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How much you should tip and how often
Kishore Singh in New Delhi | August 19, 2006
No wonder the service industry there has a fair amount of legislation in place to protect the rights of those for whom the tip is intended.
Restaurant owners cannot pocket any of the tip left for the waiter, and the unlucky boss of a Massachusetts restaurant who did could end up paying $2.5 million in damages.
On the popular blog www.waiterrant.com, the blogger warns that this is illegal in most US states.
The West might have its rules, but in India, the whole gratuity issue is still a minefield of dos and don'ts. Tipping is still a restricted phenomenon, and most people will avoid it if they can get away with it. They usually can.
The only place where tipping is seen as mandatory is in restaurants and in hotels. And sometimes it's plain funny to see people who would argue with porters at railway stations over an additional Rs 10, quietly pay twice the porterage as tip to the bellboy.
By and large, though, India was pretty cool where tipping is concerned - till recently. Tipping was estimated at 7.5 per cent of a restaurant bill, for instance. Generous tippers rounded it off to 10 per cent, and that was it.
No more, though, with tipping having moved into the internationally expected range of 15 per cent for routine service, and 20-25 per cent for exceptional service. Restaurant staff in India might not be as surly as their Western counterparts, but you can expect some frostiness should you be mingy.
The main problem, though, is when an establishment includes a service charge as part of the bill. The service charge is a fixed tip and at (sometimes) 10 or (usually) 15 per cent, should take care of the gratuity you're supposed to leave. So, unless you've received exceptional service, you are not obliged to tip extra.
The other thing to note is that if you're dining in a large group, it's sometimes better to calculate the tip on the basis of the number of staff serving you rather than as a percentage of the bill. Say a party of 12 has a booking, and requires four waiters for service.
At the end of the party, instead of calculating a percentage of the bill as gratuity, it's better to leave behind a generous tip for each waiter. Unfair? Yeah, well, you've got more money than they ever will.
Are you obliged to pay when the service has been dismal? Apparently, yes. After all, when the service charge is inbuilt into the bill, you have no choice. A tip should be treated similarly. If the service is bad, why should the kitchen staff be penalised for their colleagues, or vice versa. But you can show your resentment by leaving a sparser tip than usual.
These days it isn't about tipping just waiters and bellboys. Tips are expected for almost all services - from bartenders to parking valets, from the barber to the spa attendant, and from luxury cabs to the boy who delivers your grocery (see box).
The most annoying to calculate among these is the valet who parks your car at luxury hotels. Now that some hotels have begun levying a fee (at Hyatt Regency Delhi it's Rs 100) for valet services, it's galling to still have to pay a token tip to the valet. Thankfully, that's still an exception.
Considering the number of trips one makes to hotels, it would be easier if there was a ready-reckoner for how much to tip. Mostly, Rs 20 is okay for the service, though the charges should go up with the make of your car, the number of people, and/or if you've got baggage.
If you tend to frequent the same hotel, it's alright not to tip each time, or to tip Rs 100 occasionally, or even Rs 500 and then forget about it for the rest of the month (don't worry, they'll know how much you left behind!).
Domestic staff (maids, drivers) qualify for a month's emoluments as Diwali bonus, but it wouldn't be out of place to tip the people who work for you daily - the car attendant, the community gardener or so on the equivalent of a week's salary though personalised gifts (a shirt, for instance) could do just as well.
And yes, it's all right to tip the ayahs in the maternity ward, but no, don't attempt to tip your dentist - he'll definitely take it amiss!