A Good Tip (Draft)

I have always worked for good people when I was in the hospitality industry. However, “always” has its exceptions… every time.

I’ll tell you a story, just one… I have so many but I am already being indulgent.

In the early 90’s I worked at the newly opened Quaglino’s in London.

Shifts consisted of 3 days on, 2 days off, then 2 on and one day off. These days were purely for recovery as I recall, the one day off with three shifts ahead was worse due to the anxiety facing you on the three day run ahead. Shifts started at 10am with a 1-2 hour break. I’d get out at around 2am. Home via the night bus say… 3am give or take an hour for finishing time and making the bus.

There was no staff room but for a locker, no food provided. I’d get some noodles or something of substance and go and lie down in green park. Coat or backpack under head.

The pay was £100 “on the house” they called it. The rest of your wage was made up from a %15 surcharge on everything the customer paid for, whether it be a grande plateau de fruits de mer… or a cup of tea.

That surcharge made up the rest of our living wage – from memory maybe an extra £150. The customer saw it on the bill as service surcharge – in other words, the tip. So very rarely did you get a cash tip.

We served around 1500 diners a day. Lunch service started at 11:30, dinner at 5:30 and last orders at 1am. A section would consist of say… 25 customers – maybe five 2’s a few 4’s and a 6-8 something like that – there were 9-10 sections. The head waiter and your commie were assigned to one. Around twenty-five? not that many you may think. However, there were 4 sittings at lunch and at least 5 to 6 at night. Depending on the size of the table or the celebrity status most had to leave within a two-hour time frame. Coffee, tea… bill on table.

No strolling took place, it was fast and furious and all done with smile and grace… it’s acting because that’s what it is, a show. Looking back I don’t know how I did it… I was young and dare I say… I was good at it, we all had to be.

My sister worked in the kitchen for some time… my story is no exaggeration but for her… the kitchen was another story, a whole bigger box of shallots. I can still picture her on the couch one day… an imprint that you have in your mind that stays with you. She was fearless as most chefs are. I’m just glad she wasn’t on the fish section when the windows on the ship blew out. Put it this way – the temperature gauge was always red, all the way to the tippy top.

Now this was the way it was… the company were not hiding anything, we got paid and regardless of the nature of the work, we did it. Several of the waiters that moved from Le Caprice over the way, behind the Ritz, they were not happy… no way. “Le putain!” I heard once, maybe twice… under their breath. This was a month in… they were saying to themselves… “wrong move”.

So getting to my point in current time. Inner city workers or anywhere – how about tipping your barista or your waiters – just for a month or so even if it goes against your beliefs – because they are worthy even if their boss doesn’t think so. It is damn hard work… they love it but it is often a seriously difficulty workplace to negotiate.

As a postscript. Make sure they get it… and here’s the thing, they are going to share it with their colleagues. No self-respecting hospitality “service provider” on the front line would do otherwise.


Jo Sibley is a designer and writer living in Melbourn Australia. She …