Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Tips and Service

There's one more thing I picked up from USA which I feel that should be implemented elsewhere in the world and that is the culture of tipping. I've lived all my life in either Malaysia or Singapore, both countries that favour charging a service charge over tipping so I've never seen how the service industry of a country that employs tipping works but having seen it in action, I'm almost convinced that tipping is a superior system that should be adopted in more places around the world.

The rationale behind tipping is simple, people in the service industry such as waiters, tour guides and private bus drivers earn additional revenue based on how their customers feel they deserve to earn. The average tip is about 12-15% but if you're feeling generous, 18% is about right. The crux is that tipping is entirely optional. If the waiter did a terrible job at their job, the customer is entirely entitled to not leave a tip. If you factor in the measly wage some of these professions have (we noted somewhere that a waiter can earn as little a $2/hour), the money they earn from tips becomes all that important so service industry employees continually strive to impress their customers in attempts to get a better tip.

I'll pull up an example of how terrible the service industry can get in the absence of tipping. Australia is a country that not only lacks the practice of tipping, employees are all protected by Australia's insanely high minimum wage (if my memory serves me well, a stall attendant earns about $12-$16 per hour). As a result of these compounding factors, employees take for granted the belief that they are entitled to their abnormally high wages regardless of the work they put in. This is especially evident among young employees. Too many times I encountered absolutely terrible service during my stays in Australia. More often than not I meet waiters who couldn't care less about their customers, carrying themselves with a demeanor which could rival a poor desk jockey stuck with a permanent data entry job. If their earnings were determined by tips, most of these waiters won't even a tip, let a alone the minimal 10% the underperforming waiters get. 

While I'm here advocating tipping to be implemented in other nations, the critical part of me understands that the practice of tipping can only exist in a society with the culture of tipping, a culture that is sadly absent among Asian societies, particularly Singaporean society. I don't really wish to attack the culture that I live in but by and large, it's all completely true. By our very nature, we're particularly stingy over things we don't want to spend money on. A Singaporean friend of mine living in USA for a year quite shamelessly advised us that if we don't intend to visit a restaurant ever again, we could just not leave a tip, regardless the level of service we get.

Another possible problem with tipping is that the customer's perception of how much to tip may be greatly swayed by forces beyond the service employees control. If the chef is having a bad day and dishes out mediocre food, the waiter's tip could be in jeopardy because the overall dining experience is still spoilt. If a customer is feeling disgruntled for their own personal reason, again the waiter's tip could be adversely affected. I feel that Asians, on top of not embracing tipping culture, prefer predictability and having a handle on things so the unpredictability of tipping is the least bit desired.

At the end of the day, tipping is still a valid form of extrinsic motivation which would greatly benefit the service industry but it would take a culture that knows how to embrace it before it could properly function. Maybe one day, Asian cultures will learn to adopt tipping, for the betterment of service.

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