If you talk to anyone who has been to the US about the subject of tipping, the best they will be able to muster is a wry smile. In the land of infinite possibilities, there is virtually no leeway when it comes to tipping. For most professions, from taxi drivers and hairdressers to pest controllers and satellite dish installers, there are relatively clear guidelines in relation to the “voluntary” financial acknowledgement of their services.
In the restaurant industry, the rules are actually so clear that you can expect a direct confrontation if you fail to pay a tip of 15 to 20 percent of the bill without good reason.
There is a simple reason why tipping is so important in the United States. In many US states, companies are allowed to pay their employees even less than the already extremely low minimum wages if those employees receive tips in the course of their work. The statutory minimum for tipped employees in many states – from Alabama to Wyoming – is 2 dollars and 13 cents an hour.
As a consequence, it is only the tips which guarantee that employees reach the national minimum wage of 7.25 dollars per hour. It is therefore understandable that miserly customers meet with such outright rejection.
Abolished in 1974
Switzerland has no statutory provisions on tipping. There’s a simple reason for this, too – officially, tipping doesn’t actually exist. It was abolished in 1974, and since then the principle of “service included” has applied.
This ruling was the result of a dispute between the restaurant industry and the tax authorities. When calculating the income of people employed in the restaurant industry, the tax authorities had simply added the 15% tip that was customary at the time. This caused considerable consternation among service staff, as many guests did not actually pay this tip. In the end it was agreed to abolish tipping and increase prices and wages instead.
The criticism of the practice of tipping that was prevalent at the time continues to be heard to this day. Although it is intended as a way for customers to express their appreciation of good service, the actual payment of a tip depends on a multitude of factors, not least the customer’s financial capacity to pay. Moreover, customer-facing staff such as waiters often benefit more from tips than the people in the background, such as those in the kitchen. As a result, most restaurants have clear rules on how to handle tips, which specify whether the recipient is allowed to keep them or whether they will be collected and then shared between all the staff on the basis of certain ratios.
The fact of the matter is that tipping still exists in Switzerland to this day. However, given the legal regulations, a more accurate term for voluntary payments as an expression of one’s appreciation of a personal service would actually be “overtipping.”
“In principle, tips have been included in the price for many years. Of course guests may also voluntarily overtip in acknowledgement of good service and attentive waiting,” writes industry association GastroSuisse, for example. “The customer is free to decide one way or another, and there is no entitlement to tips.”
One common practice is to voluntarily round up smaller amounts. “Rounding up to the nearest franc or to a round figure if the service is good will please every service employee,” says Switzerland Tourism, for example. While it is customary to tip around 10 percent of the bill in restaurants (or slightly less if the amount is over 100 francs), the merits and demerits of this gesture of courtesy are a subject of heated discussion among Swiss people. The most common argument against tipping is that good service should be a matter of course in Switzerland; there should be no need to pay extra for it. Another message is usually lurking in the background – why shell out even more money when the prices are already sky-high?
There are also some countries in which the service culture is so pronounced that tips can be interpreted as a lack of respect or even an insult. In Japan and the South Sea nations, for example, it is better not to tip. In China, too, such demonstrations of largesse when leaving restaurants often meet with a cool response. This is why it is advisable to familiarize oneself with local customers in foreign countries. When it comes to tipping, it is once again a case of different countries, different customs.