Tipping in India
About a decade ago in Bangalore when I was on the way to my childrens’ school to drop my under-eights, the gas in my car got over. The petrol station was a five minute walk away, but I was reluctant to take the children with me. Seeing my predicament, a ragpicker offered to get the petrol for me. I handed over some money and a can without any hesitation. He returned within 15 minutes, filled the gas, returned the change, and when I tried to give him a tip, he refused. He was a poor boy mind you, his clothes dirty, dusty and torn.
I can’t imagine such a thing happening now. I don’t mean not coming across such trustworthiness, I mean a tip being refused. Today tips are not just expected, they are demanded. True, in India we have not reached the stage where taxi and rickshaw drivers demand to be tipped, not unless you count their reluctance to return the change as a demand for a tip!
Actually, tipping in restaurants in bigger cities has always been common, but it was never such a compulsion as it is now. In our time we students got away with not tipping at all, not even in restaurants, but today students can get away with it only in coffee shops, not in restaurants. The pressure to tip is ever present.
As for swanky places, well, one needs to tip. At some places it isn’t even voluntary! While some establishments enforce a 15 percent service charge, there are some which deduct tips without asking the customer! That’s bit much…
Do waiters in expensive restaurants deserve that extra tip?
The fancier the place and the higher the salary of the person who serves you, the higher the tip that needs to be paid. Wonder what the logic is. Surely tipping is based on the quality of service rendered and not the ambiance of the place or the standard of living of the waiter? One is paying a higher charge for the food/ambiance anyway so that shouldn’t be a factor. Nor should the numbers of hours worked…in fact to my knowledge, in India at least, it’s the waiters in the smaller restaurants who work much harder, and are often exploited. If anything, they deserve the tip far more.
This happens at hair salons too. Hairdressers in smaller hair salons do not expect a tip, but the hairdressers at the fancier salons shamelessly hanker for a tip even though they have not done a good job!
I prefer to tip for the service rendered. I am reluctant to tip the mandatory 10 percent in a restaurant where service has been unsatisfactory and I like to pay at least 20 percent where I am satisfied. What’s the big deal anyway when a waiter pulls out a chair for you? Or even serves your food? In fact I don’t like being served. Nothing is more irritating than when the waiter starts dividing the dish ordered in equal portions amongst the diners. Good service is attentive service. A waiter who anticipates your needs is the one who deserves a good tip. If you have to holler for him, forget it! Funnily, you can’t do that in a swanky place anyway…you have to wait patiently until he looks your way. And then it’s at these posh places that the waiters don’t seem to understand the items on the menu and have to call someone to explain what the funny names mean.
I have encountered the best service at Udipi restaurants. The waiters are attentive and fast on the uptake. You never have to repeat your order and you never get the wrong order. Sure, their job is easier as the items on the menu are limited, but hey, they aren’t exactly taking home such a large salary and work longer hours.
Tipping at times seems a huge con game, where you have no idea what you are paying for.
Is Tipping common in India?
Some believe that the tipping culture is not endemic to India, and has slowly become stronger over the last decade or so. There are others who feel that tipping is common in India. And still others feel that tipping is optional.
I think all these points of view are partially true. Tipping has been well entrenched in the big cities for as long as I can remember…mostly at hotels and restaurants, but even now people do not pay the ten percent expected of them. I am not talking tourists here, as they have to tip for everything, even taking a photographs of people…those who hang around tourist spots demand tips, particularly from foreigners.
Are there any tipping rules?
Well, 10 percent is what is ‘expected’ at expensive restaurants and hair salons…though you can get by with tipping a little less.
When it comes to paying porters at railway stations, I don’t consider that as a ‘tip’ but payment for the service rendered. The price can range from Rs 10 to Rs 20/- per bag, depending on how far it has to be carried. Best to negotiate beforehand though.
In a hotel if a porter takes your bag, he needs to be tipped at least Rs 5/- per bag, unless it’s just one bag. Then Rs 10/- is a better bet. But again the charge will increase if you are at a top hotel as porters there expect double the money for some reason. As for tipping the room service boys and housekeepers in hotels, well, they expect tips and the amount of tip depends on the service offered and the type of hotel it is.
If one hires a car for the day, the drivers expect lunch money (it can range from Rs 30 to Rs 50/-) plus a tip at the end of the day. If the car is taken for just a day, then Rs 50/- is generous enough. If it is hired for several days, then the total amount of the tip can be a little less per day. Tour guides expect similar amounts, if not more…but foreigners are expected to tip at least 20 percent more. And Indians can get away by tipping 20 percent less, depending on how ‘poor’ they look!
Ordinary cab and rickshaw drivers are never tipped. And nor are petrol station attendants, unless they fill air for your car’s tyres.
‘Tip’ slipped into the language as underworld slang, with the verb ‘to tip’ (meaning ‘to give to or share with’) being used by shady characters as part of the then-current argot of petty criminals. Nowadays this use of ‘tip’ has become entirely respectable, but it is amusing that the usage began its linguistic life as tough guy jargon.
(Photos are by me)
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