To tip or not to tip, that’s the question


The waiter hands you the credit card terminal with your the amount of your bill on the screen and the question “would you like to add a gratuity?”  What do you do?  This is not a question about the use of modern technology, but the art of tipping.

Tipping is a cultural thing.  Not all cultures expect tips and things have changed in the UK. From 1997 to 2002, I lived in Malaysia and Singapore where there was no culture of tipping.  When I came back to the UK I was not sure what tipping culture was any more.   Tipping culture has changed and now only some, more exclusive pubs and restaurants, ask for tips.

I remember the days when going out was a privilege, something only for a special occasion, it was expensive, so we saved up.  Eating out was not a routine part of life.  For restaurant staff, there was no minimum wage and tips formed a significant chunk of take-home money.  I can remember earning as much in tips as proper pay when I was a waiter.  In those days, a tip was given as a mark of gratitude for good service.   The culture of tipping people who have patiently served you is a reflection of a biblical attitude of mutual serving and gratitude.

1 Peter 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

In today’s business driven culture, good service is motivated not so much by care for the customer but rather by good business acumen.  Every successful business owner, including restaurateurs, knows that good customer care leads to a good reputation which leads to profit.  As the credit card terminal flashes its invitation for me to be grateful, my modern cultural instinct is to think, “you owe me good service because I’ve paid for it.  I expect good service because if you don’t do it you’ll soon close down.”

Being a follower of Christ, however, I want to keep my side of the administration of grace and so I’ll try to be generous when tipping.  I’d like to encourage a return of good service purely for the good of the customer and not because it makes a bigger profit.  I know that tipping won’t do it alone. I need to explain why I tip, but you can’t leave a note on the plate saying “I do this as an administration of grace.”

Something needs to be said about generosity and care not profit. Some might think I’m being a bit black and white in my approach to service.  Why can’t we care for people and seek a profit at the same time? Jesus says the two motivations don’t mix.

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Matthew 6:24

And what about the credit card terminal? I always press “no” and then leave a cash tip. It makes tipping more personal that passing it through the banking and payroll system when I put cash on the plate.

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One Response to To tip or not to tip, that’s the question

  1. Yeah I agree about the terminal, I worry that it ends up a long way from the serving staff. I would leave a 10%ish tip for normal service and more or none if it was particularly good or bad. I hate it when you’re out with a group and nobody seems inclined to leave a tip.

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