Here's a tip: it's good to tip!
Published 19/01/2013 | 06:00
You're not obliged to tip your server – but should you, asks Vicki Notaro
It's a cold winter's night and you can't be bothered cooking after a long day at work. Billboard advertising on the commute home has been urging you to order takeaway online.
You don't even need any cash handy, as it can all be paid for by card.
So far, so easy, but when the driver arrives with your dinner, you're seized with indecision – do you tip him or not? If you paid a delivery charge does he benefit? Does this guy depend on tips or are his wages reflective of the job? If you have a spare euro or two in your pocket, you might awkwardly hand it to him as you juggle your Chinese and prawn crackers.
But if not, should you be worried? In future, will he wait until your dinner's cold to drop it off? Will your name end up on a dreaded blacklist of cheapskates in the area? Tipping may be technically at your discretion, but what are the ramifications should you decide to eschew it?
Andrew Hogg owns two Domino's franchises that offer free pizza delivery in North Dublin, and is a former delivery driver himself.
He assures me that mythical lists of bad tippers don't exist on the takeaway circuit, and that drivers don't expect a tip but of course one is always welcome.
"Delivery drivers for Domino's are not employed by the company.
They're independent contractors, and while they do receive tips, they're not dependent on them.
"They're paid a good rate per delivery, and invoice at the end of the month."
Tipping in the US is a different affair.
"In many ways, tipping in Ireland is a bit more about 'playing it by ear' rather than about tried and tested rules of tipping that you find in the US," explains consumer expert and columnist Tina Leonard.
I'm personally inconsistent – sometimes I'll tip a tenner for a hair cut, while other times I'll give the taxi driver the exact amount.
I've taken to using the Hailo app for my cabs around Dublin lately, which gives you the option to add a tip when paying by card.
It's handy as you don't have to fish for change, and you can set your own amount.
Interestingly though, the little smiley graphic gets even happier the bigger the percentage you give.
In America, tipping is not just customary but necessary.
I've been chased down a New York street for only leaving a 13pc tip instead of 15pc by the waiter.
Mortifying for all involved as you can imagine, it instilled an over-tipping-in-restaurants compulsion in me on both sides of the Atlantic.
It also struck me how poorly he must be paid in order to make a scene over a few measly cent – it's widely known that many American workers rely on tips.
As far as we know, that's not the case in Ireland, with serving staff in restaurants making enough money not to have to depend on the kindness of strangers – right?
Dining establishments are a place you might normally expect to tip, and Dublin restaurateur Anthony Remedy agrees that this is the norm – he says that customers at his city centre establishment Bite almost always tip the staff.
"It would be really rare if a customer didn't leave some sort of tip. It's definitely a part of the staff's income," he says.
Gretta Roe (22) works as a "runner" in Bite, meaning she drops meals and drinks off at tables.
"Tips account for a minor part of my income, but there would be a huge difference if they were eliminated," she admits.
Remedy's partner, Brian Spollen, thinks a tip is reflective of more than the waiter's demeanour.
"Something I learned when I got into the restaurant business is that you're not just tipping your waiter – you're tipping for the entire service, the experience – you're basically tipping the restaurant," he says.
Money earned from tips goes to everyone from the runners, the polishers and the waiters to the kitchen staff, but management stay out of the entire process, allowing staff to divvy as they see fit.
"Tips should be a gratuity for good service," emphasises Tina. "Of course they will supplement a wage, but they shouldn't be an integral part of it.
"A mistake some people make is to give a tip whatever the level of service, perhaps so they won't look mean in front of their friends" says Tina.
'I'm a firm believer that if the service was dreadful you shouldn't tip, or at least reduce your tip accordingly. If you don't, how can the server, and the business, know that they need to improve?"
Another ambiguity is the service charge often added automatically on to a bill.
"This should be clearly stated on the menu, so you agree to it when you agree to buy your meal.
"However, you might see instead 'service not included', which is an invitation for you to tip. I think this is far better as it can be based on the quality of service."
Food aside, there's confusion about other service industries.
While I'd tip a hairdresser I think did a good job, it would feel ever-so-slightly creepy to slip a masseuse a fiver.
There is the worry that declining to tip might come across as unhappiness with the service, but fear alone shouldn't be a reason to part with even more of your cash.
"I don't think you should ever feel obliged to tip," Tina states.
"Whatever service you are getting, you are paying for it anyway in the price.
Tipping is always your call."
It seems the simplest thing is to go through life prepared, with a pouch of €2 coins to distribute as you see fit.
Or of course, you could decide you don't give a damn what people think and refuse to feel awkward.
The choice is yours.