There's a new window sticker that restaurateurs can put up next to their Hardens, Zagat and Michelin guide garlands, their TripAdvisor badge or their current Food Standards Agency rating. This latest Kitemark will indicate that the establishment shares its tips among the staff.
Admittedly this may not push you that extra yard to decide to dine in the establishment - your interests might lie in whether the self-saucing chocolate pud will have a gooey enough interior or if the house white is up to scratch - but it’s big news in the catering industry.
Because what many British diners may not realise is that behind the scenes the sharing of tips is an issue of ongoing acrimony. Most restaurants operate a system known as ‘tronc’ which comes from the French expression tronc des pauvres – the poor box – the very word thus being insulting to staff as it suggests they are grubby French urchins.
That aside, restaurants are incentivised by government to implement the tronc as gratuities given by customers are not subject to national insurance contributions and the tronc effectively holds the tips in a common fund to be distributed equally among all staff. Which sounds great, except it’s not compulsory (a survey conducted of restaurants in January of this year showed that only 31 per cent shared 100 per cent), and nor should it be.
It’s not surprising that last year Jeremy Corbyn pledged to ensure that all restaurant employees kept 100 per cent of tips.
Today the big cheeses of the food world, led by a man who is even called David Cheeseman, are forming a body that will appraise establishments and give them that aforementioned sticker.
Thus we lucky diners will be able to choose tip-friendly establishments. My heart of course goes out to the small restaurateur, that bold entrepreneur whose simple ambition is to put a plate of food in front of the customer.
As anyone who has thought beyond what is on the menu knows, a successful restaurateur must be an adept combination of interior designer, accountant, businessman, manager and philosopher. They must have people skills, they must be problem solvers, they must have wine, beers and spirits knowledge, it helps if they are good on telly, an understanding of how to cook food is advisable and now they will have to fear not just the anonymous Michelin inspectors, they will have to learn to charm the tipping police.
And of course it would help if the customer was a positive influence. But the British hate tipping. It’s awkward. It’s embarrassing. We don’t know quite when to do it, how to do it, who to do it to and we don’t want to do it anyway.
I’ve watched my smooth American friends tipping people, easing notes into the palm of the hand of a hall porter or a maître d. I’ve just about learnt how to tip a gamekeeper (the guns gather, look at the bag and agree a figure), you then secrete your forty notes into your palm and slide over the wonga as you shake his hand while he gives you your brace. Easy.
One US pal of mine tips bartenders for mixing him a drink. What’s that about? If I don’t tip will my cocktail be poisoned? When I check into a hotel I insist on taking all of our bags to the room myself. Because if you leave it to the staff to bring it separately you just end up sitting on the bed and wondering where the hell your luggage is. And if you’ve shelled out for the room why should you pay staff for doing their job?
How wonderful it must be to be born into a culture – and onto a financial cushion – where you have none of these hang-ups and can just walk about merrily palming everyone left, right and centre.
Of course today in most restaurants the problem is removed. Service charges are automatically included in virtually every bill presented; the custom being 12.5 per cent. Except that all hell breaks loose if you don’t think your gratuity should be presented as a fait accompli for le tronc (keep up, there was a time when all menus were in French).
For how awkward it is for the Brit to have to call the manager and ask for the tip to be removed, and for the bill to be re-presented because you didn’t think your waiter was up to much. Especially as you now realise that all tips should be shared so that member of staff you identified as substandard will be hounded by his colleagues after service.
The awkward quagmire of tips and service charges is enough to make you want to order a takeaway. But, eek, do you tip the Deliveroo driver?