Loose Change – Should It End Up In The Tip Jar?

A quick show of hands; how many of you leave a tip when you dine out? If you live in Singapore, the chances are probably close to none.

Let’s forget about tipping for now and talk about basic respect to fellow human beings. Most eateries in Singapore are fronted by young, energetic and eager servers – be it students looking to earn some extra pocket money during term breaks or clueless immigrants whose main priority is to earn enough to support their families back in their homeland – all raring to go at the start of the day, only to be belittled by abusive and overly demanding customers. “We are the ones who pay your salary!” and “What kind of bloody service is this?!” are just some of the many verbal acknowledgements servers get on the job. I heard a story about a royal family’s butler bought banquet-sized amounts of food as a thoughtful gesture to his sovereign overlord and family – who seemed to enjoy the same food items during their previous visit – only to be told to finish up every single thing he bought. His-Royal-Pain-in-the-Butt’s reason for doing so? He thought the butler was “being a smart aleck”.

So why is it when someone diligently carries out his or her job in a near flawless fashion simply gets a pat-on-the-back (or a lifetime supply of antacids if you happen to be a butler for some royalty), but when the slightest of mistakes occur, the hairdryer treatment is enforced without second thoughts? I’ve personally experienced a customer who nonchalantly requested for her meal to be waived upon “discovering her steak was medium rare instead of medium” – after the plate had seemed to be licked clean, garnish and all. She even managed to get rid of the little stain on the plate which Auntie Chong’s repeated cycles in the dishwasher couldn’t remove (let me know if you’ve got a faulty dishwasher; I know just the person for the job).

You may argue that since I come from a service background, I tend to sympathize with the servers. No (she was cute, but I can’t forgive someone who doesn’t understand the meaning of a glass of water without ice after repeating it twice) and yes. Customers tend to forget that servers are human beings and human beings aren’t perfect. In addition to that, there are other tables in the eatery that need to be served, not only yours alone. As a server, you’d be lucky to have your “temporary owners” – a moniker most of them would love to be acknowledged as – look up from their plate and affirm your very existence; other than when they:

i) need a refill of water;

ii) when they call for the bill; or

iii) when you screw up.

When the server is faced with scenario iii), the customer immediately takes offense, requests to see the person-in-charge and proceeds to hurl your run-of-the-mill profanity (some of which in various languages and dialects). Other audacious attempts at blackmail include (but are not limited to); claiming to be friends with the owner, threatening to tarnish the name of the eatery by tapping on his smartphone and boasting knowledge of some type of law. You know who you are. All this drama by the customer, worthy of an Oscar, even after the server has admitted and recognized his or her mistake and attempt to remedy the situation.

Now back to tipping. Taking a page out of Steve Dublanica’s bestseller Waiter Rant, I’ve come to notice that Singaporean diners (myself included) fall mainly between the lines of “The Verbal Tippers” and “The Cheapskate”. For those who aren’t familiar, tipping is not a social norm when dining out in Singapore. On top of the mandatory 7% Goods and Services Tax or GST (VAT in other countries) imposed by the government on most eateries, a 10% Service Charge is usually added on to the bill. That’s 17% of the cost of your food. Upon seeing this, most cheapskates customers would assume the final amount garnered from this Service Charge at the end of the day or month would be equally divided and subsequently accredited into the staff’s wages. Therefore, they see no need for a tip. Personally, I have yet to see the logic and justice in the aforementioned practice when on one hand, you can have excellent servers like Matthew working a flawless and compliment-laden shift all night by being tactful to his customers, but on the other end of the spectrum, you have reckless David who spends more than half of his shift constantly serving wrong tables, always busy with God-knows-what on his $800 smartphone and malingering during the busiest of times.

A practice of mine as well as my mum’s is to ensure people like Matthew gets his well-deserved tip straight into his pocket. Yes, I will see to it that the bills go straight into his pocket and not into the Service Charge “pool”. Whatever the reason, even if you choose not to tip, make these servers feel appreciated at the very least. They are neither your punching bags nor your slaves. Most of them work hard and pay bills and taxes like everybody else. Even without being offered any monetary gain, seeing a member of the food and beverage industry with a smile on their face when being acknowledged is bliss. People take pride and feel good when recognized or given positive feedback (verbal tip) for doing a good job; it’s just a natural human emotion.

But if you still decide to behave like an ass, then be prepared to be recognized and treated as one. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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