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To Tip Or Not To Tip, That Is The Question!

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By Shubhra Kukreti:

What began as a medium to ensure prompt service has now taken the shape of a noblesse oblige. You go to upscale restaurants and hotels and are expected to pay 10% extra of the charges – the idea being that a server should have a drink (or a tipple) at the customer’s expense. The French version of our Indian ‘baksheesh’ is pourboire which literally means ‘for drinking’. Though the phenomenon of tipping is not endemic to India, it is rapidly gaining popularity. It may not be an obligation but well, let’s face it, if you do not leave tip for a server, you will be looked down upon. Not tipping can make you an ‘aira gaira’, who comes in ‘muh utha ke!’ At the same time, allow me to warn you, a low tip may be seen as more insulting compared to not tipping at all. It may happen that the next time you visit the same place; the waiters may not be keen to serve also. ‘Atithi’ definitely ‘devo bhava’ but shouldn’t the ‘atithi’ too behave like a ‘dev’ and offer some gratuity for a service well done?


In India, tipping is traditionally not an obligation on the customer but, in fables and folk tales, we all have come across instances where the Maharajahs pleased by the service of their ‘daasas’ and ‘daasis’, splurged expensive gifts on them. Generally, a tip of 10-15% of the total bill is adequate for standard service. Indians expect foreigners and NRIs to give hefty tips. We believe them to be a Richie Rich of sorts. Oh come on, a drop reduced from the ocean has no effect on its vastness. It is also customary to round up a fare/ a bill and allow them to keep the change when paying. Tipping is more common for services involving manual labour – like the functions of a bellhop, or a porter. People tip the priest in the temples for performing a puja well.

Established as a social contract, the tipping culture is seen as a temporary economic redistribution whereby you acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of the other party. It’s sort of an incentive; you tip when you are entertained. For some reason, the drafters of the charter on tipping lay it down that you must tip “the bartender and barista but not the barrister, the street musician but not the orchestra conductor or subway conductor, the taxi driver but not the bus driver or airline pilot, the one who delivers pizza but not the one who delivers babies. ” Maybe because in all the latter cases, the jobs are already bon gagne-pain (livelihood), but the former ones are generally taken up by kids who are trying to put themselves through college and it’s always possible that they may remind you of times when you were on the other side of the table. Moreover, if you ever try to tip those who already in powerful position like the barrister in lieu of bartender you may land behind the bars! It would be considered bribing and not tipping. So when is a tip a tip, and when is a tip a bribe? I guess, a bribe is given before the task is done and a tip, afterwards. When tipping, you reward the behaviour which is already past which makes sense because the doer did his duty sans expectations.

But, in India, it is simply amusing how small budget restaurants, road side dhabas, rickshaw wallahs receive the exact amount and the ones already taking additional charges, service taxes, VAT expect you to leave tip. The grander the restaurant, the better paid the servers are; they make extra money in the form of tips. The modest establishments barely pay the servers and even we do not oblige them with gratuity. In fact, in such places, what is meant to be an act of generosity could potentially be misconstrued as an insult. There is an awkward pause when the money is transferred from the tipper to the tippee as the former decides how much to loosen the strings of his purse. Moreover, at places where you do not leave anything on the table considering the high special taxes already paid, the lone point of contact, the server, does not really receive anything.

Although I appreciate this polite gesture, I personally feel that tipping itself trips us into an unequal relationship. A job well done should spell satisfaction for the employee and it is the employer’s duty to pay him, not mine. Moreover, not everyone can afford paying tips. So why give anyone false expectations? But again, I may be stingy and leave no tips, however, I suggest “To each his own.”

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  1. tkyolivin

    I’m on the same page as you. I also find it challenging to keep following the rules of tipping. Like you mentioned 10-15% in India, 15-20% in the US. In eastern Asia (Korea, Japan) tips are usually seen as insulting, and
    most of the servers will usually return you to the last dime.

    1. Shubhra

      I is a tricky situation..but, to each, his own 🙂

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