Want better service? Here’s a tip.

When I jetted off on my first trip to the USA I frowned upon the thought of having to tip anybody who provided a service, whether it be opening the taxi door, making my hotel bed, or serving the evening meal. I was unaware, of course, that the waiter (for example) who served me my meal and topped up my wine was likely to be paid less than the minimum federal wage, which may be as low as $2 an hour.

Imagine working for $2 an hour and missing out on tips.

At first, I begrudgingly paid the customary gratuity but by my third visit to the USA my tips were generous and willingly paid. And the reason I handed over the cash was not because I felt sorry for someone earning $2 an hour but because they were providing me with exceptional service and in my opinion deserved the reward.

Back home in Australia, waiting staff are paid a wage regardless, the costs of which are passed on to the customer for the goods and services purchased. The service, in comparison to that provided in the USA, can be rather poor. Some rude, incompetent buffoons masquerading as waiters (who earn $25 an hour) I’ve had the misfortune to encounter locally I could happily have shaken to death or attacked murderously with my steak knife. I and other customers mean nothing to them. They’re going to get paid whether they provide a good service or not. Give me American waiting staff any day; ones who jump with a smile at the snap of a finger.

In a perfect world the custom of tipping would be a win-win-win situation for employers, employees and customers. But this isn’t a perfect world. It’s the real world and in a number of cases the only winners are the employers and the customers. As much as I find tipping can be the small price of a rewarding experience it doesn’t sit we’ll with me that employees are being screwed by employers and customers for the princely sum of $2 an hour.

Many visitors to the USA don’t like paying tips and will often avoid doing so. How humiliating it must be to work for $2 an hour cleaning rooms, making beds or clearing breakfast tables. Tick this is a big win to the consumer. They’ve received a service for free.

Whilst I’m happy to oblige to American customs when I’m in America, I hope this is one custom that doesn’t find its way to Australia.

Under an extreme right-wing government I think it eventually will.

31 comments on “Want better service? Here’s a tip.

  1. Migs, if penalty rates were removed, should one take into consideration, these people are working when most are at their leisure,

    Should we then tip.

    Personally I believe this is the boss’s responsibility. He is making money from workers in their leisure time.

  2. American writer and academic Barbara Ehrenreich went undercover and got jobs in that part of the labour market you’re referring to Migs.

    She wrote a book called “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America”

    I was truly shocked by it. Stories of poor bastards working for places like Wal-Mart for $5 an hour, and going home to a trailer park to share.

    For millions of American workers there is no future, just unremitting toil. No wonder it’s such a violent society. It’s the product of the triumph of neo-liberal economics.

    I hope you had a good reason for wanting to go there.

  3. I’ve heard stories from friends who tell me wait staff in the US sometimes get no pay at all (from the boss) but do so willingly because the clientelle of the particular establishment are generous tippers.

  4. If you remember at the height of the exposures of employers taking full advantage of WorkChoices to the detriment of their workers, at the top of those exposed for taking away conditions, entitlements and reducing pay was the restaurant and catering industry.

    Under an Abbott government and WorkChoices MkII this will occur again only worse.

    Keep this in mind. One of the reasons WorkChoices v2 with Safety Net turned toxic was the exposure of the many employers taking full advantage of the (deliberate) loopholes in the badly framed legislation that allowed them to screw their employees.

    Those many exposures were mostly revealed by State Labor governments and workers’ unions, but mostly by the State governments.

    We now have bent and deceitful State Liberals in power, so under Abbott’s WorkChoices MkII workers will be well and truly screwed. You only need look at what the State Liberals are doing to workers under their own IR legislation to see this in action, where for instance O’Farrell and Newman have bought in IR regulations that make Howard’s WorkChoices look benign.

    There has and always be one thing that you can trust Liberal government of all persuasions to do, screw the workers to help their big business benefactors.

  5. Morgan Spurlock, the bloke responsible for “Supersize Me,” an excellant movie, by the way, also produced a TV series in the same vein. He’d get volunteers to do 30 days of whatever. In one instance a devout Christian man lived with a Muslim couple for 30 days and was given a great deal to think about. Morgan Spurlock and his girlfriend took the first shift and worked minimum wage jobs. In one particular incident his girlfriend had a really bad headache and they couldn’t afford to go to the doctor to get a prescription and ended up going to the emergency room and waiting for hours.

  6. “Whilst I’m happy to oblige to American customs when I’m in America, I hope this is one custom that doesn’t find its way to Australia.”

    It’s here Miglo and it’s been here almost as long as my first trip to the US in 1960.

    Tipping is a good way to recognise awesome service. In the late seventies, a friend from the US, working in a Sunshine Coast restaurant made more from tips than she did from her wages.

  7. It’s an abominable practice, created by people who treat their workers abominably and pay them a pittance. The most disgusting thing about it is that it is a widespread practice in the ‘so-called’ land of the free (to be exploited). And every time we turn to a Coaliton government we take another slippery slidey step down the road to the Americanisation of Australia. That’s the real tragedy!

  8. This is an essential ingredient in the Neocon recipe book for success. Exploitation masquerading as market forces. The ideology of work choices is deeply steeped in this principal where the mantra is anyone has the potential to become a zillionair. This is the same lie that fiberals use to reel in the aspirational zillionairs of “the.howard battlers” (and battle they did under Howard). You know, “we are rich so you will be too”, You know, people in a factory all have the ability to negotiate with their employer, you don’t need those demon communist unionists.
    Of the course the one I love most, we are better economic managers despite having no plan, whilst all other indicators show the opposite. Look for any working class success story and you find neocons hovering like flies to shit. When I had staff they were paid before me after all its my risk not theirs.

  9. Migs an interesting article and hope you enjoyed the US trip.
    Have just returned from Europe/UK – the service and attitude towards guests both
    local and international tourists was excellent.Just like my US experience.
    Aust levels of service by comparison are very poor , does not seem reliant on
    what staff are paid per hour. To prove my point service is not 2and a half times
    better on Public Holidays which is the norm in Oz.
    Tipping is not common practice here but works very well in US , where exceptional
    service is rewarded by a much bigger tip.
    Its the Union mentality where the lowest performer must be paid the same as the
    best performer that stuffs our system.

  10. I once had a second job washing dishes at a 5 star restaurant in Sydney and didn’t get any tips 😦 …..( but Chef did cook my dinner for tea-break 😉 ) 😀

  11. and for $10hr cash in hand… week days or w/end.. $10hr plus a 200g steak for Tea. (plus a go at the Cake table ).
    Makes me wonder about the poor US worker ‘out back’ and thier ‘exposure’ or lack of, to the tipping scheme….. is the dishwashers work any less or better ‘performed’ than the ‘frontline’ waiting staff…. or are they on $2hr no tips and pick’n at the left-overs for tea… dosnt seem like a fair work place practise to me.

  12. “Its the Union mentality where the lowest performer must be paid the same as the
    best performer that stuffs our system.”

    That’s a rather out-dated take on what unions are about these days Voyager.

    And I’d be wary of just accepting the employer lobby’s characterisation of the labour market as “stuffed”.

    It may well be stuffed from their point of view but only to the extent that the worst excesses of Workchoices were denied them by the present govt.

    If you yearn for the halcyon days of a union-free totally deregulated labour market I suggest you read some Dickens. Dark satanic mills and all that. Or take a trip to the US.

    There is no empirical support for the conservative position that labour market regulation is a drag on employment and productivity.

  13. Union mentality? Please, what a crock. Unions maintain minimum standard wages. Performance bonuses are for people who have the capacity to negotiate contracts. People forget that unions built and maintain the standard of living we enjoy now. It’s the neocon fiberals that want work choices. Voyger work for minimum wage and see how motivated you are to make the boss rich. My employees were on minimum with performance bonuses based on performance. Incentive is the greatest motivation you can extend to an employee. Union mentality, I bet you have never been a member of a trade union. I have been on both sides of the fence and if I can’t pay someone a minimum wage, I can’t afford to employ them plain and simple.

  14. Oh and by far the best service I receive in Australia specificly in Sydney is in small Asian resteraunts. Most of them recognize me as a regular and I always say hi and compliment the chef, wherever I go. Good manors and courtesy promotes good service. I always reward exceptional service with an email.

  15. “People forget that unions built and maintain the standard of living we enjoy now.”

    Not to mention the public owned (but increasingly privatised) infrastructure…the roads, rail, dams, telephone, water and electricity grid without which private enterprise would be limited to subsistence agriculture.

    Add to that all the extension services provided free to agriculturists by government research departments. Etc.

    “When I had staff they were paid before me after all its my risk not theirs.”

    Need any help at the moment Ricky ? I know how to count the pins on a valve socket if that’s still useful knowledge.

  16. Mangrove Jack (I have fished for them many times and know a few hidy holes on the nossa river) that is a use ful thing nowadays. I still have a few valve compressors and my 64 blackface fender princeton. Love my valve gear, when I was studying I had a gig doing repairs. Mate, I’m glad you remember as most don’t, unions seem to be an inconvenien encumberment to immoral aspirational capitalists. Some in Labor may want to look on the wall in Sussex st and take a reality check. Most of what was built by union labor on the public purse is now fodder for capitalists. I don’t want my clients to tip me,just pay their bills. I find the bigger and more “liberal” they are, the harder they are to get them to pay up.

  17. Clearly the solution is a guaranteed living wage and then the patron is free to tip for above average service. The American system is part of their history (tithing) and is an obligation – this system would clearly be unworkable in Australia. The hospitality industry is bad enough now with young people put on as a trial basis..bingo, free labour.

  18. After the tip, state and local taxes, the US is not much cheaper than Australia. I much prefer the Australian system where people get a wage (and benefits such as Medicare) where they usually can live a lifestyle slightly better than the “trailer park and going to the emergency unit” for the Panadol they can’t afford to buy.

    I was particularly unimpressed by the USA on my one visit. For the land of the free where everyone is equal, there really seemed to be a number of different standards of living.

  19. Migs, great post. I remember when I went to the US many moons ago, we got talking to the waiter who delivered our room service burgers.

    We asked him about tipping as a matter of interest and he told us that he had to work 3 jobs just to exist and tips were the only way he could have the little looxuries like food.

    We were pretty shocked and understood why staff in hotel restaurants would ignore poor, or non, tippers.

    We made sure we tipped generously thereafter.

  20. When I was in New York a waiter told me that he purchased a job in a restaurant and he only got tips… Confronting but I also tipped handsomely. after all I’m a dragons supporter…lol :-).

  21. he told us that he had to work 3 jobs just to exist…

    Welcome to the world of the working poor Howard wanted to replicate and Abbott certainly will, all the while blaming them for being poor.

    Remember the older Bishop’s statement during the Howard years that having any work, even very low paid lousy work, was better than not having work.

    In the US there is an army of working poor where both partners have to work more than one job each, sometimes two or three jobs each, many truly lousy, just to survive, and the kids are often left alone many hours a day because of it. But hey, they must be grateful there are bosses willing to hire them at a few dollars an hour for a few hours a week and with no safety net or conditions.

    Another side to the bottom Abbott and the Liberals always want to take us.

    When last in the US I was taken aback when in some States in McDonalds I saw them staffed by elderly workers. By elderly mean over 60, there was not a young person to be seen.

    On enquiring about to this to my hosts I was informed that because of minimum wage laws for youth workers many businesses, especially fast food outlets, hire pensioners who are struggling on their woeful pensions as they can pay them lousy money along with discounted food from the outlet, which is a better deal than they get from the pension.

    Again welcome to a future world under the Liberals, with maybe one difference, they would also get rid of the minimum youth wage so employers could hire them on pocket money and sack them the moment they became an adult.

    Sorry it’s not the Australia I want to see us become.

  22. Mobius, not so much where we were staying but yes very elderly women cleaning the toilets in places such as LA airport.

    Then you have the street beggars..I have cancer and no health insurance read one sign.

  23. In Thailand it’s customary for shop assistants to be paid commission only. Hence, when you go into a shop they fall over themselves to serve you – and press you to buy something, even if you’re only in there to browse.

    I’m with you Migs. The “Liberals” envisage this as the way working Australians will live.

  24. Pay packet size is indication of commitment by both Employer and Employee.
    My greatest joy is to pay employees as much as possible. And marvel at the
    result. Im not into cheapskate pay rates – the old saying ‘if you pay peanuts
    you get monkeys ‘ Is still so true and I can add ‘ they get promoted to
    Branch Managers’, is probably a realistic conclusion.

  25. Ain’t that the truth Voyger. I totally concur. 🙂 My concerns have always been for the less skilled and capable’s voice. The minimum wage is pretty low and I personally considered work choices an assault on the less advantaged in the workforce. Once you go above award (let’s face it peanuts and monkeys) its open slather, all the contacts I have sighed were incentive driven. Money is not everything, however It’s a great motivation not to mention gives you a sence of worth and reward for accomplishment.

  26. Port Adelaide supporters are so thoughtful.

    Salt of the earth, Migs. 😆

    Buying a job, Ricky? That’s bloody awful. And then have to survive on tips? I’m very pleased I don’t live in the US.

    …..the kids are often left alone many hours a day……

    It’s a tragic situation, ME. And the consequences of the neglect of the working poor are dire for them all. Their children will be poorly educated and in turn will only be able to get the same sort of employment as their parents.

    A Liars Party dream come true-a huge underclass of serfs for their wealthy mates.

    They never seem able to understand that this sort of exploitation is very damaging to the economy, let alone all the wasted potential, poor health and damaged lives.

    I have cancer and no health insurance read one sign.

    An indictment on the US healthcare system, Min. Yet when offered access to affordable healthcare by Obama, people greeted it with hostility, conned by the Tea Party and their billionaire mates.

    Looks like you’re the sort of employer people pray for, Voyager. Your employees are very fortunate.

  27. “Clearly the solution is a guaranteed living wage and then the patron is free to tip for above average service.”

    Professor Mitchell seems to agree with you Min.


    It’s an interesting essay that starts out talking about the the UK’s “Living Wage Week” (on now)

    Bill Mitchell also talks about his beloved Job Guarantee idea, which is a lot cleverer than it at first appears, being also a buffer-stock against inflation as well as providing the basics for those who find themselves shut out of the labour market.

    In contrast to his more mainstream economist colleagues he points out the win-win outcomes that arise when employers pay fair wages, as attested by our friends here Voyager and Ricky.

  28. Pingback: Tipping the Scales « DawnImages

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