One of the things that impressed me on my visit to Queenstown and Wanaka this year, aside from some excellent food at Rata Dining, Amisfield Bistro, Vudu Cafe and Ferg Bakers, was the quality of the service we received. Wait staff and, indeed, all the hospo staff we encountered, were unflinchingly, unfalteringly polite, well informed, helpful and courteous. And I tipped accordingly.
Now, given that I live in Wellington, where there are a plethora of dining options and where there is a great deal of pride in the quality of food and service offered, you would think that I would find that unremarkable. But, you know what? And this may be a terrible, sacrilegious thing for me to note and observe - I reckon the quality of service, if not necessarily food, in Central Otago exceeded much of what is offered in Wellington. Seriously.
And so - I pondered just why this might be.
And this is what I concluded - tipping. With the significant volume of particularly US visitors in a place like Queenstown, if you are able to deliver satisfying, pleasant, appropriate service, there is a real possibility of receiving a gratuity. Going the extra mile is incentivised by the prospect of reward for service above and beyond the basics. And I reckon this is a good thing.
Foreign visitors are often told that they needn't tip in NZ - that it isn't expected, that wait staff are well paid here by comparison to their US equivalents. And that's fine. But it's also not illegal to tip. And also, I wonder if a bit more potential for some reward might reap significant improvements in the quality of service we receive in restaurants, cafes and bars, and in the types of people hospitality roles attract.
While cooking jobs now (bizarrely) have some sort of kudos/glamour attached (blame Masterchef), whereas cooking used to be something that people who were too antisocial/drunk/crazy went and did when they got out of prison (relax, I am exaggerating for descriptive effect - call it "hyperbole"), service roles often fall to part-timers, students, and people who don't really see themselves making careers of working in restaurants or bars.
Which I reckon is a bit of a pity. I used to have a barman friend who had dual degrees in psychology and zoology, which are probably the perfect fields of qualification for a bar manager. Part zen guru, part priest, part counsellor, he probably understood what makes people tick better than anyone I have ever met. He saw people at their best and worst, and knew exactly how to deal with them at both ends of the spectrum.
Let's get one thing straight: it's not as though I think we should tip as a matter of course, as it is seemingly expected in the US - the practice of paying an extra dollar for each beer you order seems bloody daft to me. I also loathe the "compulsory service charge of 15 per cent will be added to your bill" schtick - if you are going to do this, just build it into your prices, and tell me NOT to tip. I mean, no matter how lousy, lazy and inept service may be, you have to pay that extra 15 per cent. Bollocks to that.
But if you receive especially good service or food, or preferably both, there is no reason at all why you shouldn't tip. Ten per cent when it has been especially good seems reasonable; another rule of thumb I have heard was "enough to buy a drink" for your server. If I tip, I usually leave cash - there is no way to be sure that the gratuity amount on the credit card slip ever makes it to your server.
A friend of mine has a concept that any job has three ways it can be done - good, cheap, and quick. And that, for the most part, you can only ever achieve two of these three - you want good and cheap; it won't be fast. You want fast and good; not cheap. Cheap and fast; not good. I reckon this just about always holds.
To this end, I reckon it would serve us all well - diners, restaurateurs, and of course bar and wait staff, if service staff knew that exceptional service was more likely to result in tips.
Employers would find better quality staff who would stay with them for longer, punters would experience better service. And the wait staff would receive more financial incentive for capable and competent service.
But this is not me telling you how it should be. This is just me throwing the concept into the air - I am interested in what you all think. Wait staff, do you agree: better service begets better money? Employers: might it make it easier to hang on to better quality staff? And, as diners, or bar patrons: better quality, better informed service?
What do you think?
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Picture: Jeff Kubina
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