TO MY embarrassment, I got home from a restaurant last week, checked the receipt, and realised that instead of leaving a tip of £4, I’d left 4p. I had been handed the portable machine into which a credit card slots. Where I expected a message asking me to type a four-figure code was the question: “Do you want to leave a gratuity?” I fumbled to fulfil all that the machine asked of me. I didn’t realise quite how much I had fumbled until an hour later.
I have subsequently discovered, however, that it is not the first time that I have left an attentive waiter less than I thought. In many restaurants, it is built into the system.
A report in The Observer (23 August) is just the latest to draw attention to practices of restaurant chains which mean that staff do not receive the full amount given by diners. A percentage is deducted from gratuities paid with a credit card as an administration fee before it is shared between staff. It can range from eight per cent (Pizza Express) to ten per cent (Bella Italia, among others).
The restaurants insist that the deductions allow for “training and development” of staff. Frankly, I expect that to be something included in the price of my meal, not subject to the vagaries of customers’ generosity.
I could, of course, leave cash on the table, or give it directly to my waiter. But when I have had an enjoyable experience, I want a sign of my thanks also to go to those whose work has been out of sight. I am as appreciative of my clean plate as I am of the smile with which my order is taken.
Now that I have this knowledge, I genuinely don’t know what to do. A Labour government tried to help me in 2009 by introducing a voluntary code, under which restaurants should display their tipping policy in their premises. I do not ever recall seeing one.
I have resolved that if I cannot solve this problem with money, I am going to find another way. I wouldn’t dream of eating a meal without first thanking God for what I am about to receive; so, from now on, I intend to make sure that I never leave a restaurant without the staff having had my full, personal, chatty, thankful attention. I need to be more imaginatively grateful.
One person to whom I am truly grateful is the young Asian man who sweeps the street outside the block of flats where I live. Because of its location, we get many cans and fast-food wrappers discarded, usually stuffed into the hedges. But the cleaner leaves the street as clear as a tabletop, and I have seen him step back and check what he has done, with pride. On a rainy day, that must be a miserable job.
He is someone who really deserves a gratuity. Convention makes me too uncomfortable to push a coin into his hand; but, recently, convention also obliged me to tip the taxi driver who spent ten excruciating minutes describing the failings of his foreign rivals.
As I sit here typing, I realise that, although I nod to my street sweeper when we pass on the pavement, I do not know his name. I make a promise that by the time the next edition of the Church Times is published, I will.
Peter Graystone develops mission projects for the Church Army.