to your barber or hairdresser and they greet you with a smile, make pleasant, comfortable conversation while you’re just awkwardly kinda sitting there while their touching your hair, they offer you a water or a coffee, and they give you solid recommendations regarding styles and products, they would sure as hell deserve a tip. They’ve not only done their job, they’ve done it in a very impressive (“nicely” on steroids) manner. Tip fucking deserved.

However.

A big thing that bothers me in our world, is a thing that is forced upon me. A thing that can’t be avoided and is non-optional.

I live on the 43rd floor, and if I for some reason absolutely had to stop on the 28th and the 42nd floor every time I’m in the elevator, just cuz, I’d hate that. But if I for some sick reason actually would want to stop on those floors, freely, that’d be my choice, now, wouldn’t it? An insane choice, yes, but it’d be my insane choice.

The Point Emerges

So, today at lunch, I asked Norway, Jakarta and Manila what they thought about mandatory service charges restaurants often take.

Here in Thailand, it’s usually 10% of the total bill, which, in the tipping world, is kinda on the lower side of the spectrum. Even though I’ve never been there, I’ve heard that the tipping rules in the US are insane, and that you may need to tip as much as 25% even though the service was crap in some places. If you don’t, the person would chase you if you didn’t tip them properly.

Or so I hear.

Likely exaggerated stories, but still. No smoke without a fire. Anyone US-related reading this that could shed some light on these rumours?

For reasons I totally don’t understand, I appeared to be the only one in my group that didn’t like the mandatory service charge. My issue wasn’t the 10% – it could be 1% or 25% for all I care – I’d still be equally bothered. It’s that it’s unconditionally mandatory.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the service provided in many restaurants in Bangkok leave much to be desired. Appetisers often come after the main courses, drinks come after the bill’s been paid, and the staff don’t know shit about what’s on the menu. I’m not talking about any super-fancy places now, but the general, normal places you’d go for a lunch or a casual dinner. You’d be amazed, and I’m not the only one.

I went to an Italian restaurant once in Siam Paragon, and you wouldn’t believe what happened. I ordered some kinda spicy sausage pasta dish I don’t even remember the name of, and my girlfriend ordered something else, and the waiter took our order and delivered it to the kitchen staff. Approximately 40 minutes pass and still no sign of my food, even though a few different groups of people coming in a hell of a lot later than me have already gotten their food and some of them have even started to leave. My girlfriend got her’s pretty quickly though. I ask the waiter what’s going on, to which he replies that my dish is out of stock.

I refuse to believe that it took him 40 minutes to realise this.

He knew.

He then tried to console me by offering a completely different kinda dish, some kinda seafood pasta, only to find that I was inconsolable. I said I didn’t want anything and was getting ready to leave after my girlfriend finished her food.

Now, all of a sudden, maybe 50 minutes after we first sat down to order, my spicy sausage pasta miraculously arrives.

What the hell just happened?

I figured an explanation could be either, A) they had the dish all along, but screwed up/forgot my order and didn’t have the nuts to tell me or apologise which would be totally fine, B) in a completely backfiring and ironic way, chose not to tell me because they infamously wanted to save face only to then lose face when they “found” the food, or C) they just don’t fucking care.

Feel like giving these guys 10% extra, for nothing?

            

The way I look at it, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I think a tip is to be deserved.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean for the staff to suck up to me or treat me like royalty. But a friendly welcome and a smile while taking, repeating and serving my order, I pretty much take for granted. At least half of the times, the staff treats me like I’m bothering them or like I’m interrupting their day, and they’d rather prefer to go back to checking Facebook on their phones or swiping frantically left and right on Tinder.

And before you say, “well, maybe you should stop complaining and try other places, then, assface”, let me stop you right there, and say that these are perfectly normal places – and they’re everywhere.

Manila’s counterargument was that the staff probably make minimum wage and that the tips are helping them afford their rents, bills and other things. Absolutely, that’s both true and a fair point.

I was working part-time at McDonald’s in Sweden while getting through high school and the first few years of college, and I got paid minimum wage, and happened to work in a place that society had decided doesn’t need tipping.

This scene from the excellent Reservoir Dogs comes to mind:

 

Of course, I was lucky enough to live in Sweden with all its safety nets and generally high salary levels (despite it being minimum wage), but at the same time, the cost of living is equally high. No further comparisons between Sweden and Thailand, but I guess this fact kills that argument.

I’m just trying to illustrate that it shouldn’t really be the customer’s responsibility to take care of the employee… Right?

Shouldn’t it be the employer’s responsibility?

The Employer is a Sneaky Bastard

But, looking at it from the employers’ perspectives, I gotta say they got themselves a sweet deal.

Let’s say that a dish costs 10 USD plus 10% service charge – no matter how the staff treats you – that will, obviously, in reality, make the actual price 11 USD. Maybe I’m being pessimistic now, but I highly doubt that the mandatory 10% service charge is being divided fairly when all is said and done at the end of the day between the owner, managers and staff.

Also, let’s say that the hourly salary of the restaurant’s employees is an even 10 USD.

“But hey”, the employer thinks, “since we totally screw all our customers into paying 10% more no matter what, we can reduce our employees’ hourly rate by an equal 10%, and make even more money. We’d pay the staff less, we’d charge the customers more – it’s genius. It’s fucking genius! Shut up, Tim, it’s not unfair to the employees or the customers, because everyone’s doing it – it’s the industry standard. Muhahahaha“.

Just because it’s industry standard – which it evidently is – doesn’t make it OK, right? Slavery was also pretty much industry standard once upon a time. Women didn’t get the right to vote just until last century. It’s also generally common practice to rely on a polluting commodity such as oil, which is also finite, when we have much cleaner and sustainable alternatives, like solar power. Oh, that alternative is also abundant as well as infinite.

Of course, I don’t compare a silly 10% service charge to the horrors of slavery or those other things. I’m just saying just because something is the way it is, and has been for a while, doesn’t make it right.

                                

The world’s smallest violin may be, actually, playing just for me.

                                  

What are your thoughts on this topic?

Am I totally obsessing about this or make this a bigger deal than it actually is? Am I a whining idiot with too much free time? Am I insane? Do I come off as cheap? Selfish? Am I right? Am I partly right? Semi-wrong? Half-right? If I’m half-right, I hope we all are glass-half-full-kinda-guys here, since I really don’t wanna be an obsessed, insane, whining, cheap moron that’s also selfish. I’d be the most despicable human that’s ever lived.

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8 thoughts on “The World’s Smallest Violin is Playing Just for Me

    1. Nope. You take off 10% of the salary, which makes 90. You then add 10% to the prices, you get 110.

      So instead of having a net of 100/100 = 1, you now have 110/90 = 1,22.

      So they make 22% more money on this bullshit 🙂

      Like

  1. I hate mandatory tipping! It’s so crazy! It’s also extremely frustrating to feel comfortable with different tipping customs when you travel around the world. Like if I go to Europe and they hear my American accent, are they expecting a tip since most Americans tip more when traveling? So I end up feeling awkward for tipping or not tipping!

    In the US the standard in most places is 18-20%, although 15% and 25% is not unheard of. And what I think is crazy is that most waiters do not receive minimum wage- it’s far far below that because the tips are supposed to make up for it. So it actually makes the customer more like an employer paying the waiter’s wages instead of just a happy customer. There are some states that require minimum wage for waters, but most don’t I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Word! My point exactly. We, the customers, end up being kind of the waiter’s part-time provider, since the employer is totally taking advantage of the “industry standard” thing I mentioned in the post. Complete dick move by the industry.

      Hahaha I bet it’s confusing for you as an American to travel around. At the same time, it’s confusing for us Swedes also, because we normally and typically don’t tip back home, which makes it hard to know when to tip, and how much to tip, when abroad.

      18-20% tip is crazy, ESPECIALLY if it’s taking for granted no matter how the service has been performed.

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

  2. I agree nobody should depend on the charity of their customers to make a living. A proper minimum wage based on the local economic conditions, would ensure tipping is a purely voluntary action to reward good service, or indeed punish terrible service. Of course many food industry staff work their arses off and the problems with orders may often be the fault of the kitchen / management, etc. I guess I’d avoid tipping if the attitude of the staff sucked AND the service was awful. If there was a mandatory service charge and my dining experience was dire, I’d demand compensation – a free bottle of wine perhaps, or the manager’s first born child.. I’ve added 15% more words to this comment as a gratuity… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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