Let’s Talk About Tipping

Orphanage is definitely the best cocktail bar in Cape Town. But on one of my recent visits I got a shock when I realised that they have started adding 10% to bar tabs over R200. I was quite outraged and immediately sent this tweet…

I received this response from Orphanage soon after…

Raymond, the owner then came and found me (martini in hand) and we chatted about it. He explained that although it was added to the bill, the barman was meant to point it out and explain that it was discretionary. My argument was that the barmen have no incentive to inform the patron. If the patron says nothing, they get the 10%, if the patron complains they then tell them it’s discretionary. This would explain why it was not pointed out to us by the barmen (2 occasions that evening).

Raymond elaborated on his reasoning for the tip being added to the bill, saying that the waitresses earn so much more than the bar staff, even though the waitresses share a portion of their tips with the bar staff. The disparity is not good for morale. Apparently many people do not tip the barmen at all. These are valid issue and it’s shameful that so many people are prepared to spend large amounts of money on alcohol (Orphanage is not cheap), but can’t be bothered to tip the barman.

Why would people not tip? I guess if they are tourists they might not know they are supposed to tip. But if they are locals, there is no real excuse. To combat this I suggested that the tip be added below the total as a line that reads ‘Recommended Tip: Rxxx’. That way tourists will know what to tip and locals that don’t tip might have their conscience pricked. As for the tip amount, I feel that 10% is too high. At Orphanage, if I order 4 glasses of bubbly it will cost R220. That means I’m paying the barman R22 to pull out 4 glasses and fill them up. That’s R22 every 2 minutes or R660 an hour! I do realise that they are making a lot of cocktails which take longer but my point remains valid. I also realise that not every round is over R200, but at Orphanage it only take 3 or 4 drinks to hit R200, so I don’t know what the ratio is (but I may be ordering 2 drinks at a time from now on!).

Now Orphanage serves the best cocktails on Cape Town, and part of the reason for that is that they employ some of the best barmen. Obviously Orphanage needs to retain those barmen otherwise they would lose their competitive advantage. I understand that, but I’m already paying a premium for the cocktails, so it’s the establishment’s responsibility to retain the staff, not mine. Pay them more!

I would say that the ‘recommended tip’ should be 5%. I think that is a reasonable service charge.

Bill and money

That’s enough about Orphanage, although I look forward to hearing your thoughts, please post in the comments below. But there are a couple of other things I want to say on the topic of tipping.

If I add a tip to my restaurant bill when it already has a service charge included, and the waiter does not point it out to me, then that waiter is stealing from me. THE WAITER KNOWS that I did not see that the service charge is included. So if my bill is R1,000, the 10% service charge makes it R1,100 (let’s ignore the fact that most restaurants are adding 12.5% now) and I would tip a minimum of R120, making the total tip R220 on a R1000 bill which is crazy. Restaurants, what should I do if this happens? Can I call you the next day for a refund of the tip?

The worst example of this I experienced was at Strega (which is now closed), when the waiter circled the total a few times with a pen, careful to ensure the pen strokes concealed the line which said service charge included. And there were only 2 of us eating, so the service charge should not have been included. In return for his deliberate deception, I did not tip him at all, I paid just the total minus the included tip. I did tell him why.

Now for a gripe targeted at the customer. When you have a meal that is discounted for some reason, perhaps half price sushi, or a 2 for 1 deal with your Entertainer offer, you should be tipping on what would have been the full price, not the discounted total. You can’t expect the waiter to work for half the tips because the restaurant is promoting a special offer.

As for not tipping. Apart from the Strega story above, I don’t think I’ve ever done it. Most issues are not normally the fault of the server. Even when the server seems inept, it usually because the establishment hasn’t taken the time to train them properly. I think people should take responsibility for their experience. If you’re not happy with the server, ask to be served by someone else, rather then let it ruin your experience.

Let’s end off with some hilarious tip jars…

Tip JarAnd this one at a pizza jol…

Tip Jar

See more here.

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9 Responses

  1. Cathy Marston says:

    Definitely double-tipping is a problem. When we had our restaurant, only managers could add a service charge and it was the manager’s responsibility to hand over the bill AFTER highlighting the service charge, usually by underlining it and putting a star alongside. In my experience, most people then rounded it up to the nearest R10 and everyone was happy. Here’s a couple of other restaurant bugbears – http://www.food24.com/News-and-Guides/Features/Restaurant-scams-we-should-all-know-about-20140527

    • Dax says:

      Thanks for the link, Cathy. Some good tips there. And I also round up the service charge slightly, particularly if it is pointed out to me.

  2. I have to agree with you on your take, specially the one where you eat on a discount or with a voucher. Tip according to what the full amount would have been.

    The other thing is what a lot of people call “bad service”. Often its not the waiter’s fault at all. You can’t blame a waiter if the kitchen is overloaded with orders. You can blame him if you ask for a refill or order something and they forget to bring it.

    The third one I want to echo is restaurants and bars not paying their waitrons and barmen properly saying that they make tips as well but charging a lot more compared to others. They should be paying their employees and not expect patrons to do so. A tip is an extra for them and shouldn’t be the bulk.

    Lastly, I think everybody should waiter or work as a barman at some stage in their lives. In my opinion its those who have never done so that are most critical about service (even if the service isn’t bad because of the waiter) and don’t tip properly.

    • Dax says:

      Yes, I agree, many restaurants take advantage of their service staff.

      Also, you’re right, many people struggle to differentiate between bad service and a bad experience and punish the server when it’s not their fault.

  3. Amanda Tremeer says:

    Here’s a dilemma: what about sushi restaurants when you sit at the conveyor belt? The bill can come to a few hundred rand, but all the waitress has really done is maybe bring you a drink and the bill. You wouldn’t tip at a self-service or takeaway place with tables, but I do feel obliged to leave the full 10% there. (The restaurant we usually go to has really lovely staff, so we don’t really mind!) I’ve often wondered what other people’s take on this is.

    • Dax says:

      That’s a good question, Amanda. I think that in a lot of these things is the idea of turnover. For instance my argument re bartenders getting 10% is that they serve tons of drinks in an hour/night. When you do sushi at the counter, it’s different to sushi at the table because you don’t linger, you don’t wait for your food, etc. I would say that those seats get turned 4 to 6 times in a night as opposed to 1 to 2 times at normal tables, which means it’s not unreasonable to pay less than 10% on your bill.

  4. Tomi says:

    Great observations Dax! I’d be livid if they automatically added 10% to a bar tab. I was a bartender and was perfectly happy with 5% – it’s not that hard pouring drinks/opening bottles and turnover is generally quite high. I think for great cocktails the tip should be extra if the barman adds value (i.e. doesn’t just use pre-mix!).

    In restaurants, it’s also about value. If the waitron interacts well, they get more than 10%. If not, they get less. The one problem is at expensive restaurants – when the service is average, the waitron still expects 10%, which can be over R150 (four people) for bringing food out for an hour. This too is a bit presumptious.

    100% agree that restaurants should pay staff more but doubt this will happen with the excess supply of willing and able foreign workers in SA.

    • Dax says:

      Theoretically expensive restaurants should attract good waiters as they will get good tips, so if you’re getting average service at an expensive restaurant then something is wrong and you should perhaps notify management.

  5. Dax says:

    What about minimum tip amounts? For instance, if I go to the Spur for their breakfast special (R25) and a coffee (R15), the tip would be R4. Which is less than I would pay my car guard! What do you do in those situations? I normally don’t leave less than R10.