In Defence of Fixed Service Charges (or: Why Only Tip for Service?)

Tip­ping: that most con­ten­tious of issues that–depending on your location–can be illeg­al, required, or the most hein­ous of etiquette crimes. It’s a com­plic­ated busi­ness (as the Wiki­pe­dia entry indic­ates by the size of the Tip­ping by region sec­tion), and an odd and occa­sion­ally uncom­fort­able tra­di­tion.

As a self-pro­claimed ‘socially awk­ward Bri­ton’ Dav­id Mitchell laments the remov­al of the auto­mat­ic, fixed ser­vice charge at D&D Lon­don’s group of res­taur­ants primar­ily because, as The Browser sum­mar­ised it, “they min­im­ise embar­rass­ment, and you some­times get a bar­gain”.

Mitchell goes one fur­ther, of course, won­der­ing why is it only the ser­vice we com­mend and rep­rim­and through tip­ping?

Tips are embar­rass­ing and stu­pid – they’re ves­ti­gi­al hag­gling in a soci­ety that has oth­er­wise moved on. If you’re going to a res­taur­ant to be served and eat a meal, why is the price of the deliv­ery open to nego­ti­ation but not that of the food itself, the ambi­ence, music, heat­ing or use of the fur­niture? All of these things can dis­ap­point or delight. It’s illo­gic­al to fix the price of one ele­ment but not the oth­ers.