The tipping scandal

Forget Damas, Dubai Properties et al, Damian Reilly says there's one scandal you can do something about.
The tipping scandal
By Damian Reilly
Thu 05 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

You may have had enough of scandal these past few weeks, what with the goings on at the top of Istithmar World, Dubai Properties,
Damas

and the rest. There’s not much you or I can do about them, other than watch and wonder who will be next.

There is, however, a scandal that you can do something about, one that is going on around the clock throughout the GCC. In fact, it is a practice that most people are unaware of, and to my mind represents theft on a scale as grand as any that have made headlines recently.

A while ago, I interviewed the head of a major hotel chain in the GCC. He was moaning about the difficulty of retaining staff. He said there was a recruitment war going on, and that all hotels were engaged in poaching each other’s staff. It was going on at all levels, he said, from bellboys and valets to managers.

When I asked him what he was then doing to make his staff happier in order to retain them, he looked blank. Then he thought for a bit. And then he said: “well, we are giving them a higher percentage of the tips.”

I told him I must have misheard him: “I thought you just said you’re giving your staff a higher percentage of their tips?”

“That’s right,” he said. “They seem to be happier now.”

As my tape recorder whirred gently between us, I asked what his hotel group used the rest of the tip money for. Utterly nonchalantly, he said: “Oh you know, accommodation costs, transport, that sort of thing.”

So, to be absolutely clear, you’re using voluntary donations from paying customers intended as a reward for good service to pay for housing and transport for your staff?

“Err. Yes.”

Charming.

I am not going to single out the name of the hotel in question, because since I found out about this practice I have come to realise it is going on in virtually all hotels and bars and restaurants in the region. People who work in the industry tell me it is common practice. They say service charge automatically added to bills is highly unlikely to find its way into the pocket of the man or women who served you, and even cash is not guaranteed to be allowed to be kept. This is horrendous.

It is a plainly obvious fact, but clearly one that needs stating: a tip is intended as a gift from a patron to the person who serves them. It is meant to be a reward for attentive service, and has nothing to do with the institution in which they were served. After all, there is a separate bill for services rendered. The tip is entirely personal.

For hotels and bars and restaurants to be confiscating this tip — for that is effectively what they are doing — and then giving the person who earned it a portion of it, constitutes theft. Massive theft when you consider the millions of tips that are left every year. I feel sure that if customers knew that this was going on, they would realise that the tip had in fact been bastardised into a way for companies to squeeze more money out of people stupid enough to set foot in their premises, and be rightly angry.

The solution? From now on when you’re presented with a bill upon which a service charge has been automatically added, ask the person serving you if they will receive it. If they say no, cross it out and give them cash. Actually, it is probably better to always tip in cash. At least cash can be stashed in a pocket.

The difference in earnings between the people who eat in restaurants and bars in this part of the world, and the people who serve them is already big enough. There’s no reason we should stand by while they are stolen from.

Damian Reilly is the editor of Arabian Business English.

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