Thursday, 17 May 2012

Modern Manners: 18 May

It’s not easy knowing how to be polite in the modern world. This week: is it always necessary to leave a tip? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,

Endless arguments with my husband about tipping are growing tiresome. He always wants to give the barest minimum or nothing at all; it's embarrassing. One time we were ejected from a restaurant and told never to come back. Can you advise?

Carole Barrington, Scarborough

Dear Carole,

I'll tell you a secret: left to my own devices, I'd abolish tipping altogether. Often I long for Iceland, where it's illegal. In the first place, who are we supposed to tip and how much and why? Will we be thought mean? What about the underlying principle – isn't it objectionable?

There's an element of patronage and condescension, as if we were all still lords and ladies tossing a farthing to some urchin who'd saved us from highwaymen. And why, if the tip is supposed to be a recognition of exceptional service – which is the tipper's right to give or withhold – do we mostly feel obliged to tip and are afraid of the consequences if we don't?

If we have to tip taxi drivers, why not the supermarket worker who shows you where the frozen peas are? Sadly, in the real world, we're stuck with tipping.

The best advice I ever heard is: be decisive. If you think there is good reason not to tip, then don't. No tip at all is nothing like as bad as a mean tip. But always tip if you think someone giving you service might be badly paid, ie, hotel or restaurant staff.

In restaurants, by law, you can strike out the automatic service charge – usually 12 per cent – if you have not been warned before you eat. But don't. Have pity. It could be a rotten institution, the lone waiter not to blame for cold, late or wrong food. Will your waiter actually get the tip? Ask. If 'pooled': dodgy. Give an additional small cash tip (no more than £5) directly to the person who served you. No service on the bill? Add a minimum of 12 per cent yourself.

Hotel porters carrying your case to your room: tip £2 (depending on the amount of luggage). Coat-check staff also: a minimum of £2 when you leave. Bar staff: change in a little dish on the bar: 10 per cent tip. All maddening when you don't have small change or have just arrived in a foreign country and only have notes. Bold people ask for change.

Taxi drivers with a meter: 10 per cent tip. Feel free to rebel though, especially in London. Black cab drivers are said to be rich. If tipping and you have no change, hand over notes and say what change you want, to include the tip. Minicab drivers, where a fixed price is agreed beforehand: no tip.

Hairdressers! I've never tipped. They're glamorous professionals. I'm loyal instead to my salon. And no objections seem to have been raised to my hair so far...

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT... Memorial flowers

What to do when memorial flowers laid in public places wither in their plastic wrappings? Or a shrine to a person sadly lost, marked by flowers, remains for years? Sensitive subject.

Many such places are now on show by the wayside, where there has been a tragic accident or even a murder. Elsewhere, tributes are left in spots that are special to a departed loved one.

There can't be any objection to these poignant acts of remembrance. But certainly, the plastic wrapping should be removed (extraordinary how many people don't, perhaps wishing their flowers to be longer preserved).

If at all possible, return to clear up the blooms when they are over. Again, few do. Maybe people have come from afar and gone home – in which case, perhaps a very small bunch, or wild flowers, would be better relied on to make a dignified, unobtrusive return to the soil.

Permanent shrines are hard on the living, especially if beside busy roads or near houses. Perhaps, after six months, they could be removed. Thereafter, they can be resurrected on the anniversary of the death that occurred there, and then cleared away afterwards.

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