Cape Town - An incident in which a Kalk Bay restaurant chased away a patron who apparently didn’t leave the waitress a decent tip has raised questions on local tipping etiquette, and what amount is considered reasonable for good service.
A patron who witnessed the incident at Cape to Cuba in Kalk Bay last Friday wrote to the Weekend Argus to explain.
“There were some people from Gauteng… they tipped the waitress 5 percent instead of the expected 10 percent. The proclaimed owner of the restaurant chased them out… like dogs... and telling them to go back to Gauteng and not return to her restaurant.”
The restaurant did not respond to a request for comment.
However, comments left on Tripadvisor – an international tourism ratings website – indicated it was not the first time
the restaurant got crabby about tips to its staff.
According to one post, a group of patrons were “challenged as to why we didn’t leave a bigger tip”.
Another poster wrote in 2010 that “the waiter had the audacity to call us back and tell us that we have to tip him 10 percent”.
So what constitutes a reasonable tip?
Restaurant Association of South Africa chief executive Wendy Alberts is adamant there are no laws regulating tipping in South Africa. It was at the discretion of the customer “for service that exceeds expectations”.
Alberts said a 10 percent tip was generally the norm in South Africa, but added there was an expectation that this amount should always be paid.
“In some cases we find the restaurant doesn’t pay minimum wages, and waiters are working for tips. And, when they aren’t tipped, they can turn quite hostile.”
She explained there were varying skills levels among waiting staff in this country, with very few professional waiters. Despite this, some restaurants charged an “obnoxious” service fee of about 20 percent.
Service charges were acceptable if it was made clear before the bill arrived that a service charge would be added (provided it went to the waiter and not the restaurant), or in the case of large tables.
“At this time of year, there are a lot of large bookings for Christmas parties,” she said.
But if the first mention of a service charge was at the bottom of the bill in fine print, and the customer felt the service had not been up to scratch, they had the right to complain.
Cape Town Tourism’s website says a 10 to 15 percent tip is standard.
But various Cape establishments said that, when it came to tipping, amounts varied.
Evan Faull, owner of the Knead chain of cafés, said it was an industry norm that bigger tables paid a service fee (at Knead this is 8 percent), but everything else was at the customer’s discretion.
“Waiters earn a basic minimum wage, and then work for tips. So if they have a large table, it could take them out of circulation for a while, which is why we charge the service fee.”
On average, Knead staff received tips of about 12 percent. Their best waiters earned between 15 and 18 percent.
If staff harassed patrons over bad tips, it could lead to a written warning.
Manuel de Abreu, manager of Arnold’s in Kloof Street, said the restaurant’s policy that it charged a 10 percent service fee for tables of six people or more was printed on its menu.
“Tipping is at the customer’s discretion– our waiters earn tips which average 10 to 12 percent,” he said.
He added that many foreign visitors did not know what amount to tip, or sometimes thought the 14 percent VAT charge reflected on the bill was a service fee.
Nic Haarhoff, owner of El Burro restaurant in Green Point, said they charged a 12 percent service fee on tables of 10 or more.
When someone did not tip, a manager may ask the customer if the service was up to their satisfaction, he said.
“In some instances they will tell me that the waitress was absent, or their food took too long. So it’s also a good way to get feedback.
“But you have to be very careful about how you handle that, because it could blow up very quickly.”