October 6, 2008

The ‘tipping’ point

The backdrop of this post is a lot of outings that I have had with my close friends over the last few years. I am a ‘tipping’ person. I believe in giving tips when I like the service offered to me. Restaurants, public cabbies, ricks, private cabs when I am traveling officially, etc all fall in this category of services. In restaurants, for instance, I prefer tipping about 10% of the amount of the bill. This habit has stayed with me wherever I go. Or, if the rick fare comes to 18 bucks, I do not mind giving 20 bucks and walking off.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not writing this to talk of what I do. The reason is different. There have been instances where few people I know have mentioned that this is a bad habit. Or that I am trying to show off that I have a lot of money. I belong to a traditional family that had a modest financial background for most part of my life. If I tell my mom today that I gave 10 bucks to a beggar, she will be stunned. As a family, we still are very conservative spenders.

I had a very heated argument with one of my closest friends when we were holidaying. It was about the tip to be given to the driver who carried us to a lot of places when we in Delhi. The debate was on the amount. Points that he mentioned against my suggestion of giving a bigger tip than what he suggested? He thought I am spoiling the habit of the driver, in this case. The driver was just doing his job. He gets paid for it. The tip is just over & above it and need not be significant. If I tip him something abnormal, then he might expect the same from each of his customer and if one of his customers is relatively poor and cannot afford a big tip, the driver might not treat that customer properly. There were more points put forward, but I thought this one was the most important.

To be fair, the point has substance to some extent. I really do not intend to ‘spoil’ someone’s habits. But I guess a tip of Rs.50, for instance, for an entire day’s driving is ‘immaterial’. So either you give something more material or just do not. For me tipping is not a formality. It is a way of acknowledging that I was treated well. Of course, treating the driver, waiter, etc well is also crucial. If I treat him badly all day and end it off by even giving 500 bucks, I don’t think he would be too pleased. Emotional satisfaction is important. But let’s face it, emotional gratification does not help kill hunger. Money matters. So a fairly healthy tip also makes the receiver feel that he has done a good job. At least, that is what I intend when I tip.

My criterion of tipping is fairly straight forward. The amount should not pinch me. I should be happy giving it. When I travel for trainings, in most cases the client arranges a car for me for commuting. I do not pay for the car hiring charges. But the driver serves me directly. Most drivers I have met are extremely well behaved. They are courteous, take care of your schedule and do not do things that might put me into discomfort like talking loudly on phones, keeping the music loud. For a typical day, I end up giving upwards of 200-250 bucks to the driver. I hope that the amount helps him in a right way. I hope that he values it. And there is a point in it. 200 bucks is not even a per cent of what I get for a day’s training. To be fair, it is not very material for me, touch wood. But the same 200 bucks could be very material for the driver. Similarly, the value of extra 2 bucks given to cabbies/rick drivers is probably more valuable for them than me, in most cases I guess.

Another point against this habit… It is inflationary! Yes, in a sense that the rick drivers/cabbies might expect the same extra 2 bucks from every customer. Some one put this point across to me. I am not entirely convinced though.

If a tip is going to help the receiver and not pinch the giver, should it not be encouraged? Is it not a way of sort of helping people who are less fortunate than us in some ways?

One incident shared by a good friend of mine always helps me seal my decision to tip well. She shares my philosophy of ‘healthy’ tipping. She was escorted by a private car while she was on a 2-day official visit to Hyderabad. Finally, when she was dropped at Hyderabad airport after the 2-days trip, she handed over a 500 bucks note to the driver. She politely thanked him. However, the driver looked stunned. After few seconds, he suddenly started to thank my friend. He mentioned that his child was unwell and while he was driving, his mind was busy thinking of means to borrow few hundred bucks from any of his friends for the medicine. Receiving the 500Rs. took care of that problem. My friend’s face glows even today when she describes the driver’s reaction. This incident makes me and surely my friend to try and give a healthy tip that does not pinch us too. In the process, may be it helps solving some small problems of this world through us.

My good friend Mangesh wrote this article in The Times of India editorial page last week. It stresses on an aspect that I believe could be linked to tipping. That, perhaps the way overall scheme of things work is, the giver ends up receiving much more. Giving does not make you poorer, it makes you wealthier. It has worked for me perfectly. Trust me.

P.S.: 1. This piece is not about how great I am :) Any such sense that you might get is totally unintentional!
2. The title is also the name of the book I just completed reading. The book is not on this subject at all, but just used the phrase. No correlations intended.


vishal said...

Totally agree with you Sir!!
To some extent, even I follow this principle.
Such small gestures, though might not be a big deal for the giver, do have a great effect on the receiver.
Some express it, some do not, but everyone derives great happiness when they feel someone's admiring their work!! People may have different ways of acknowledging the good services they received, but what is more important is to acknowledge!!
Kudos to you!!

U No Hoo said...

Tanku Vishal! :) But the blog, as I have mentioned, is not about me doing it. It can be anybody.

Anonymous said...

i really blive wht u said especially at the end of the blog that giving makes wealthier and not poorer.even i do practice it whenevr it is possible for me to do.but really i do feel that u r a great human being.

U No Hoo said...

You do have a looot of misconceptions about me then! Must say.. :)

Arunkiyer said...

I remember having a conversation with one such cab driver...I asked him how much does he make out of this job...He said..just enough to survive...There are times when someone hires a cab for the entire day...In such cases as a general practice..the drivers are entitled to lunch/dinner allowance...He told me there have been instances were people dont give them money for lunch...leave alone the tip...A tip which is little on the higher side is the least we could do for such people...money spent for a good cause should never be quantified...

mandar.deodhar said...

Giving tip or not is a personal issue. There are valid arguments on both the sides. Let each one decide himself, nothing in favor of or against any view.

Before posting a reply, I observed my tipping style in last two weeks. I have habit of asking to keep change instead of tipping explicitly. If the bill is say 68 or 156, I ask the next person to keep 2 or 4 rupees. I realized while doing so, I have a feeling of 'lets not take change back ... whats there in taking 2-3 rs. back' etc. This is indeed bad as it undervalues the importance of money. I am not giving him the money for his service instead I am asking him to keep it because I am not keen to take it back.

Because of this post, I evaluated myself and found problems. I'll change myself now. Thanks for posting :-)