Wednesday, December 28, 2005

To Receive Tip Is Glorious

Since Deng famously declared that “to get rich is glorious”, the only money that my Chinese compatriots still refuse to take seems to be service tip, which is bizarre because first, it’s completely legit, and secondly, it does not hurt anybody in any conceivable way.

When I first moved back to China in the summer of 2004, I was constantly intrigued by the military-style training of restaurant staffs. Depending on the restaurant, the training might happen in the morning or afternoon, or both, and would consist of some form of group exercise and a pep talk by the manager on duty. The manager would urge the staffs to do better and admonish those who lagged in performance. Those chided would blush and stare emptily at the wall, or a clock, or the manager’s tie.

I found the scene intriguing since it brought back some not so fond memories of attending schools in China and receiving paramilitary training in university. I had got used to rude American waiters and still feeling culturally pressured to pay them 15% tip. Thus I often wondered out loud why the restaurants would subject poor staffs, who get paid very low wages, to such undignified treatment, often in public view.

My Chinese friends would explain that this being China, the staffs were mostly from the countryside and often lacked proper manners. They had to be scolded straight.

Still, why not encourage customers to tip them? In a market economy, shouldn’t we promote money as the ultimate motivator of good, or just market-acceptable, behavior?

So I insist on tipping whenever I feel like it.

Most restaurants would not run after me if my friends and I left some small change on the table after dinner. But if I explicitly stated that I would like to leave a tip for their good service, almost all the time the waiter would just blush (or giggle) and push back the change.

One day in a local Xinjiang restaurant, I asked the Hui waitress if their boss forbad them from taking tips. She lowered her head to her chest like a school girl in front of her teacher, and mumbled something like “we are happy to service our customers”. But her eyes kept on looking back towards a fashionably dressed woman whom I took to be the owner or manager of the restaurant.

Another day I tried to tip the delivery boy from Jenny Lou, Beijing’s answer to Trader Joe’s. It took 5 minutes (ok I’m exaggerating) of pushing hands, Taichi style, before he finally accepted my 10 kuai.

So it was refreshing, two days ago, to find at an upscale restaurant chain serving over-priced Sichuan food and boasting interior design by a famous European designer that they automatically add 10% service charge to the bill. It was especially refreshing since my banker friend was footing the bill. When the waitress took my friend’s credit card, I asked, for no particular reason, “the wait staff will get this service charge, right?”

No, she said, it would be added to the revenue of the night. The staff got nothing.

As an ex-capitalist-in-training, I’m all for free market economy under a healthy legal system. But in current-day China, I feel there exists this pretense of serving the people, Lei Feng style, in order to make money, Wal-Mart style. It pisses me off, big time, that the bosses are reaping a disproportionate share of the benefits, asking the little guys to smile and be content, and then taking away what ought to belong to the little guys.

It is time that the government come out and state emphatically – to receive tip is glorious, and pass laws to make sure it happens.


rachel said...

when i was back in china i often asked the people eating out with me why they don't leave tip. they just look at me weird.

Albatross said...

you mean this kind of training?

I was impressed too ;-)

Beijing Loafer said...

Yes, that's the pic. Can I use it on my blog?

Of course the Chinese consumers are in no rush to leave tips, since there's no culture for tipping and the consumers are very very cost-conscious here, to put it mildly.

Michael W. said...

I don't know why you want to encourage Chinese restaurant and bar staff to start expecting tips. It's another bad American habit that the rest of the world can live without. And as you've already shown, the money will probably go to the managers anyway.

I've got a couple of pics of my local Korean restaurant staff getting their military briefing here:

and here:

Beijing Loafer said...

Hmm... I kinda like to reward people who are nice to me. Of course in the States no matter how bad the service, one is expected to tip, which mostly serves as an arithmetics exercise for the maths-challenged Americans.

Tipping is not bad. Always tipping is bad.

Getting tipped is not bad. Always expecting to get tipped is bad.


Anonymous said...

tipping in the states is crap. five yrs in NY, I never tip less than 15%, but the services were not linked to the tip at all. you have to tip everyone, delievery boy, doorman, driver, they just take it for granted and no service quality. sometimes I feel backmailed. now I'm living in Australia, the service is super friendly everywhere, and no one asks a dime.

Beijing Loafer said...

Lol. I think Australians are a special breed, except when they are during a riot.

In China, waitstaff can be rude, or incompetent, or both. Tipping might help encourage better behavior.

Maybe we should test it in an open-port city first, like all prior reforms in China. :)

Beijing Loafer said...

BTW, the essay is another tongue-in-cheek piece, especially with tipping. What pissed me off was the little guys getting all scolded and having nothing much in return.

Ken (The Runcible) said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ken (The Runcible) said...

"What pissed me off was the little guys getting all scolded and having nothing much in return"

When there's alaways another 100 ppl wanting the very job, no matter how crappy it is, I guess the "little guys" really don't have much choice.