Posted by: New Class Traitor | February 8, 2011

Hawaii, tipping, and cultural misunderstandings

Fox News had a segment on about how restaurants in Hawaii are now proposing to add a 15% surcharge to the bill for Japanese tourist.
You say: “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?” The rationale is: since Japanese tourists don’t tip (tipping is not customary in Japanese restaurants), the customary 15% tip should be added to the bill so the waiters are not cheated out of their money.
While Japanese are of course the most numerous/visible such group, let’s remove the racial component by pointing out the numerous times I’ve had to remind Belgian and Dutch visitors to the USA about tipping. Now the alleged “excessive parsimony” of the Dutch is a common theme of Belgian jokes about them (the Dutch have similar jokes about the Scottish — neither Belgium nor the Netherlands are big on “political correctness”), but neither the Belgians nor the Japanese have a reputation for stinginess. It’s simply a cultural misunderstanding: waiters in Belgium, the Netherlands (and presumably Japan) are salaried employees and restaurant bills in Belgium, for example, typically state “VAT and service included”. If you were to add a 15% “service charge” to a restaurant bill the Belgian would pay it without a second thought. When I explained to Belgian visitors to the USA or Israel that their tips are the income of the waiters, they understood immediately.
It remains to be seen how mainland American tourists would react if Hawaiian restaurants were to add on a blanket 15% “service charge” to all bills. Yet this would, to a naive outside observer, seem to be the obvious solution…

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Responses

  1. Hmm….the biggest flaw I can think of right off the top of my head is Americans of Japanese ancestry being…..’profiled’….

    • Which is why adding 15% for EVERYBODY seems like a more sensible solution. Beware, however. Upscale restaurants in Israel routinely add 12% service charges (the customary tipping percentage in Israel) to bills so business people can charge everything to their company credit card. Waiters told me, however, they never see any of that, unlike cash tips which they pocket or pool.

      Many restaurants in the Chicago/Crookopolis ‘burb where I used to live had another idea: the bill listed tips for several tipping percentages, and you pick one or write in your own amount. Maybe the Hawaiian restaurants could do something similar: list these amounts, accompanied by a line (in English and Japanese?) like “While tipping is entirely discretionary, in the US it is customary to leave a tip about 15% unless you feel you received sub-par service”.

      In my experience, Japanese people are mindful to a fault of social obligations, so this might just work.

  2. In Australia, our service employees get their wages from the restaurant or cafe, and tipping is just a bonus. Often it’s more like “round the bill up to $XX, as a tip”, and you’d only really give a significant amount for outstanding service.

    I’m going to Hawaii in a few months, so I have just been looking up tipping customs, as I don’t want to do the wrong thing.

    I think I’ve got a pretty good understanding of what’s expected now from reading various sites.

    I’d be a bit dubious of 15% added accross the bill for the same reason as New Class Traitor – from what I’ve read, it won’t necessarily go to the server, especially if you pay on a card. Everything I’ve read says the best thing is to leave a cash tip for the server, so that’s what I’ll do.

    What I think would be best – and there’s many things I think this would be great for visitors to my own country – is a pamplet and/or video on the plane with all the things the visitor needs to know (like road rules) detailed and explained. That way you could provide the information in many languages, so no-one leaves feeling embarrassed and/or confused.

    I also like the idea of putting it on the menu. I think a responsible boss would like to do that to make sure their staff are being well looked after, anyway.


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