Tipping Point: Should UK restaurants ban tipping?

By Peter Ruddick

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Service charge, Busboy, Uk

Top tips: A New York restaurant has asked diners to refrain from tipping - it has sparked a debate on the benefits, or otherwise, of banning tipping
Top tips: A New York restaurant has asked diners to refrain from tipping - it has sparked a debate on the benefits, or otherwise, of banning tipping
UK restaurateurs and front-of-house staff have slammed the decision of a New York restaurant to outlaw tipping, calling the move 'ridiculous' and one that should not be adopted by venues on this side of the pond.

Leading Japanese restaurant Sushi Yasuda made waves Stateside earlier this month when it announced it was now informing diners that its waiters no longer accepted tips.

The reason? The owners of the restaurant said their staff were now 'fully compensated' by their salary and, unlike their peers in New York and elsewhere in the US, were not working for their tips to top up their wage.

The move is not as crazy as it first sounds - it is a policy that is commonplace in Japan. In other countries around the world - Iceland for example - a tipping culture simply doesn't exist.

Ridiculous

In the UK many restaurants add a service charge - generally 10-12.5 per cent - and diners are then empowered to tip more if they think they received outstanding service or remove or reduce the charge if they are unhappy.

However, if a restaurant in the US can discourage tipping then surely it should be easy for a UK restaurant to follow suit? Should businesses find ways to pay their front of house staff a higher wage and remove the difficult decision or awkwardness for their customers?

"It is a ridiculous decision," said Fred Sirieix, general manager of Galvin at Windows. The legendary service expert told BigHospitality that tipping was about more than compensating workers who can sometimes earn a relatively low wage.

"I have tipped doctors before," he revealed. "I have given tips to the emergency services and to plumbers. It depends how you feel about something that has been done over and above what you would normally expect.

"Customers will want to give a tip and they will put it in the pocket of the waiter - it will happen," Sirieix argued.

Living wage

However, with National Waiters Day 2013​ just around the corner the debate on tipping ignited another discussion on Twitter about hospitality industry wages - should we celebrate our hard-working waiting staff by rewarding them with a higher salary?

While some of BigHospitality's followers on Twitter were clear in their view - tips were only necessary to make up for low wages - others echoed Sirieix's point that people will always want to tip great service:

Although the owners of Sushi Yasuda made big headlines around the world with their decision, what was less well-reported was how they have managed to afford the higher wages they now pay their front-of-house team - restaurant prices have gone up by 15 per cent.

Leading UK restaurateur Russell Norman argued UK businesses would be unable to follow suit easily:

Service charge

If an awkwardness or confusion exists for UK diners when the end of the meal comes around it can perhaps be attributed to the service charge. "People think a service charge is a tip - they are two different things," Sirieix said.

"The service charge has been around for so long it has become the norm whereas in France or maybe in America it is not the case so tipping is more prevalent."

However the front-of-house expert denied the service charge could be a reason for discouraging tipping in the UK. "When you feel that something is really good and somebody has touched your heart in some way you should tip," he suggested.

Paulo de Tarso, senior maître d’ at Bar Boulud, agreed with Sirieix that waiters should not work for their tips but should continue to receive them if they give excellent service.

"It is insane what they are doing," he said, referring to the New York restaurant. "Tipping is generosity that comes from a human being's heart. The minute someone asks to remove the 12.5 per cent service charge from the bill I will take it off.

"It should be a customer decision - if the waiter has made your evening and you want to give him a little more (than the service charge) then so be it. Often people want to leave more.

"I don't agree with this restaurant's decision - it would never work."

Survey

Should UK restaurants ban tipping?

  • YES - Restaurants should pay waiters a higher wage and remove the awkwardness for diners.

    48%
  • NO - Tipping is about rewarding great service and not about topping up a salary.

    52%

Related news

Show more

3 comments

TIPPING POINTS

Posted by Tony Potter,

Care needs to be taken in any comparison with the USA which has a highly unionized hospitality industry and a completely different attitude to service. A well integrated service charge culture does work with up to 22% being added to the bill. What is outrageous is when a discretionary amount is expected as well.

Report abuse

Tax avoidance

Posted by Gideon Osborne,

The restaurant industry needs to be more honest and admit that the whole tipping/service charge structure in the UK is a tax/NI avoidance scheme. It has become embedded in the sector to such an extent that operators cannot compete effectively unless they join the bandwagon. IMHO the government should legislate. Yes, net proftability will fall but overall eating out spend will increase.

Report abuse

Service Charges

Posted by gordon,

If this restaurant wants to ban tips, great, but it is will have no effect on the UK or Europe. I disagree with restaurants charging a service charge as it rarely goes to staff and is simply adding money to be there. They should make this practice illegal as it is a rip off

Report abuse

Spotlight

Follow us

Hospitality Guides

View more

Featured Suppliers

All suppliers