Liz Kearney: 'Here's a tip restaurants should heed...'
I hate tipping. Not because I hate handing over money to poorly paid waiting staff - as a former waitress of many years standing, I'm only too aware of just how much restaurant staff rely on them to make ends meet.
But as someone who's always been terrible with numbers, I hate the on-the-spot mental gymnastics required at the end of a nice meal to calculate the appropriate percentage to add to the bill.
Nothing erases the memory of a leisurely lunch faster than trying to calculate 15pc of some random figure while the rest of your party already have their coats on and are halfway out the door, urging you to hurry up.
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And there's also the ever-present internal debate of how much to leave.
You want to be generous to the lovely waitress who diplomatically overlooked the fact that your kids have smeared ketchup on the floor and mashed potato on the walls.
But you don't want to overdo it with staff who studiously refused to acknowledge your presence until you all virtually fainted from hunger.
Lately, though, a whole new set of tipping pitfalls has emerged, amid changing practices in restaurants and hotels. At the weekend, we had an encounter with the loveliest young waiter. He'd impressed us before we'd even sat down; as I parked outside, the car in front reversed into our car, before driving off at speed.
The waiter burst out the front door, outraged on our behalf.
"I saw that!" he said, before handing me a pen and paper to take down the number of the errant vehicle and offering to check the CCTV cameras for footage.
Fortunately, there was no damage done, so we didn't need to take him up on his kind offer.
But after serving us a lovely meal, and being ridiculously sweet to our small kids, I wanted to leave him a generous tip. However, when it came to paying the bill, he said he couldn't add a gratuity on the card machine.
And as I had no cash - I never have any cash - there was nothing more I could do.
Days later, at a family dinner in a hotel restaurant when my father went to pay the bill, he was told by the waitress that he was wasting his money leaving the tip on the card, as the waiting staff wouldn't get it.
Where would the money go then, he asked?
"Upstairs," she replied darkly.
Fortunately, dad did have cash, and we left happy knowing the waitress was personally taking her tips home, rather than it disappearing into owners' pockets.
After the well-publicised row at plush Dublin restaurant The Ivy, where waiting staff protested that they were unhappy with how the tips were being shared, diners are becoming a little more curious about what happens to that money added on the bill.
And waiting staff, rightly, have become more vocal with customers about it too.
Yesterday, newspaper reports revealed that cash tips in some restaurants are allegedly being used to top up managers' salaries, so that they can avoid paying taxes.
Added to the increasingly common practice of restaurants automatically adding a 12pc service charge to all bills, regardless of the size of the party, it's no wonder that tipping has become a total minefield. I dread it more than ever now.
Restaurants need to start being upfront about all this, by explicitly outlining their service charge and tipping policies on the menu, and in a nice large font so that people can actually read it.
Giving diners a heads-up of what's to come before they've even ordered would go a long way to taking the sour taste out of our mouths.