tipping quandary

A friend of mine who has been working overseas for two years came back to visit last week, so we went out for dinner and caught up and all the usual stuff. On one of the nights, we went to Malt, which is potentially my most favourite Brisbane restaurant (or at least one of them). This post is actually not about Malt (I could probably write an entire other post about why I like Malt) but about tipping.

In Australia, it’s not a big deal if you leave a tip at restaurants and cafes and wherever, because apparently the staff get paid enough, or everyone’s just too stingy so people don’t expect it. I know it’s required/expected in the US, and the custom sort of varies between different countries. My friend’s boyfriend said that, in Singapore, they don’t tip because the money goes to the owner/manager, rather than being apportioned to the staff who actually served the customers.

I don’t have a problem with the tipping system here – I think it’s great that if you do a good job and provide excellent service, you could earn a bit of extra money (even if it is coinage). What I actually wanted to write this post about was why it’s only customary/acceptable/whatever to tip certain types of people/businesses in the service industry.

This might just be me (potentially because I live in Australia, or because of my limited life experience) but the only places that I remember ever leaving tips for people are all food-related – cafes, bistros, restaurants, etc. I don’t always leave a tip, but I will if the service was friendly and the food was good. (I don’t think I’ve ever tipped just because the food was good – it’s more about the service, right?)

Well, I work in a pharmacy, so I thought, “Why is it not acceptable to tip pharmacists or pharmacy assistants?” Not to boast about it, but we provide some important services to the community, and we give out a lot of free health advice. I could spend ten minutes talking to someone about their blood pressure (and measuring it for free), or talking to someone about what to do for a rash (before they tell me that they have that product at home, and walk away without buying anything). But no one would ever think of tipping their pharmacist for these things, would they?

Of course, I’m over-simplifying, but you get the point, right?

As a health professional, I’d actually kind of feel uncomfortable accepting tips from customers. Maybe if it was already common practice, I wouldn’t think twice about it? It’s hard to say. I suppose I’m doing this to help others, not for the money. Well, it kind of is for the money, but the primary concern is the patient (gee, all those placements during uni really drilled that part of the Code of Conduct into me). But maybe the people who work at cafes just really love coffee, or just really want to be in the industry. They still happily receive (and encourage) tips anyway.

Imagine if GPs accepted tips. Imagine if GPs actually needed tips to supplement whatever they’re getting rebated from the government. No offence to waiters, but having a bowl or something for patients to deposit tips in a GP waiting room kind of seems undignified.

And what about people at clothing stores? Sometimes they provide pretty good service, helping find sizes and whatnot. I don’t spend a lot of time in shoe stores or department stores, but when I do, I might notice an assistant spending a lot of time with one customer – finding the right kind of shoe, showing them different styles, ensuring the fit is right, etc – and then they may decide not to buy anything, or they’ll just buy one pair (and it might just be a pair of shoes for their kid). Does that shop assistant then deserve a tip if the customer leaves happy?

Should we give tips to check-out operators at supermarkets, especially if you have a trolley full of 50 different things, half of which is fresh produce that must be looked up and weighed? Where do we draw the line?

But I don’t think people would ever consider tipping their car dealer or real estate agent (no offence to car dealers or real estate agents), since they get a commission from what they just sold to you anyway. Maybe people give gifts or some other token of appreciation if they got a good deal or had a smooth sale, but who could afford a 10% tip on a car, let alone a house?

And surely there are no countries where it’s commonplace to tip bankers (again, no offence to people who work in banks). These people already have most of your money, so why would you give them the loose change from your wallet as well? I’ve been fortunate to get some really good service at banks, though. You’ve got to have good people skills to do well in the service industry.

I think I’ve heard of people giving tips to taxi drivers or limo drivers (I personally haven’t been in enough taxis to really know), and I suppose that’s fine – if someone drives me to my destination safely and in a timely manner, I’d want to show my appreciation. But, thinking along those same lines, why not give a tip to the bus driver? I generally thank the driver as I get off the bus, but they’d probably be quite baffled if I tried to give them a tip.

This post actually turned out to be a lot longer than I expected… Better head off to bed… Another day of work awaits me tomorrow!