To tip or not to tip?

BUSINESS SNIPPETS - Marianne Go - The Philippine Star

Filipinos by nature are always appreciative of any extra service or attention given by those serving us. As I was growing up, a simple heartfelt thank you seemed to be enough, but occasionally my parents would give something in kind, normally food, to somebody doing extra work for us as a token of appreciation.

Eating out in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was a new novelty, an occasional treat that a family would enjoy to celebrate a special occasion. Household help was the norm and having a cook allowed families to enjoy home cooked meals at home. But gradually, people started to enjoy eating out more and buying food prepared by others.

During my childhood, I guess I did not really pay much attention to the tipping culture. At times I would notice that my parents would leave a couple of coins, sometimes I would even pinch a couple of the coins so that I could buy my favorite five centavo Choc-Nut from the sari-sari store.

Through my growing up years, tipping was still not the norm. However, occasionally someone would offer extraordinary and gracious service and I would notice that my parents would leave a tip, mostly coins, as a sign of appreciation.

As I grew up, I learned to appreciate loyalty and the suki or favored vendor relationship so that you would get better service and a concessional “discount” or extra weight from the cut of meat or an extra fish. On weekly wet market visits, it became common to hire small young boys to help carry the bayong or straw woven bags of meat, fish and vegetables and give them a very small “tip” for helping carry the load up to the car.

When I started dating, I became more aware of the tipping culture, especially when my date was squirming to either impress me or the server of how “rich” he was. When my friends and I would eat out, tipping was a shared expense - each contributing coins, but it was never an excessive tip.

I only became aware of the tipping culture in the mid 1980s when I got married and finally had to account for our money more closely. Eating out then was already an indulgence because it was still easy to get and maintain household staff. The cost of dining out was very affordable, a typical Japanese tempura meal for two just cost P180. Unbelievable now.

Thus, our biggest splurge, due to my husband’s new job, was at a Chinese shabu-shabu restaurant which was very new then in Makati, with the meal costing us a very expensive P450! – my weekly wet market budget! To top off that expensive treat, lo and behold my husband left a P10 tip!

Tipping in the Philippines from the 1980s up to the early 2000s depended primarily on how well the service was provided and how generous the patron was, most servers then were proud to have a job and a regular salary that was sufficient to meet their expenses. Tipping was not mandatory and was intended to incentivize the service worker and show appreciation for the service they provided.

However, I did begin to learn about the tipping culture in America when I studied there in the late 1970s, my first shock coming at the airport when the baggage handler demanded a $1 tip. Tipping, it turned out, is very much a part of American culture, good thing the Philippines had not made it a norm yet as the cost of living in the Philippines was still quite comfortable at the time.

The advent of the service charge

But like all good things, optional tipping had to come to an end. By 2019, the Philippines finally caught up with the rest of the world, and Republic Act 11360 or the Service Charge Law was enacted. Thus, business establishments, especially those in the service sector, could now tag on a basic service charge as a percentage of the total bill. The law is updated to account for the change in the percentage allowed.

With the service charge, tipping became an option. However, as the cost of eating out was still not prohibitive, it was still not a burden.

Fast forward to 2024, the cost of living is now a burden all over the world, and America – which is well-known for its demanding tipping culture – has now turned against its obnoxious tipping culture, especially in the face of Japan and Korea’s own culture of not accepting tips which most foreign tourists applaud.

According to recent US media articles, a survey has shown that an increasing number of Americans are now averse to leaving an additional tip on top of the mandatory service charge which can be as high as 30 percent of the total bill, and servers showing their displeasure or even actually demanding the gratuity if a customer does not leave a tip.

Even here in the Philippines, Filipinos are actually beginning to tip less, if at all. Tipping has had a pernicious effect with servers reluctant or unwilling to provide good service unless there is an indication that a good tip is forthcoming, and with servers competing with one another to pocket the tip.

Unfortunate, likewise, is the fact that the service charge that some establishments charge are not properly shared with the staff, if one is to believe some of the revelations of the servers and thus individual servers have to hustle to earn that extra tip.

After reading about the backlash among Americans now reluctant to the tipping culture, I have also noticed that Filipinos now are increasingly leaving less tips for servers, what with the additional charges local restaurants keep on adding to a customer’s bill. Following the pandemic and the continuous rise in prices, the tips are now kept at the minimum.

From my own recent experience at two steakhouses, tipping is no longer viable with the high cost of the meal, with most steaks imported as we do not grow our own beef, and the service charge that is equivalent to the mandatory 10 percent add on to the cost of the meals, plus a local tax of 1.5 percent. One restaurant offered excellent service, with knowledgeable staff who catered immediately to our request and thus deserved an additional, but minimal tip. The other steakhouse, however, had a pretentious staff that sought a reservation for an almost empty restaurant after the lunch hour, had to be prompted to follow up our steak order and everything else we needed.

Fortunately, for us, being seniors, we are entitled to a senior citizen discount of 20 percent plus a VAT exemption of 12 percent that allows us to normally leave a gratuity to our server/s who provide good or exceptional service.

Unfortunately, except for the well known restaurants, a lot of establishments try to skirt the mandatory SC discount, only computing for a 10 or even low five percent discount while abiding with the SC VAT discount. Thus, in those instances, the tip is not likely to be forthcoming especially since some of the establishments add on a 10 service charge also, negating the SC discount.

In the end, the servers are the ones who end up getting shortchanged as the business establishment shortchanges both the customers and their staff.

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