To Tip or Not to Tip

Yesterday’s entry on tipping received many responses. It was a very interesting discussion and reflects the difference of culture.

I found the explanation of tip in Wikipidia

A tip (also known as gratuity) is a small amount of money received by some service sector professionals from persons they serve, in addition to or instead of a formally required payment.

Tipping is neither regulation, nor required; it is social custom. In China, it is pretty safe to claim that it is a general practice that you do NOT need to pay the tip. Meanwhile, it is high appreciated by the receiption if you do pay tip. It is the unexpected gift.”.

Bob pointed out that “It seems that some people in china target the westerners for request tips.”. It is true. With more and more visitors coming to China, people who pays tip in their country continue to pay the tip before they realize the difference. It helps the server to build the expectation for tips. So some may “request” tip. The bellmen are most likely to expect tips. Wendy and Grace once had unpleasant experience in Five Continent Hotel that the bellman refused to help them (two ladies with heavy boxes) without tip. The 10 RMB tip worked like a charm then.

Regarding the service charge, I agree with JH that it is not a good practice for hotels in China to charge the 15% service charge. For everything you consume in the hotel except the room fee, you are automatically charged 15% of what you consumed. It includes all the restaurants inside the hotel, in-room services, business centers…. I didn’t realize it is some forms of tip until JH reminded me. It seems the hotel has charged the tip on behalf of the servers.

I asked the bellman of Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Chendu where I stayed today. “Do you accept tips?” He answered: “Yes. If guests give us tips, we will be very happy. If not, it is common”. I asked: “Do you keep all the tips?” His answer was positive. I checked with other servers about 15% regular service charge, they answered there was no relationship between the charge and their salary. This obviously went to far from the spirit of tipping.

I treat tipping as a survey system. It is the chance to show the customer’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction of the service. I am a strong supporter of resuming tipping practices in China. With tipping, I can clearly show my feeling of the service I received. 1 RMB or 2 shows the difference. I don’t understand why some business spent millions of dollars to install expensive survey systems (like those in Banks) that very few people use it. Whenever I was treated badly by taxi drivers or restaurant servers, I think of tip – if I have the choice, I will pay very few tip or tip nothing for this service.

History of Tipping in China

China is actually a country with history of tipping. According to some documents I found, tips were accepted before 1950s. Hairdressers in Chengdu accepted tips [1]. In Shaoxing in Zhejiang province, the public bathroom (with many services) accepted tips, but it was abandoned in 1956. [2]. It was the same in hotel industry Shaoxing in the same year. [2]. The document attributed the improvement of service quality to the abandon of tipping. It is not rare to read about the extra money people gave to service people in old Chinese novels.

Voices of Forbidding Tipping

Regarding the newly emerged tipping practice of some tourism agents, China Consumer’s Association claimed that 1) There is no direct relationship between tipping and service quality. 2) Tipping is NOT a common practice worldwide. I do not agree with any of these two points.

Many business treat tip equally as cheating. In a regulation of China Tourism Bureau, which was published in 1987, “(For all staff in the tourism industry), those who didn’t request but accepted tips will be educated and the tips accepted will be confiscated”. Also, “those who denied tips will be praised and awarded.” “Those who requested, or implied to request tips, will be fined at 3 times of the tipping amount”. Obviously, this is an out-of-date document, but still in use.

8 thoughts on “To Tip or Not to Tip

  1. I actually would agree that tipping is not a common practice worldwide. In the US, it is common, but in a lot of European countries, you don’t usually tip. There are a lot of arguments why a system of service based on tipping is unhealthy. The unpleasant experience for Wendy and Grace that you mentioned is a perfect example. It doesn’t feel good knowing that you are only being treated nicely because your server is getting a tip and the superficial smiles on people’s faces are only there because of your money. It’d be much better to have good service that comes from the professionalism of the service person and the establishment. As another example, consider the red envelopes that people give to their doctors before surgery in China. It really is just another form of tipping. A friend of mine that returned to China after many years in the US learned a very painful lesson on this subject. I feel sad and disgusted that some of these doctors and nurses will only do a good job if they receive a tip and I think most people would agree with me that such tipping in the medical profession is morally troubling. Doctors and nurses should be doing a good job because of their professional ethics, not because they expect to be well reimbursed. Ideally, the same should be true in other professions as well.

  2. My experiences of travelling tell me that tipping is a very ‘USA’ thing to do.

    For example in Australia tipping is almost unheard of (i suspect Europe is the ame as i never had problems with not tipping there), except where the service of the person is ‘exceptional’ or so good it ‘wow’s the customer, then the customer will think the server deserves the tip and will provide one according to their feeling. I think this is really ‘reward for extra good service’.

    However contrast this to the USA. A taxi driver even scolded me for not giving tip. She drove from point A to point B, and didn’t help to unload the luggage, but expect a tip? The person receives a salary or the taxi fare as payment for driving from A to B, and now they want more? Perhaps there is something missing about this, maybe the taxi company keep all the fare and the driver must survive on tips alone? if so then i can understand, but i doubt this is the real case.

    I feel that the Americans are ‘infecting’ their tipping culture onto other countries where it is not normal to tip, and therefore in places like China that may receive many American visitors, the local service workers expect that all ‘westerners’ are going to tip. But it is not the case.

    I personally hate the feeling that they serve you only because they expect a tip, or scowl at you when they don’t get one. They receive a salary for doing the job and the level of service should reflect their professionalism, not their greed. Shop assistants, bellhops, waiters, doctors, government officers etc all provide quite good service on salary in many countries, lets avoid the trap of tipping.

  3. Mat, I heard what you say. I understand the feeling of being “forced” to tip, by custom or by the server/driver… I said I was a strong supporter for tipping practice in the article, but the comments reminded me of the risk to turn the graditute for good service into something that does not help anybody. That would be worse than a service industry without any tip to encourage at all.

    In China, I often see at airport, when the taxi driver helps foreigners to unload their large luggage and help them to find the cart and put the luggage onto the cart, then, giving directions on where to check-in. Some foreigners will try to give back some small money as tip, and the drivers seemed to be frightened and refuse the tip. They even run away in these situation. They didn’t expect that at all. I do appreciate their effort to build a friendly city.

  4. The US tipping phenomenon is in the benefit for the employers, as they can give lower salary to their employed if they can expect a common tip.

    Am I right ??

    Please comment !

  5. I agree with carsten, tipping to me seems mainly a way for the people at the top to keep the profits of the business at the expense of the lower paid workers

  6. The bottom line is, you have to do what you think will make you feel good afterwards. Giving someone a tip just because you have to does not make any sense. Do it for you and of course whatever benefit or devicit the receipient ends up with, thats their problem.

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  7. I say that any job that relies on expected tips as a substantial income source for the employee is morally corrupt. It’s just a way to pay low wage, and frequently tip money goes unaccounted, and therefore not taxed and not contributing to the social security/retirement fund. It’s a tax burden relief for the employer and a false impression of good income for the employee. We all know that frequently a tip is minor sum in cash, which means it goes directly to the employee’s pocket and doesn’t accumulate well, whereas any persons purchasing power is based on the ability to once in a while get substantial sums rather than a day’s wage that runs through our fingers like sand. Now, if the establishment enforces accounted tipping so it simply adds to the paycheck, that’s a more healthy practice for both the well-being of the employee (so he/she can at the end of the pay period see just how much the tipiing has brought him this month, and thus it stimulates good service better than small tips day-to-day), and for the purposes of retirement fund subtractions. Funny to spend years working at what you thought was an ok-paid job, just to discover that all your tips never counted and end up with a skimpy retirement sum, based on the “official” part of your wage?

    What I’m getting at is that it’s an unhealthy practice when tip is relied on for survival of the employee. His wage should be appropriate in its own right. Whenever he performs at exceptional level, a voluntary tip would express the client’s gratitude, which is reason enough to do one’s best. But the worker’s ability to sustain himself should not rely on this.

  8. We are going on a trip to China. Our tour operator gave us a write up indicating that all the people who provide services to us expect to be tipped and to save ourselves trouble we must pay our guide $6 per person per day! That seemed exorbitant and on probing it appears it is the Tour Guide’s “Income” not really passed on to the actual people providing the services. Obviously the Chinese Tour Operator in the US pays them very little, or nothing, and creates a trail of daily income for them from tips which may be $120-$150 A DAY!

    If this is allowed to continue, soon visitors from the west will be asked to ‘tip’ $10 or $15 or more per person every day and Tour Operators will be taking payoffs from the Guides to appoint them! If that is not happening already!

    The tourism industry should look into this and prevent Tour Operators from compelling travellers to tip heavily every day so they can underpay their partners in China.

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