Friday, November 26, 2010

Follow up to Feeling a Little Tipsy

So I am finding myself feeling the need to write a follow up to my last post Feeling a Little Tipsy. I’m not including pictures or (what I think are) funny antidotes as I feel that the lightness and fun have been taken out of the topic and now its time to get a bit more serious. I also felt it necessary to clarify that my initial post on the topic was meant to assure travelers that they will not be viewd as disrespectful or insulting if they leave a little something extra as I have found in my many years of experience that this is their primary concern.

The topic keeps popping up, I continue to think about the comment that was made by a reader but more importantly the link to the article posted within the comment referring to what the reader believed to be a ‘more sensible’ article about tipping.  I have to say that I am quite glad to have pissed someone off because it has given me the opportunity to read an article that I may not have otherwise and to reflect more deeply on the subject.  However, my opinion has not changed. I will continue to support the practice of tipping as long as necessary. And just so you will have an idea of what I am referring to I am posting the link to the article here.

Aside from the obvious, (striking and protesting for which, many of us that means not getting paid) we can’t really do much to force our governments into forcing our employers into paying us properly. Many have tried, many have failed and that’s not to say that we will give up but it does seem to be a daunting task especially here in Italy with one of the most corrupt governments in the Western World. 

You see the problem is this; you can suggest to do away with tipping and call the entire system ‘absurd’ but when you really start to think about why the system has been in practice for as long as it has and what kind a service this has allowed you to receive, you may want to think twice about making this suggestion.  Our society focuses on the negative much too often. For example if we go into a restaurant and have really great service sure we will leave a tip, (how much will depend on where you live) but probably nothing more than you would leave if you had just ok service. Why, because we expect it. We expect to have great friendly service everywhere we go. So you will go on with your day and you probably won’t go telling everyone you know about the great friendly service you had down at the little hole in the wall on the corner.  And you certainly won’t ask to speak to a manager to tell them how great your service has been or how that employee deserves recognition for a job well done, i.e; a raise or bonus of some kind. No you will walk out the door and go on with your life. And maybe you will come back one day, but maybe you won’t.

Now lets just say that you have really bad service in that same restaurant, or what you deem as inadequate, what do most people do?  Not only do most people not leave a tip, but also they would probably ask to speak to a manager, who would apologize profusely, and likely offer a free appetizer or dessert. (Although that would never happen in Italy, they would argue back and try to convince you that you’re wrong but I’ll get to that) Most people will then tell everyone they know about the awful service they had deterring others from going to that restaurant. And most people will probably feel satisfied that they spoke their mind and will continue to speak about the experience for months to come to anyone who will listen and essentially kept anyone else from making that same mistake and the others will probably all thank said person for the warning and then in turn replay that story to anyone who mentions that particular restaurant in the future.

Why is it that we feel this overwhelming need to talk about how horrible something was but never how wonderful it was? Again, because we expect it. Ok, so your thinking, well shouldn’t we expect to be treated nicely? Absolutely. But my point is this, take away the tipping system and you take away the persons desire to go out of their way to make sure that you are happy. Most people are not going to go and tell the manager how great the service was so just leave the tip already and everyone is happy. These waiters that are working are people too, just like you feel you should be treated a certain way by them they feel they should be treated a certain way by you. Tips are one of the reason many of use choose service positions to begin with. Take away tips and you are also limiting a vast population of people who are willing to do these jobs, in turn making your experience that much less pleasurable.

When one goes to this type of establishment or pays for certain type of service it is known that the price of that service is not only what is listed on that bill but rather the price listed on the bill plus gratuity.  Its not a surprise folks, its been happening for many many years.

Now, one of the points argued by the author is that tipping began as a criminal act. Maybe so, but do you know how many other well-established daily practices have deep roots in criminal and less than desirable history? Tipping is just the beginning. (just got an idea for another post)

Now I do not feel that people should be treated differently simply because of their tipping habits however there is a reason why the service industry offers a high end product and an economy product, people expect different things when they pay more for it so why shouldn’t they expect more if they are willing to tip more and vice versa. Why shouldn’t the person servicing you work more productively knowing that there is the possibility of receiving a bonus at the end?

Another example of our focus on negativity is a website like TripAdvisor. (For example uh, don’t want anyone accusing me of blaming trip advisor for the problem) You can have pages and pages of positive feedback about a company, restaurant, hotel, etc, but add one, just one, negative review about that same company and at the bottom of the review where it asks “was this review helpful?” you will see the answer “yes” on that negative review. Rarely, on the positive ones. Does bad service happen? Absolutely. We’re human; sometimes even the person providing you with the service has a bad day. We’re sorry. Its nothing personal.  

Perhaps if we started to recognize good service as much as we do bad service, maybe then, and only then could we consider the idea of doing away with tips, and only if that employer is willing to compensate for the level of employee.  It is also important to consider that it is incredibly difficult to do away with a system that has been as well established as tipping. Come up with a substitute and then maybe we could make a deal.

Now I do realize that this article so far has not been a focus on Florence or Italy, I do think, and I have a feeling many would agree with me here, that customer service leaves something to be desired around here, and that that little extra compensation could and does (where it is practiced) do wonders for this country's standard of service.

While yes, I do understand that there are other ways of looking at the situation this is my personal opinion. I am posting the article again that provoked me to write this follow-up as I am not one to say that my opinion is the only opinion, however I do speak from many years of experience in the service industry, 18 to be exact. I personally do not mind paying a little “extra” if that is going to assure that I receive good service. So have a look at the article and by all means tell me what you think.

I will assume however, that the person who writes an article such as this has never actually been in a position in which they have worked for tips. I am curious as to weather or not this author feels the same way about commission based jobs, as essentially they are one in the same, as the salesperson is going to be extra special nice to you and talk you into purchasing something that you may not necessarily need so that they can receive their commission and you’ve just spent your hard earned money on something you will never use. Come in be honest, how many times has that happened to you?   

I also find it quite telling that the author chooses to open his article reciting scenes from a Quentin Tarantino film, which glorifies crime and the obvious objectification of women. I am furthermore intrigued that the author chose to use the example of the 21-year-old waiter at the end, not only is her response shallow and entirely personal, but it also stereotypes an entire industry with the response of just one (very young might I add) person. Now I’m no sociological scholar, but I think that that classifies as “racism”  or at the very least discrimination.

And to answer your question kind sir, “Does it really take more skill to serve a $100 dish than a $20 dish, and should it really fall on the customer to pay no matter how poorly that dish gets served?” Actually yes it does, and no, no one should leave a tip if it was served poorly, that is precisely the point, nowhere in the world is tipping obligatory. I have worked everywhere from 4 star hotels and restaurants to beach bar & grills, and yes it is an entirely different standard of serving a dish. Trust me. Just as much as providing a high end service anywhere (think first class on a plane, private tours and private car service vs. taxi) is much more impegnativo and exhausting then providing a standard service.

There is one thing that bothers me more than anything else, and that is when people speak so matter-of –fact-ly about subjects in which they have absolutely no knowledge and/or experience. I challenge you Mr. Kamer or anyone else for that matter, to try it out for a while and then tell me how you feel about tipping.

And just one last point, I worked in several tourist locations in Santa Barbara California with a high percentage of European tourists and never once did I or any of my colleagues “chase down” a European patron for not leaving a tip. Nor have I ever seen an Italian chase down an American tourist for the same offense, simply because they expect to be tipped by Americans. That is simply void of class no matter where you live and once again a stereotype inflicted upon an industry by one persons lack of knowledge. And if you have seen it, it is the exception not the rule. 

Please note that I am using the example of waiter as a response to Foster Kramer’s article as this is the example he uses. Please do keep in mind however that there are many occupations classified as service jobs that do in fact deserve to be tipped.  

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