Saturday, December 29, 2007

Much Ado About Tipping

A popular social norm today is tipping, for a service rendered that's beyond the call of duty. It could be a pizza delivered to the door, a help with the luggage at the airport, eating out at a restaurant, or a hair-do. Usually the amount of the tip is commensurate with the manner in which the service is rendered, thoughtful, courteous, patient, all judged in the eyes of the patron. But like the minimum wages, there are minima, either as an absolute amount or more often than not as a percentage of the dollar cost of the service, the so-called industry standards whereby any self-respecting patron would hesitate to breach.

However, apparently some did, breach the unwritten rule. This is the only reason why I think some businesses include the gratuities in the check presented to the patron for payment. From my personal experience, I note that this latching on applies to parties exceeding a certain number, say 5, or 10.

Conceptually, I have no problem with tipping, it being a kind and appreciative gesture from one who receives the service, that it is not a free service notwithstanding. But I do believe it has to be voluntary, and not forced upon the patron. Compounded with the practice being pegged to the size of the party, it behooves the patron to examine the check whether gratuities are already included, and not parting with unintended cash unwittingly.

This was what happened to me some time ago, and I only found out that I actually paid double the accepted percentage when I casually scanned the receipt after the fact, at home. Of course I have nobody else to blame except myself since I failed to read the fine print thereon. While I certainly can live with the extra expenses, I did not feel that the service rendered was above the norm as to justify the 40% tip.

Then more recently, it almost happened again, when I had already scribbled out the twenty percent tips on the check when my eyes caught the word, gratuity, as a line item further down, the industry standard of 18%. What would you do under the circumstances? Be magnanimous and in the process make the waitress happy, though she might not have realized it? Or stick to the principle that a generous tip above the industry standard is a just reward for service par excellence?

I compromised, I struck out the tenth digit, and kept the additional single digit dollar tip unchanged, effectively giving a total tip of close to 25%.

Then this morning I was doing a transaction at a local Bank of America office. While lining up at the counter, I noticed this poster with the big caption, “You're the Boss”. That got me thinking, am I really the boss when a gratuity amount is included in the check, without any input from me save to decide whether the service is deserving of more? What ever happened to the hitherto sacrosanct adage that “the customer is right”?

To a degree, this pondering over tipping would seem petty, even frivolous. Have we been living in such comfort, oblivious to the much larger challenges in life, that we even have time to indulge our precious time and thinking faculty in the matter?

Buddha taught us to live in the moment, and to let go when the moment passes. But only the moment, and not the lessons that it bestows.

I too shall let the moment go, but will be circumspect in the future, not just when tipping, but in all matters. Above all, I will do good, not just feel good when seen to be doing good.

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