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We, the fat-tipping Indians

We have reason to remain proud of the fact that the community here is regarded in high esteem because of its spending thrills, writes Meeta Chaitanya.

india Updated: Feb 16, 2006 16:16 IST

Now, there are some stock ways of identifying the typical Indian; and those are just as varied, as they are repetitive.

Most of them are more than complimentary to our ilk, some are laudable and others just plain funny.

We have reason to remain, however, proud of the fact that the community here is regarded in high esteem not only because of its earning capacity but also because of its spending thrills. Of this, it is our tipping- topping that has the hood talking.

Not only are Indians known for their generous tips, but also for the fact that they rarely if ever, falter on this score. This assumes significance in view of the fact that here is the prototype of the ultimate consumerist society- with especial importance to individual performance and rewards thereof.

So, whether it's a restaurant, or a salon, or a spa, the valet service or just plain home delivery- folks working here expect to be rewarded for their individual contribution to what would otherwise be a banal chore.

Normally, everyone is expected to pay the standard going rate tip- which is 15-20 per cent to a waiter, 10-15 per cent to a hairdresser, up to $5 to a delivery man and so on. Normally, that's what people do.

In the US, by and large services that require waiting upon a customer such as the skycap, the bellman, the concierge, the housemaid and the waiter actually depend on tips to make a living, not on wages. So, anything below 15 per cent just isn't done. Reportedly, typically waiters pay taxes on 8 per cent to 10 per cent of their total receipts, not on the amount of tips they get. Since they pay tax on the amount of the bill, there are times when if a customer doesn't tip them at all, they could actually lose money. Good tips, on the other hand, ensure businesses that move on delivery and service to improve and reinvent themselves continually.

More often than not, people tip for ongoing services and associations. Tips to one's regular hairdresser are a good example of this. If you are used to going to the same salon every month, it is only natural for you to want to keep your stylist happy by tipping her well. The same goes for your regular restaurant, or pizza delivery man. The idea here is that you will likely be seeing more of these people and therefore want assured great, ongoing service.

Indian Americans are known for being more than punctilious in this department, as they are big spenders on eating out, travelling etc.

In bars, 10 per cent to 15 per cent is considered average, for pizza deliveries, flower deliveries, furniture deliveries etc one tips according to the distance. It can range anywhere between $2 and $10. At buffets where you are not really being served, 10% is the standard amount. Sometimes, at Indian restaurants during buffet times (mostly lunch and weekend fare) ironically, Indians are averse to leaving tips. And at other times we outdo ourselves by tipping hotel desk clerks, doormen and theatre ushers even though conventionally, one is not expected to reward them thus.

In India, we are used to tipping- sometimes even for stuff or service that is less than ordinary, but unfortunately also for giving less than ordinary tips for service that is arduous. Generally, back home we are expected and permitted to tip waiters about 5-10 per cent of the bill. Also, although taxi drivers do not expect tips, (neither do car park attendants) waiters, porters in hotels, restaurants, etc. do accept tips.

In essence tipping well is our way of saying thanks effectively for good service. In practice, even if we are not entirely satisfied with the service, we end up paying an amount that is almost a designated mandatory part of the bill. It does become akin sometimes to the amount you have to pay for a bad sandwich, just because you've eaten it!

Any which way one sees it- tipping generously should be the customer's prerogative. When it stays that, people tend display perfect etiquette; on the other hand when it is demanded by careless, abrasive, inattentive wait staff, it could actually tip a customer off the other way. With Indians here it rarely amounts to that- at worst they leave smaller tips and big mouthfuls for bad service. Generally, though, the art of earned rewards finds steady tutelage of Indian Americans, which is why they are greeted with a smile, in, out and again.

First Published: Feb 16, 2006 16:16 IST