Were you a little more generous in adding up the restaurant bill over the last few weeks? Sitting amid the cheery chaos of this 'season of the steak', as a café-owner friend calls it, it's likely most of us will be spurred to increase the tip for harried waiting staff serving those holiday multitudes high on a lot more than Yuletide cheer.
Woe betide any party animal who departed a dining room leaving anything less than a blue note on the saucer this week. Yet, it's only recently that Irish people have become more gratuity conscious, perhaps as a result of a million J1 students down the years who financed their education in restaurants everywhere from Martha's Vineyard to San Diego. Having since graduated to decent wages at Facebook and Apple, these big-buck boomers are now spreading the same wealth they earned on that first Big Apple summer job a decade ago. After all, who can resist such tip jar reminders found near most cash registers nowadays: 'Alms for the pour' was one recent zinger, as was 'We knead the dough' at a local pizzeria. Some of them are almost poetic: 'Hello, is it me you're tipping for?', with a Lionel Richie picture above. Or how about this up-to-the-moment classic: 'Evil Sith Lord killed my father - need money for new lightsaber.' Gas.
"Customers do tend to be more generous at this time of the year," says Neil Boland, restaurant manager at Roly's in Ballsbridge. "If the service is good, which it should be, Irish people are very good tippers throughout the year and will generally add 10pc or more to the bill. At this time, when people are getting ready to celebrate the New Year and being home from overseas, they are definitely more generous. There is a good vibe out there this year, and we are busier in Roly's than previous years."
How different to the scene three years ago, when restaurants were scrambling to stay afloat and 'early bird' menus ran all evening.
"People got so careful about bills, checking every item, and out came the calculators to work out the tip to the cent," one waitress remembered. "I was working six nights a week to take home what I'd have made in three nights before the crash."
But even if a witty tip jar slogan like 'support counter intelligence' does prompt you to dig deeper for the staff, bear in mind that the Revenue Grinch needs to get his cut. The law states that tips should be declared through Paye/Prsi, but hey - for the day that's in it, let's not kill the New Year buzz with those negative vibes. Yet, even as tipping becomes ever more commonplace in Ireland, a sea-change is currently underway in the land of its birth - America. Upmarket New York restaurants Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café and The Modern began a 'no tipping' policy last month. Owner Danny Meyer has raised the minimum hourly wage to $15.25 from $11.75, with menus now alerting customers that 'hospitality' is included in the bill.
"The gap between what the kitchen and dining room workers make has grown by leaps and bounds," he explained. "Our cooks and dishwashers aren't able to share in our guests' generosity, even though their contributions are just as vital to the outcome of your restaurant experience."
A custom as old as America itself seems destined to disappear with yesterday's stale bread rolls.
"When we switched from tipping to a service charge, our food improved because our cooks were being paid more," said Jay Porter of San Francisco's upscale Linkery restaurant, which introduced a 'no tip' policy two years ago. "The quality of our service improved, and business increased, principally because eliminating tips made it easier to provide good service."
In Dingle, where they're preparing for a massive Star Wars tourism invasion next summer after Skellig Michael's close-up in the latest cinema blockbuster, tipping is a bonus that is not actively pursued.
"If the service is good, people would generally be inclined to tip," said Jim McCarthy of The Chart House restaurant. "Tipping is not a priority. What we're about is good food and service - if something extra comes out of that, great."
Having worked my share of J1 summer jobs from the Cape to the Shore, I can attest to the truth of chef Anthony Bourdain's dictum: "If anything is good for pounding humility into you, it's the restaurant business."
It also gives you a camaraderie that is only marginally less intense than exiting a landing craft on Omaha Beach. The job was best encapsulated by a statement in tiny writing on a Dublin waiter's T-shirt recently: 'Don't mistake this fake smile and professional body language. I'd punch you in the throat if I knew I wouldn't lose my job.'
I feel your pain, compadre.