The tipping point

The earliest explanation for tipping I can find refers us back to the days of Dr. Johnson and his 18th century circle of wits. Upon entering his local coffee shop for a session of epigram-flinging, Dr. Johnson (or rather, one presumes, his flunky, Mr. Boswell) would drop a few pence in a box labelled ‘To Insure Promptness’ (T.I.P.–get it?) in order to encourage a greater display of vigour on the part of the generally listless attendants.

[N]ow, you can tell that Christmas is near when this old chestnut of tipping is discussed among London’s cabbie fraternity; should you give a gratuity as a means of rewarding personal service; is the practice outmoded; and should cabbies go down the road of adding a service charge to the fare on completion of a journey?

Hairdressers are usually the major recipients, if only because we see the same person every time. I tell my barber to pay special attention to the back of my head as this is the side of me that my customers see, he tells me that it is my best side, but still I always tip him.

Older drivers claim that in the 1960s, while there may have been fewer customers, their regulars would generally tip, often adding 25 per cent on the metered fare. Nowadays those that do tip will generally round up the fare to the nearest £1.

Now an increasing ground swell of opinion is suggesting that traditional tipping should be replaced by a service charge, negotiated at an agreed rate with the Licensing Authority and built into the tariff.

But why tip? It’s not likely you will see the waiter, doorman or your cabbie again. Surely the service charge should already be built into the salary of those who work in service industries, not compulsorily added as an addendum to one’s bill.

Many companies are now telling employees when using a cab on company business not to tip and so your passenger will ask that the receipt doesn’t show a tip even when proffered.

The next few years will see taxi tariffs rise considerably as insurance increases due to uninsured London drivers causing accidents, fuel duty rising remorselessly, and if Boris gets his 10 years limit on the age that cabs can be licensed, write down values will increase and will have to be added to the tariff.

If I was a fare paying passenger in a London taxi I would be very annoyed at having a 10-15 per cent service charge added to the fare, whilst being driven by a self-employed driver, who is let’s face it, just doing his job.

CabbieBlog will of course be happy to receive any donations that you feel I have deserve for the service that is provided.

6 thoughts on “The tipping point”

  1. While I am sure you are a courteous cab driver yourself, I have heard many stories of passengers being shouted at by cabbies for not tipping or for offering inadequate tips. I think a lot of people think they ought to tip in order to avoid such treatment, not because they are pleased with the service.
    A lot of restaurants now add a “discretionary” percentage to your bill which you may cross out if you wish. I am suspicious of this practice as I suspect that it is the business rather than the staff which receives this money. It is a sneaky way of increasing your bill and should be discouraged.
    I believe tipping was regarded as a Good Thing in the Bad Old Days when waiters were poorly paid and could not live on their wages. They then relied on tips to live. There may be countries where this is still the case but the UK is not one of them.
    I see absolutely no reason to tip service providers such as hairdressers. Their costs are already exorbitant and inviting tips is adding insult to injury. While it may be a good thing to tip skivvies and low paid workers, there is absolutely no justification for tipping professionals. They should be ashamed of themselves for accepting gratuities on top of their fees.
    I give a tip if I think I have received service “above and beyond” but I would like to see tipping banned altogether as it is neither necessary nor desirable. Good service should be the norm, not provided only because you are recognized as a good tipper. It also creates the expectation on the part of some tippers that they will get a “little extra” for their largesse. That is immoral.
    Why would cab drivers add a percentage to the fare? The idea is preposterous and I hope it is rejected by commonsense and public outrage. A proper fare should be set that is enough to maintain the business and pay the cabbie’s wages. Expecting, let alone forcing, a tip is immoral and adding a non-discretionary percentage should be illegal in my view. It already costs a lot just to step into a cab, let alone be transported somewhere.
    Perhaps petrol stations and garages should add a percentage to the bill when they serve cab drivers? Would that be fair, do you think? If not, then you shouldn’t be thinking of fleecing your customers.
    Tipping (its other name is “bribery”) is an old and corrupt practice that has no place in a modern society and we should be working to eradicate it, not finding ways of automating it.


    1. A tip should be at the discretion of the fare payer and not an obligatory, or expected, benefit. Some of my colleagues will allow a poor woman a haul unaided her heavy suitcase into their cab, while the meter is ticking away, and when she repeats her Herculean effort at her destination, they expect a tip for service.

      There are many good things about our trade but there are also a lot of bad. I believe that good service may deserve reward, but that demanding a tip regardless of the service given, or the passengers’ financial circumstances, is tantamount to extortion and I believe that levelling a service charge would do damage to our relationship with the public.


  2. I have always understood tipping to be, among other things, a class distinction – i.e. – I am a higher class than you and so I am giving you a tip. It should be unnecessary but in some places, waiters/waitresses still depend on their tips.


  3. Nothing personal CB – but looking in a historical context – when these class distinctions were very important – surely the cabbie was there to serve the upper classes. Tipping should have passed on together with the rigid class system, but as a source of (frequently undeclared) income…… However, it is the only way of saying thank you for good service, even though it would be better if good service were the norm.


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