“I don’t tip … unless the service was exceptional, then I might.”
This is a very Australian sentence.
And on the surface this comment makes sense. Tipping is not a standard part of Australian custom. Some people do it, that’s fine. Some people don’t, that’s also fine. This sentence also suggests a link between effort and reward – an ideology we’ve been brought up with. Most people would probably not have a problem with the idea of tipping someone who has done a good job, even if they don’t tip themselves. So this type of comment is never really going to cause any issues.
But what is it that makes service good? What are the boxes that a service-employee has to tick so that they might get tipped?
The answer probably depends on the specific service, so for this discussion I’ll stick to restaurants.
Timeliness is probably important. Nobody likes waiting around for food. In some cases it is the efforts of a good waiter that ensures prompt meals, but a long wait may not be the fault of a waiter. The kitchen staff, for whatever reason, may have taken their sweet time. Also, when you’re hungry time moves very slowly. Does this turn otherwise good service into bad service?
Friendliness is surely important. But friendliness is very subjective. One person’s idea of friendliness is another person’s idea of being nosy or overbearing. Anyway, how much should someone’s tip be tied to how much they laugh at customer’s jokes?
Being knowledgeable about the menu and being in a position to offer suggestions would probably help on the service-level scale. But taste is a very personal thing. Should the waiter be held accountable to their suggestions?
These are just a few examples, there are other factors that could be considered here.
Good service is very hard to define, but we all have a sense of what it is when we experience it. But because its so personal and subjective, saying something like, ‘I tip for good service’, enables us to appear generous without actually being generous.
“Well, I would’ve tipped them – the food was okay, it didn’t take too long, but the waiter could have been a bit nicer” (whatever that means).
So, in some ways, saying that we tip for good service doesn’t mean anything, because each of us sets the bar of what good service is. Also, since each of us are the judge, if we don’t feel like tipping then its easy enough to say the service just wasn’t deserving of a tip.
But saying we tip for good service does allow us to keep our options open, do whatever we want and appear generous and considerate all at the same time.