A Rs10 tip on a Rs4,000 bill is an insult, not a favour

Published: August 30, 2018
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The post successfully struck a nerve, with a barrage of nit-picky posts appearing on Facebook about how the restaurant is “overrated”, its food “unpleasant”, or its environment “unclean”.

Tipping is unique to the food industry. As a doctor, never once did a patient hand me an extra Rs20 note as a thank you for a good knee exam. The reason is that we expect a doctor to receive adequate compensation for his work through the bill alone. It was when I put down my stethoscope and took a hiatus, serving chai to paying customers at my own café, did I develop a greater appreciation for this art.

Tipping persists in the food industry because we don’t expect the labour to be paid what they are due. Serving food and drinks at a restaurant or a café is considered menial or even dishonourable work. Restaurant owners are thus usually happy passing a chunk of their responsibility to the customer when it comes to rewarding the servers.

This may be unfair because all labour is equally important, but this is the world we live in and servers expect to be tipped for their service. While we endlessly debate on the appropriate amount to tip a waiter at a restaurant, we all lean on the side of under-compensating the server’s hard work.

A picture uploaded recently by Easy by Fatsos is making the rounds on social media. This restaurant in Karachi photographed a Rs10 tip received on a Rs3,840 bill, with a sarcastic caption aimed at poor tipping habits.

Photo: Easy by Fatsos

The post has successfully struck a nerve. Nobody wants their kanjoosi (lack of generosity) displayed on the internet, and the most obvious counterattack was that the restaurant’s service isn’t worth more than a Rs10 tip. A barrage of nit-picky posts appeared on Facebook, about how the restaurant is “overrated”, its food “unpleasant”, or its environment “unclean”.

We live in an age where every disgruntled customer sells himself or herself as a qualified food critic online. The difference is that a food critic has greater empathy and deeper appreciation for the hard work that goes into running an eatery. A professional food critic’s word isn’t revenge against an overpriced meal, but a detailed examination that is more than just a narration of one’s personal experience.

If someone leaves you Rs10 as a tip, which is less than 0.3% of the bill, you’d probably feel slighted. In some way, it is possibly worse than not tipping at all, because one can at least blame a non-tip on one’s forgetfulness. But instead of the customer, social media aimed its guns at the restaurant. A defiant review appeared on Facebook, published on SWOT’s Karachi page, proudly announcing a customer’s refusal to tip the servers at Easy.

Posted by Immad Sajid on Sunday, August 26, 2018

Let’s be clear. Your server is usually not responsible for anything more than table service. It’s not your waiter’s job to make your food taste better. It’s not your waiter’s job to fix the establishment’s air conditioner. Your waiter’s job is to greet you, take your order, serve your food, and listen patiently to you complain about water dripping from the air conditioner, or as you call it, “rain”.

That’s labour, and it deserves respectful compensation. If you have issues with the establishment’s performance as a whole – from ambience to the taste of the food – you don’t take that out on the poor server while quietly paying the establishment the bill in full.

As a doctor, one becomes accustomed to a certain level of respect in society. About a month ago, I chose a simpler life; opening up a worker-owned café in which I serve tables myself. The contrast is sometimes jarring, and I’m often forced to signal that I am the owner, as that’s the only way I can get a modicum of respect. Serving food and beverages to smug, finicky customers all day long is gruelling work, and a tip is a great way of showing you acknowledge this labour.

For a sizeable party of customers to leave the serving staff Rs10 as tip is representative of one’s elitist disrespect for the worker. It’s worth reminding that you’re tipping the worker, not the owner who refuses to fix their AC. As an owner, I’ve never asked for a tip, nor have I ever complained about not receiving it. But then again, I’m in a privileged position to be the owner and not a paid server.

Ideally, we shouldn’t have to tip. Ideally, we shouldn’t be a third world capitalist country with dirt-cheap labour, instead of one where all work is equally respected and fairly compensated. Until then, be generous in tipping the server for his or her effort. If you can afford a Rs4,000 dinner, you can surely find a crunched-up Rs100 note or two in your wallet.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat

A medical doctor and bubble-wrap enthusiast from Rawalpindi, who writes mostly about science and social politics (and bubble-wrap). He tweets @FarazTalat (twitter.com/FarazTalat)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.