'At least 10%': Is Australia slowly tipping into US tipping culture?
To tip or not to tip, that is the question.
It's fair to say that Australia does not have a tipping culture per se - the idea that every interaction with people in the service industry or hospitality need to be given a gratuity to recognise their good service.
But whether it's the tip jar at the coffee shop counter, the line in the restaurant bill for a gratuity inclusion or a pop up on an app, there is at least some presence of tipping, even if it doesn't extend to the limits of tipping culture in the United States.
As I've previously written, I was born and raised in the United States, the nonpareil of tipping culture.
Going for a haircut? Tip the stylist and also the person who washed your hair. Taxi ride? Tip when you arrive at your destination. Checking into a hotel? Tip housekeeping, and anyone who may have helped you with your bags.
And of course, tip your servers and bar staff. The golden rule growing up was a minimum 15%.
This was one of the hardest things to unlearn when I left the US, that service staff could be properly remunerated such that tips were what they were designed to be - gratuities, a sign of appreciation for excellent service - not the difference between someone making enough money to pay the bills or not.
It's also a cultural point in Australia.
I'll never forget the first time that I got a haircut in Melbourne and I tried to give the stylist a cash tip at the end. She sounded slightly offended as she pushed my hand back, saying that she was paid a good wage to do a good job on my cut and highlights, and didn't need the tip to assure good quality.
It was an important lesson, but why is it that tipping culture isn't as widespread in Australia as in the US?
Part of it has to do with sheer economics.
In Australia, people in the hospitality industry make the award wage of $19.84/hour, at last update. In the US, restaurant owners can pay employees the federal tipped salary minimum wage, which currently stands at $2.13/hour. You read that right. Restaurant owners can pay employees below the normal federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour on the presumption that servers will make up the difference by hustling for tips.
Suddenly, tipping your server in the US 20-30% doesn't sound so luxurious, does it?
It could be historical bias as well. In doing research for this article, I came across research suggesting that lower rates of tipping in Australia has to do with the "quiet anti-American sentiment in Australia during the Second World War [that] defined tipping as 'un-Australian'."
Nevertheless, it seems as though a degree of tipping has integrated itself into Australia's hospitality culture, with a number of articles saying that the common consensus is around a 10% tip for dining in at restaurants. Plus there's the odd gold coin or similar for the barista at your local cafe.
But it's also fair to think about tipping in the age of COVID-19, with the move towards cashless payments. (I'm so unused to paying for things with cash that it's always a scramble to find a gold coin to unlock the shopping trolley for the weekly shop.)
During the various lockdowns and now COVID-normal life, a fair chunk of my interactions with people in service industries is through apps - ordering at restaurants, and of course Uber Eats/Deliveroo/Menulog to obtain the tasty meals from local restaurants that pivoted to a take-away-only model during the worst of the Melbourne lockdown.
All the apps have tip functions now, including push notifications encouraging you to reward your driver with an extra few bucks, but if tipping is based on human interaction, how does that impact on the choice to give that extra money to someone who came, left food at your doorstep and whisked away for health safety.
Even when dining in, it's quite common for restaurants to have people order from QR codes. Those order forms have a space for gratuity, but it's hard to judge on quality of service before you've had a chat with your server.
This last point goes to the heart of the view on tipping from the ethical perspective. Do you tip to reward a pleasurable interaction with your barista, bar or table server? Do you tip because you think labour is worth more than just the minimum wage? Are you holding out as a way of teasing out better service from someone, and is that even right to do?
It all comes down to the individual, as always. I can't get out of the habit of tipping servers - too many of my friends were servers at uni in the US, where a bad night in tips meant financial hardship for many. But you can be sure that I never made the mistake of insulting my most respected hair stylist with a tip again.
Do you tip or not? Let us know in the comments.
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