I want to discuss today, tipping in America. Having just returned from my trip with Trek America touring the west coast (read my diary here), it was very much a focus on conversation throughout the trip and while we were well briefed about the tipping culture in the USA, we Brits will never quite be on board with this.
I have been to America before –New York and Las Vegas, but having not understood tipping, I didn’t do it as fully as I should have done but during my last trip, being educated about tipping from an actual American provided some much needed context to the culture and thus, changed how I did it.
The European Vs. American Debate
However it is difficult. All of us got into a debate about tipping around the campfire on our last night and while the European collective were understanding, we found that poor Lana was getting quite defensive about it as true to debate, we were coming from a moral grounding. We couldn’t respect the American wage system whereby tips both act as a top up and as a reward, we disliked how poorly Americans working in the service industry are paid, and quite rightly resent having to tip a specific value just to ensure they can pay their own bills, before tipping to show our gratitude for good service experienced. In fact, rewarding for excellent service is secondary.
Rewarding Bad Service
That day we had been dining in the Bubba Gump restaurant on Pier 39 in San Francisco, and Kay’s surf & turf meal, which he asked for I think to be cooked medium, came out well done so he sent it back and it took ages to come back out again. In the UK, we would not reward this kind of service yet owing to the culture, we were still expected to tip generously. Lana argued that you tip the standard percentage regardless, then if it was really good service, you tip more on top of that –like, what?! In the UK, unless service is above average we are unlikely to part with our pennies so the fact we have to tip, even for poor service, just went totally over our heads. It’s also vital to note here that you have to tip with dollar bills and not loose change.
In the UK particularly, going the extra mile is a real value in the work place and while we may get rewarded with a bonus at Christmas or gifted in another way, we don’t do it for that. The UK really thrives from good customer service as we’re put in such a bad mood when we’re treated poorly, so when we witness someone or a team of people going the extra mile, we make sure their managers, our friends and family, and the internet are informed. So often a good word said against you is more value than money.
I find tipping awkward, in America I have no problem with it in restaurants as you leave the tip on the table in cash, but it’s when you have to tip the person there and then. It’s like when I was in San Francisco (here), we had a great tour around China Town and North Beach by a lady called Suzy, and then when the tour came to an end, we all had to awkwardly get our purses and wallets out and hand her cash while we said thank you. It just totally changed the experience for us.
The same was felt also when we said goodbye to Lana; no matter how much she warned us and made light of the fact that she also needs tipping at the end of the trip, the goodbye was sort of ruined because while we hugged, we also had to part with an awkward handshake depositing our tip in her hand as we exchanged goodbyes.
That for me also I guess comes down to having a negative about Trek America; while I haven’t all the facts, the mere fact that we have to put aside between $70-100 from our spending money to tip our leader is actually, a bit disgraceful. I have no problem rewarding our leader for their hard work, but this really shouldn’t be expected in cash as you would hope they were paid decently for their time and effort. I dread to think how much you have to tip if you were doing one of the longer tours, like the Great 48?!
Tell me, what do you guys think about tipping?
Until next time x