Yesterday I had lunch with three women. We’d been on a writers’ panel together in San Francisco, sharing our hard earned experiences with a roomful of devoted writers.
Lunch, delicious, drew to a close and the bill landed on the table. I watched with amusement as the three spent about 15 minutes discussing the tip, which is a breath short of obligatory in the USA. In most places you’d wanna run if you didn’t leave one – and, I must say, I have.
As they pondered this much or that much or how much, I recalled a conversation I’d had the day before, over lunch with a childhood friend of my son’s. Adam has a brilliant mind; he’s here in San Francisco to take his place at the world’s inner cyber table, the crucible of new ideas that require brilliant minds.
When our bill came we nodded in hotheaded agreement about the burdensome nature of tipping. And Adam pointed out the time Americans wasted sorting out bills.
And here I was, watching three women who had spent at least 55 years each in this country, waste a collective 45 minutes working out a tip.
There are 300 million people in this country. Let’s say 200 million o them are adults who purchase independently of their parents . . . well, it would take Adam’s mind to do the maths. But I can tell from here that this is a massive amount of wasted productivity.
Talk to Americans about tipping and most will defend the system. It’s my guess they cannot imagine an alternative and besides, everyone knows someone who makes a great living on tips.
To me, they are a nation of beggars, relying on me – the customer – to assess what a smile was worth, a hello was worth, an attitude was worth . . . and much, much more.
A middle aged man, a doctor with the most charming smile in America, told me he supported tipping 100%, that he had lived on tips while he put himself through medical school.
He reminded me of a woman I knew who was six feet tall with a beautiful face and breasts slightly modified to perfect her goddess form – she also went into defensive bat for the tipping system.
Some people clearly make a lot of money.
But me, I’m old fashioned.
I believe people should work for a living wage.
I believe a person’s wage should not depend on the charm of their smile or the strategic exposure of their cleavage.
I believe the tip should be built into the bill and called a wage and if the customer wants to tip on top of that go right ahead.
I do not want responsibility – every single time I order a bloody drink – of deciding what her or his service was worth to me, of assessing the value of the human being who served me.
I do not want an avalanche of hidden costs driving up every single meal I order beyond the price I agreed to pay in the first place.
As Adam pointed out, the ACCC in Australia is devoted to weeding out hidden costs – and I have renewed respect for a philosophy that has seen an entire bureaucracy in my country established to ensure we pay the advertised cost of goods and services.
Besides, take last night’s meal, just as an example, because this scene is replicated every single time I have a meal: in this instance I shop around for the kind of restaurant in which I might want to enjoy my last great meal in the USA, I take my seat, I order, the meal comes.
I admire, I anticipate, anyone who’s ever eaten a meal with me knows I am in my own delicious world by this stage.
I take a mouthful and at that precise moment the waitress sticks her head in my bubble world and says: ‘how is everything?’
I pause, my mouth full of delectable food, and stare – at the face of the beggar – I have handed money over a thousand times to that face on the streets – the waitress beggar letting me know she’s paying attention to me, that she’s pleasing pleasing pleasing me.
Bizarrely, she’s waiting for me to talk – with my mouth full. I just want her to fuck off and leave me to enjoy my meal. I get like that when I eat.
Harsh, but true.
Because she’s begging.
And if I wanted to eat among beggars I’d eat out on the street.