British people receive bad service abroad because everyone thinks they’re bad tippers

Posted on May 12, 2010 by yankeebean

yankeebean

I had an interesting chat with my brother-in-law and his wife awhile ago.  My BIL and his wife travel all over the place constantly.  They’ve been back and forth across the world again and again – from snazzy fancy places to places where you have to get a slew of shots before you’re allow to set foot in.

We were talking about waiting tables and how it’s bloody hard work for bugger-all cash.  I commented that I’d been a waitress both in the US and in the UK and that you could made a PACKET from tips in the US – but not in the UK.  Based on my experience, in the States tipping averaged out between 15% and 20% – in the UK it averaged out to roughly 1 pound per customer.

To compare – If 4 people went out and spent 50.00 GBP / 74.04 USD on a meal the tips might be:

  • 10.00 GBP / 14.81 USD in America (20% tip)
  • 4.00 GBP / 5.92 USD in England (1 pound per person tip)

(Rate conversion was done via Google)

When you’ve been on your feet for 8 hours and your ankles are the size of a couple of hams, the difference between those two amounts is HEEE-YOOOJE… I’m so glad I don’t wait tables any more…

Anyway… my BIL then said that they regularly receive terrible service while abroad, even in America.  He thinks that all Brits are up the international creek just because of their reputation as bad tippers.  Have any other Brits noticed this?

Mr Nice Guy hasn’t noticed really, but I usually do the talking when we’re out about because no one understands what he’s saying :)

I’m definitely guilty of rushing to judgement about UK tipping (probably because I’ve been on the wrong side of a bad tip WAY too many times) – but it never occurred to me that it would come back to bite the Brits…

———————————

UPDATE – I was watching Live at the Apollo last night and Jason Manford did a whole schpeal about why British people don’t tip.  Too good to be true – http://bbc.co.uk/i/r95jk/.  (This link will start right at the part about tipping and is only available until 15th May).

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What Others Are Saying

  1. Michelle June 22, 2010 at 2:39 am

    Don’t forget that the idea of being a “good” or a “bad” tipper is a culturally-defined one. Tipping customs and expectations varu from country to country, from Japan to Germany to Kuwait etc.

    For example, in the US, the expected tip for taxi drivers is about 15%, but in the UK, it’s not expected that you will tip a taxi driver, although it’s good to round up to the nearest whole number. That’s why UK black cab drivers often love it when Americans get in their taxi, because they know they’ll get a big tip. You can’t say that the Brits are “bad” tippers when it comes to taxis in their own country, because it’s the cultural expectation. When Brits go to the US and take taxis and don’t know or care that the US standard is a 15% tip, yes, they will look very mean and penny-pinching to the driver at the end of the ride when he tells them it’s $9.50 and they give him $10.00 and tell him to keep the change, but they are just doing what is standard in their country.

    So I think it’s good to compare a person’s tipping behaviour to the expected norm of behaviour in his/her own culture, and to the context. I’ve known both British and American people who tip generously when compared with what is expected of them, and those who are ungenerous with their tips, or even leave nothing.

    People need to be more aware that the expectations of tipping vary from place to place, and to learn about them before travelling / moving somewhere new.

  2. Jennifer June 17, 2010 at 9:00 am

    I am an American married to a British good tipper! I have lived in the UK for eight years. My husband is and has always been a very good tipper. I am also a good tipper. I would say we tip on average 20-25% or more – whether we are in the UK or in the US. The truth is – if you can afford to eat in a resatuarant, you can afford to leave a decent tip.

    We have a very low opinion of bad tippers. My Dad used to say – “Never trust a lousy tipper.” Every person that I know to be a bad tipper, thinks the world owes them. Bad tippers are rude and look down on everyone. Dad was right – these cheap b@stards can’t be trusted!

  3. Teabag May 29, 2010 at 9:17 am

    As a Brit, I don’t really notice that I get bad service in other countries, probably I think because service in *this* country is usually pretty poor. Do the waiting staff in pubs and restaurants here really look as if they enjoy their job usually, or at least, take it seriously? Chances are you will get a teenager who is working in the evenings or university holidays to get a bit of pocket money. They are often surly, unhelpful, forgetful, unobservant. Frankly, they don’t worry too much about whether or not they get a tip because they are already probably already earning more money than they have before, and it’s also just pocket money as opposed to essential, bill-paying money.

    You want to make a slight alteration to your meal? Deviate in some way from the description on the menu? You’ve probably only got a 50/50 chance of success.

    In my various visits to the States, I have noticed that waiting staff do at least give the appearance of enthusiasm (sometimes a little too much actually) and taking some pride in what they do…and for the most part, it seems quite natural. When the Brits try to be enthusiastic about the job, it just comes across as fake, they often seem to be parroting stock phrases that they’ve been taught on some induction course, if they are working for a chain restaurant. Maybe this difference comes from us being a generally more reserved people…many of us will do whatever we can to avoid having to speak to strangers.

    Another thought, I do feel that Brits appreciate different things in waiting staff. When in the States, I didn’t really appreciate being asked if I wanted my iced-tea topping up everytime I got down to the half-way point. For me, good waiting staff should simply be polite, take an order quickly and accurately, do their best to accommodate any special requests, and then just be observant…melt into the background and keep an eye out for a raised hand that is summoning them to order more drinks or ask for something else. We don’t, for the most part, want any kind of conversation with the staff that extends beyond the usual greetings and the taking of the order. If we do want any more engagement, *we* will initiate it! I remember the Americans I was with in the States not tipping as well sometimes because they felt the server was being ‘miserable’ or ‘churlish’, just because they weren’t very talkative and didn’t have a huge fake-looking grin plastered across their face, whereas I was much happier with the quieter, and as I saw it, less intrusive staff. As long as I am attended to promptly when needed, i’m happy! And I don’t usually want a random conversation with waiting staff when I go for a meal, anywhere. If for any reason I do, I will be the one to start it!

  4. jacaranda May 15, 2010 at 3:20 am

    Isn’t there a self-fulfilling expectation involved here?

    Example:
    1. American wait-person (in the USA) sees a British party waiting to be served.
    2. Same American wait-person assumes the Brits are not going to tip much.
    3. Therefore does not serve them very well.
    4. Therefore Brit party, feeling they have not been served well, do not tip well.

    See the circularity?
    ——–
    Peter Ngombi

    • yankeebean May 15, 2010 at 11:29 am

      Hi Peter – I can only speak from personal experience, but I always gave the same service (I believe)… I’ve worked in customer service for so long that it’s completely habitual. It flows through my veins :) . In fact, I first met Peacefulyorkshire when I sold her tea to take back home to her dad…

      I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t it’s true for me…

  5. Steve Shawcross May 14, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Sadly in the USA, the wage isn’t as ‘high’ as the UK– minimum wage is £5.88/hour (thinks it’s gone up at last budget?). So I appreciate you need to be tipped on the other side of the pond.

    I was a waiter for years; I didn’t expect a tip, because I was paid to serve them, my job. I saw tipping as a reward for good work, and not something obligatory.

    Also personal tips are taxable, especially if done by card. The way we (at the restaurant I worked at) got round this was to encourage cash-tipping, and we pooled it– we *all* had a night out on the proceeds. Much fairer than the waiter pocketing it, or the taxman swiping most of it don’t you think?

    • yankeebean May 14, 2010 at 11:38 pm

      Fair schmare! Gimme the tips…

  6. peacefulyorkshire May 14, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Oh yankeebean I had a nice play of that tipping sketch from Live at the Apollo. What a treat! Laughing central! Jason Manford blames a lack of tips on the lack of low denomination notes in the UK– how can you give an adult a one pound coin and feel right about it? hilarious stuff.

  7. TheMysteriousHat May 14, 2010 at 9:38 am

    “It’s easy to think American service is impeccable, but I’ve had bad experiences back home as well. Even Americans can’t be cheerful all the time.”

    Ah, but that’s the thing… equating good service with being cheerful. Major cultural difference between US and UK.

    • yankeebean May 14, 2010 at 8:42 am

      @TheMysteriousHat That’s a good point. I don’t need someone to be really cheery all the time. But I would like them to stick a cork in their misery while I’m paying for service :D

  8. Justine May 13, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Unfortunately it says that because I’m in the U.S., I’m not able to watch it : (

    • yankeebean May 14, 2010 at 8:38 am

      Sorry Justine! I always forget that BBC iplayer is a UK only thing. If I find a YouTube version I’ll add that as well :)

  9. yankeebean May 13, 2010 at 8:36 am

    Jason Manford JUST did a whole schpeal about British people being bad tippers. The link is avail until 15th May, it’s hilarious :D

    http://bbc.co.uk/i/r95jk/

  10. alisha May 13, 2010 at 7:49 am

    I had to laugh at this because I was just telling my British brother-in-law how when I worked as a waitress in the States the wait staff would fight not to get the European tables (& I’m including Brits in this) because of their notorious reputation as poor tippers! I always treated my customers the same and with a smile of course, but it’s true that everyone carries unfair cultural baggage.

    From my experience however, waitresses in the States still fawn over my British husband’s accent, so I’ve never seen it as a detriment. Once, when we were driving through a small town and my husband’s credit card wasn’t working at Dairy Queen, the manager asked him, delightedly, if he were English. Then the manager told Dan he could have his meal for free, shook his hand and said, “Welcome to the United States of America son.” Good thing I hadn’t said a word!

    It’s easy to think American service is impeccable, but I’ve had bad experiences back home as well. Even Americans can’t be cheerful all the time. :)

  11. Rachel May 12, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Haha! I was a waitress for years in the US before moving here to England. Every time a Brit or an Aussie came to one of the restaurants where I worked, all the waitstaff would fight NOT to get their table. With experience working in a vacation beach-town I can say with experience to back me up that the stereotype usually does fit. Obviously, when you are making only 1.50/hour and relying so heavily on tips (as opposed to the UK system where waitresses get an ACTUAL salary that is minimum wage) — you are nice even to customers you’d stereotype as bad tippers. So I guess it wouldn’t surprise me that waiters would fight not to get a table of Brits and maybe the table goes to the least-interested waiter/waitress — it is bad form for them to treat the table badly. You never know when one would actually feel generous!

    • peacefulyorkshire May 12, 2010 at 6:06 pm

      Before I met my English fiancee, I used to judge a man’s manners on the amount of tip he left. Sadly you can’t use this rule in Britain!!!

      • yankeebean May 14, 2010 at 8:45 am

        @peacefulyorkshire I know what you mean!!! Actually, this last trip back – I noticed friends giving me funny looks because they didn’t think I was tipping enough. Guess I’m getting more British every day…

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