I visited California as an adult for the first time about 12 years ago all excited to experience the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
I was sorely disappointed.
In the entire month I spent there, I did not manage to catch a single glimpse of a single famous person. Then to top things off, I received a big culture shock when I learned about the tipping system. “What on earth does mandatory gratuity mean?” I asked my friends when we were paying the bill at a Japanese restaurant.
“It’s to show appreciation for a job well done,” they tell me.
“And what if it’s NOT a job well done?”
“Well, then it’s motivation to do a better job next time!”
That baffled me. I mean, if you look the word ‘gratuity’ up in Wikipedia, it says it is an overpayment made as a recognition to those who provide service beyond the expectation. As working professionals, were they not already being paid to do their jobs the best they can? And here we were, paying extra money to a waitress that put on a long face all evening.
Then to make things worse, my friends said to leave a minimum of 12% tip. I mean, where did that number 12 come from? More importantly, who could do that kind of math?! 12% of $53.78 is uh… Ok now I feel dizzy and I’m about to regurgitate all the food I just had to pay for.
Then I realized, hey, we pay for service as well in Singapore, and I don’t mind paying the mandatory service charge even if the service isn’t good, because the calculations are done for me. That also means that it doesn’t matter how well the staff served me.
(In some countries, a tip is socially compulsory. You’d get a very upset waiter if you don’t)
In other parts of Asia, tipping is also a piece of cake. Just give a nice round number, regardless of how the service was. The Japanese, however, find it offensive when you tip (Editor: We cannot verify this) , which is strange because they offer such amazing service and even if you wanted to show some appreciation by leaving some change, you would be stared at like you just samurai-ed down on their family crest (Japanese families have their family crests passed down for generations).
In Singapore, where “Service with a Smile” in my experience is hard to come by, I always feel like leaving a little something extra behind after that awesome foot massage, but I also think it’s important to have the option of not leaving anything if the service was crappy, with the hopes that it would send a message saying they’d better make my second visit a whole lot better! If I ever went back at all.
I do think that voluntary tipping however, is important for the service industry. I waited tables once upon a time. Whenever a customer left me a tip, it really made my day and motivated me to impress the next customer more so that the tips could be a repeat thing. It honed my social skills, it was educational, because I learnt so much from my customers, and I was getting paid for it! I smiled a lot more, which made my fellow colleagues smile a lot more too, and it made our customers come back because they liked the food, and they liked us.
At the end of the day, my take on this whole tipping business is, there doesn’t seem to be a downside to having it incorporated into companies in the service line. It encourages the staff to be professional by doing their job well, it allows them to get to know their clientele and hopefully collect constructive feedback from them to improve the business.
I definitely wouldn’t mind forking out a few more dollars to see a kind face and having a few laughs with a nice stranger who made my day out a little more enjoyable. Just, well, #don’tmakemedothemath
(So what do you think? Should Singaporeans start tipping?)