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Editor's comment June 2016

PUBLISHED: 09:38 19 May 2016 | UPDATED: 15:45 20 May 2016

Cotswold Life editor, Mike Lowe

Cotswold Life editor, Mike Lowe

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To tip or not to tip? That is the controversial question on every diner's lips.

I’m delighted that the thorny issue of tipping in restaurants and pubs is back in the news, because it is something that has been irritating me more and more in the past few months.

Don’t get me wrong – I have no problem with rewarding excellent service; it’s how that reward is administered that so annoys me.

Let’s begin with the ‘service charge’ – which is nothing of the sort when you think about it. Usually 12% or 15%, this so-called ‘discretionary’ payment is imposed on each and every one of us whether we like it or not. Our waiter or waitress might be as slick and smart as French Fred off First Dates or as gloriously inept as Julie ‘Two Soups’ Walters; either way we’re paying.

And please don’t tell me that we could always ask for this ‘discretionary’ charge to be removed from the bill. We’re British. We don’t do that sort of thing. (Nor do we send back crap food or reply with anything other than ‘Very nice, thanks’ when the waiter asks if all is OK. We’re just genetically programmed that way.)

Perhaps we could tolerate it if this service charge actually made it to those who serve. Unfortunately, that is not always the case with some establishments deducting significant amounts from the central fund for ‘breakages’ or administration fees, with some of our biggest food chains the worst culprits. If that wasn’t bad enough, many of these companies are now ditching other staff benefits as they seek to maintain profit levels in the wake of the introduction of the National Living Wage. Quite disgraceful.

So what do we do? For a start, restaurant and pub staff must be paid a proper wage so that they are no longer reliant on the largesse of the punter. And service charges – discretionary or not - should be banned. If that means another couple of quid on my plate of artisan, hand-cut pommes frite avec sauce bordelaise (chips and gravy), then so be it.

Secondly, there should be a year-long, legally-enforced moratorium on tipping of any kind. That way we break the habit, the dependence, on the drug of hard currency.

Finally, once cold turkey has been on the menu for 12 months, we can revert to the practice of rewarding excellent or exceptional service only, safe in the knowledge that the recipient will be allowed to keep the cash in the spirit with which it was gifted.

Does that make sense?

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While we’re on the subject, who drew up the ‘rules’ on tipping in the first place? Last week I happily tipped a waitress in a restaurant, a chambermaid who cleaned my hotel room and the chap who washed my wife’s car. When I had a short stay in hospital a while back, I didn’t tip the doctors or the nurses or the ward assistants, although God knows they deserved it.

So it’s accepted behaviour to bung a banknote at the man cleaning your car windows, but not to the doctor who has just saved your life? What a weird world we live in.

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As we’re talking Britishness, I’m fascinated by the statistic that 43% of us try to avoid people we know in the supermarket.

Why? We’d happily acknowledge neighbours and colleagues in the street or in the pub, so what brings on this Aisle Angst? Is it the fear of someone spotting the ready meals in our trolley? Is it the number of bottles of assorted alcohol clanking around? Is it the fact that we’re still wearing our pyjamas and dressing gown?

There is one way to avoid this judgemental behaviour on the part of others. Make sure you’ve got a copy of Cotswold Life in your basket. That will immediately mark you out as a person of great taste and discernment.

Follow Mike on Twitter! @cotslifeeditor

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