There appears to be an ever-growing culture of tipping serving staff in this country. I’ve got nothing against tipping as a whole, but I do feel that a tip should be a reward rather than an expectation. You get an expected remuneration for doing your job, you get an extra reward for doing your job extremely well. Unless you’re a banker you don’t get an extra reward for just doing your job. It would be like if the army handed out medals with the rations, instead of for doing something remarkable like single-handedly storming a bunker.
I am aware that in backward places like the USA, serving staff are expected to make up their wages from tips. This country is not the USA, and we have something called a legally-enforced national minimum wage. If an employer pays someone an hourly rate less than the specified one (currently £6.31 for over-21s, or $10.61/€7.77/¥1087.72), that employer can face legal action to reclaim the unpaid portion of the money legally owed, and a further punitive sum for breaking the law in the first place. I am also aware that the national minimum wage in this country is not exactly a living wage, especially in London, but that’s what in-work benefits are designed for. (Of course, the government could always put up the minimum wage rate to a living wage rate.) So the argument that “they need the tip” doesn’t fly with me.
Good service does not get a tip. Good service is included in the bill. If you receive bad service, you complain to the manager. Good service – the food arrives in a timely manner, is hot, is well-prepared, the serving staff are polite and courteous – is why you are paying £14 for a plate of roast beef and potatoes. If you pay £25 for a plate of roast beef and potatoes, you want the waiter to tuck your silk napkin into your collar, the food to be perfect, and the waiter to appear at your shoulder the moment you raise your hand. If you get that sort of treatment for £14, then that is service above-and-beyond that deserves a tip.
Unconditional tipping only encourages bad things to happen. Not only does it remove incentive for serving staff to actually give service above-and-beyond, it encourages employers to pay minimum wage (or less if they think they can get away with it). The more employers who pay minimum wage, the fewer other employers will be prepared to pay more than minimum wage (paying more than minimum wage increases overheads, which increases prices, which reduces market share if there is no appreciable difference in quality of product). The more employers who pay minimum wage, the more employees have to claim in-work benefits, which means the government has a higher benefits bill, which means they try and think of ways and justifications to cut the benefits bill, which leads to people with no jobs not being able to afford to eat, which leads to Les Miserables – the live-action version, played out for real on the streets, with actual barricades and bloodshed and no songs.