Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tipping Point

I recently finished a guided bike tour of the Czech republic which was easily the best holiday of my life. At the end of every guided trip however comes what I find to be unpleasant. How much to tip the guides?

There are a variety of formulas, some people do so much a day, some people do a percentage of how much the trip cost (which is what we ultimately did). Many tour companies are happy to help you out by "suggesting" how much you should tip. Then there is the question of currency; local currency (if the guide is not from the country where you are now), Canadian dollars, US dollars, Euros. This followed by the trip to the bank machine to get the requisite money.

This is not to say that our guides were not fantastic. I fortunately have never had a bad guide. They do work hard and long during the trip but hey they are guiding not working in some dead end job. On this trip however one of the other members decided that one guide should get much more than the other which I didn't really think was fair; one guide clearly appeared to do more but she was the lead guide and that was her role and we didn't really know how much the other guide did behind the scenes. I pointed this out to the lady who was collecting the money but she was adamant that the two guides shouldn't get the same so under her watchful eyes we actually took back some of the money for the second guide. I really had a hard time looking our guide in the eyes for the rest of the trip.

Of course while we did all put our tips into a single envelope I have no idea how much everybody put in. Guided bicycle trips like the one I recently went on are quite expensive and while I can afford these trips now, I wonder however about some people who save up and budget for these trips and find out at the end of the week that they are expected to pony up what usually amounts to hundreds of extra dollars for what they thought they had already paid for. (At the end of a kayak trip once not only where we supposed to tip the guides but the tip was to be presented at a dinner where we also picked up the guides' tab; I don't mind doing this on my own but hate being told I have to do it!)

I make a good income and I am very sympathetic to people who make less than me. I tip 20% usually even when the service is bad. Occasionally when the service is bad I have been tempted to withold the tip but in the interval between the bad service and the presentation of the bill I always soften and consider whether the bad service was really the fault of the server or whether it was beyond his control. (My father usually tells the server when the service or food has been bad and has received numerous free meals in his life.)

But here is an interesting concept. Why not end the charade of tipping and actually pay people a decent wage? I am not naive enough to expect that if we had 15-20% added to our restaurant bills that this would necessarily result in a wage increase for servers. In Europe and Australia however where tipping is less common, waiters and bartenders are actually valued employees who are paid a good wage. This is unlike Canada and US and this shows in the service we sometimes get. As an aside, I remember as an intern 6 of us went out to dinner at ski resort. The service was not very good, the waitress was surly and at least two people didn't get the meal they ordered (she argued about that two). Nonetheless we are put in cash which included a 10% tip and handed it to the person who agreed to settle the bill for us. For some reason (he said it was an error) he only left enough to cover the tab. The waitress actually chased us our of the restaurant to ask why we hadn't left a tip. Oh yeah we said, a mistake and handed her the extra money.

There is the question of who gets tipped. My server I suspect gets about the same wage as the guy who washes the floor in the OR. Why does one get tipped and not the other. I could give more examples.

One of our guides (ironically the one I reluctantly stiffed) who guided us on another trip works as a server in the off season and we actually had a long discussion about tipping on this trip and she had some interesting experiences in that field to relate. She told me for example that in some restaurants the servers are expected to pay 6% of the bill as the share to the cooks and dishwashers whether or not they get a tip and that she has often wondered how much of this money actually gets back to the workers.

Now as a physician, I never get tips or expect one. I do get chocolates and liquor at Christmas from patients. There was once a Greek lady who I treated who would bring to every treatment a bottle of Ouzo and $200 in cash. I kept the Ouzo and would walk the $200 over to the hospital foundation office. (They told me that they sent her a charitable receipt and she sent it back). She stopped coming after a while by which time my wife and I had acquired a taste for Ouzo which I now have to buy myself.

No comments: