Recently, I went on my first visit to the United States of America, spending six days in Hawaii on a business conference plus leisure time. This was my first experience in a country where tipping is customary.
I was aware prior to my visit, unlike in Australia, tipping is part of everyday life in the US, understanding the low minimum wage see’s employees relying on tips to make a living. Although I knew it was custom, I was surprised to see in some cases a certain percentage automatically added to a bill. At other establishments, a gratuity amount was calculated and printed on a receipt, with the customer asked to select an option between 15%-25% on top of the total.
I was prepared to pay tips particularly in restaurants, however what I wasn’t prepared for was the poor customer service that was provided in most cases across a wide array of service areas. Retail stores, food outlets, bars, restaurants and tourist attractions, the service level overall was sub-standard.
I was completely surprised by the lack lustre approach taken by staff when serving customers. Even in high end hotels and resorts, we had to hunt down servers or wait staff to place food orders and refill drinks. One would expect in these venues, staff would be attentive and eager to increase their earning potential through providing high end service to cashed up tourists.
Sadly, I didn’t identify any outstanding service provided throughout the days we spent on the famous tourist island. Most staff were simply going through the motions, struggling to produce a smile or in some cases, basic manners.
Perhaps it was my perception or understanding of tipping in general, seeing it as a way of recognising exceptional service. Rather it seems it is an expectation regardless of the standard of service provided, making tipping less of an incentive and more like an expected subsidy of their wage paid directly by the customer.
I found myself torn, not wanting to offend or disadvantage the person by neglecting to pay a tip however, I also struggled to reward poor service.
In a location such as Hawaii with its large portion of clientele being tourists for whom tipping is not necessarily the norm, these customers need to be given even more of a reason to tip. Where the service provided is at such a level, that a customer shows their gratitude to the person who served them, because they want to not because they are expected to.