Tipping: What's the going rate?
The row over gratuities at swanky restaurant The Ivy is a reminder of how fraught the whole business is. When, where and how should you tip? Regina Lavelle reports
Considering its sister restaurant in London is one of the world's most feted celebrity haunts, regularly attending to thesps including Maggie Smith, Damien Lewis and Benedict Cumberbatch, a Dublin satellite of the Ivy Collection was always going to cause a stir.
But, alas, this week's controversy is probably not the kind they had in mind.
For instead of being some juicy celebrity spat, the controversy-du-jour has a distinctly more gauche top note - money.
The argument centres over tipping, the already-fraught epilogue of every meal, pitting the too-generous against the too-mean with mortified waiting staff cast in the role of presiding diplomat.
In the Dublin branch of The Ivy, however, they've taken a more blunt approach.
The crux of the issue appears to be that tips made on credit card were being shared amongst the restaurant's 150 staff, so many waiting staff were 'requesting' that tips were made in cash.
This prompted management to post a letter internally and state that no waiters were permitted to take payment from guests because of the "continued inability of those taking card payments to follow the procedures and consider the whole team here".
The debacle has illuminated the depth of confusion around the issue of tipping here. How much should you tip, who should you tip, and how?
In the US, 10-20pc is common and a recent survey revealed Republicans are among the best tippers, along with men, baby boomers and debit or credit card users, who all leave an average gratuity of 20pc of the total bill when they dine out, according to a CreditCards.com poll. Barack Obama, Johnny Depp, Drew Barrymore and Ben Affleck are known to be great tippers, the latter once leaving $90 after buying a coffee! On the other side of the coin, 'The Rock' Dwayne Johnson (right), Madonna, Mick Jagger and Britney Spears have all the been the focus of miserly stories (Spears reportedly threw change at a parking valet).
And when it comes to Irish customers, we don't have a great reputation either. Just google 'tipping Ireland' for a chronicle of befuddled travellers and bemused bloggers keen to disambiguate our apparently arcane practices.
Restaurant critic Katy McGuinness says she "almost always tips" unless someone is being actively rude.
"I would tip 15-20pc and in cash, I hate not tipping in cash, particularly if I don't know what the system in the particular restaurant is." And, she says, for a nation that prides itself on generosity, our behaviour does not always match. "I know from my kids, who have more recent experience of waiting, that the level of tipping is pretty poor. They would say that Irish people think they're being generous if they're leaving a fiver. Or they leave 10pc. We're not into the mentality, but I think we should be because the service in many of our restaurants is not great," she says.
"Irish people can be stingy about funny things. They will say things like, 'The price on the menu is the price I should pay'. Maybe lots of people have never waited tables. I sometimes get embarrassed when I go out for dinner and someone says, 'Oh I'll get the tip', and leaves a fiver on the table. I end up sneaking back."
McGuinness also tips in the hair salon and has a MyTaxi account set up with a 10pc tip.
Style doyenne and Swiss finishing school alumna Celia Holman Lee is another unequivocal yes.
"I would certainly always tip," she says. "I personally believe that if somebody stands before me and serves me or picks something up for me or drives me somewhere, then it's just good manners to tip.
"I don't mind if the tips are pooled, although this is something I associate more with daytime cafes rather than restaurants. And yes, we pay a percentage of the meal on credit card usually.
"I also always tip a hairdresser, even if it's only a fiver, although the amount depends on how often you would go.
"The only thing I dislike when it comes to tipping etiquette is the prompt on credit card machines, but I haven't seen that very often lately. I always thought that was dreadful."
Kazumi Hairdressing's Jenny Crawford has spent 40 years in the industry and makes an interesting observation on how our practices have changed, especially since the recession, she says.
"In the downturn, people cut back. Instead of having a cut every six to eight weeks, it was 10 to 12 weeks. But now that there's more money, people still go out less often but are more aware of the service and tip accordingly.
"It means that most people in the service industry have upped their game and we feel that service is key to regain the confidence of the client again."
Having spoken to various restaurant staff, she believes tipping is necessary for hospitality staff to make up for the shortfall in wages due to what she describes as a recent spate of cutbacks to shift hours. "A lot of places started to dilute the hours they were giving staff, so of course staff make up the shortfall with tips. I tip in cash to a server because I'm thinking that will help pay for lunches or bus fares.
"We do get tips in our industry and it's always gratifying if a client tips you - it feels like an acknowledgement of a job well done."