what difference does tipping make? (pt 2)

Blog causation: the night I posted about how Australian restaurant service is worse, we had perhaps the best service that we’ve had at a not-that-expensive restaurant. I was so moved that I left nearly a 9% tip. But, to continue my previous post, here are other differences a no-tipping system makes:

1.  The best part: when you are done with your meal, you can head to the register, pay, and leave.  Poof!  You don’t have to have that whole round where you wait for a bill, and then you wait for the server to come back and collect your money, and then you write in a tip after that.  You get up, you pay, you’re gone!

2.  The no tipping custom here is combined with including the tax in listed prices. This means that the total amount you pay at a restaurant is simply the sum of the menu prices of what you ordered.  This is so cognitively different from the US that to this day it blows my mind.


You don’t necessarily have “your” server the way you do in the US.  Other people may fill your water glass and do other peripheral tasks, but in the US one server is the star of Your Restaurant Experience.  That’s still often the case here, but also often ensemble performances where the person who takes your drinks order is not the person who takes your mains order, etc..*

4. That thing where your server writes a cheery little thanks with their name and maybe a smiley face on your check?  Rarely happens here.

5.  No delicate way to put this, but there’s less of a vibe here of some servers approaching their job as a distant cousin of sex work.  Obviously in the US it makes sense.  Anyway, I’ve never had any illusions about flirtatious servers, but if you think it happens because you’re charming, hilarity awaits that hypothesis in Oz.

Incidentally: this is all a bit tempered because there’s a move toward tipping in Australia, particularly at the higher end. Nobody turns down a tip, of course, but the more expensive the restaurant, the more likely it is you’ll see a hopeful “Tip _____” line on your receipt.  Also, there are plenty of tip jars in cafes and such, but these are neither as giant nor ubiquitous nor pleading as what you see in the US. So it will be interesting to see how the norm continues to evolve.

* What we call appetizers, they call entrees; what we call entrees, they call mains. Their way makes more sense.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

4 thoughts on “what difference does tipping make? (pt 2)”

  1. If you think it mindblowing that the stated price is really what you pay, consider the mental gaskets blown by Europeans and Australians who come to the US, dine out (or even buy a coffee) and discover that the advertised price is only a fraction of what you will actually pay. They think it’s fraud and I think they are right.
    It’s even hard to compare prices sensibly — as an American eating and drinking in Euroland, I have concluded that a menu Euro is worth the same or less than a dollar – a 7 euro glass of wine actually costs 7 euros while a 7 dollar glass of wine costs (7.00 + .50 tax) + (20% * 7.50)= $9 which (depending on current exchange rate) is usually a fair equivalent to 7 euros.


    1. Fraud implies intent. Calling your experience fraud is the same thing as Americans calling it rude when the Japanese insist that they bow in business meetings. Information asymmetries are part of traveling.

      Everyone I know who eats and drinks a lot, on both sides, loves the gratuity system. Servers and bartenders especially have an unwritten code and tip each other heavily to encourage reciprocity, give each other discounts, etc.

      It’s a gifting relationship embedded in a market transaction, attached to one of the oldest solidarity building rituals there is — eating and partying — and despite the opportunity it opens up for discrimination like Shamus mentioned, should make sociologists drool.

      From that perspective, the European/Brit/Aussie system is a neoliberal nightmare.


      1. The stated rationale for not including tax in the stated price is that Americans need reminding of how much the govt is taking. But if one is legally allowed to post a price without tax your competitor can hardly post one with tax inluded since it will look more expensive”. Same goes for “gratuity included”. The experiment in seattle with raising wages (including the tipped wage) to 15/hr includes a provision for reqiring posted prices to indicate whether or not the posted price includes the service so it may be a step toward less fraudulent cost shifting.


  2. Yeah, I’ve wondered if it feels like fraud the other way around, so glad to know that it does. Tax-inclusive pricing makes so much sense. I supposed with online shopping and the variable sales tax rates, we’re even farther from that ever happening in the US.


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