In order to pay for fish and chips, British flag swag and excessive amounts of English breakfast tea in London, I took a temporary food service job earlier this summer. As I trained, all of the veteran servers gave me plenty of advice. I was told to smile and introduce myself. I had to memorize all of our side dishes. And, heaven forbid I make a mistake, I had to humor the customer while professing my deepest apologies. Although all of these things were done to provide excellent customer service, they were also done in the pursuit of one, simple thing—a tip.
At an hourly wage just over two dollars, American (or, at least, Wisconsin) servers rely upon their tip money to make it through the day. In London, however, there is no such thing. The British don’t tip. Servers come up to the table, if customers aren’t asked to order at the front counter, and simply take drink and food orders. I haven’t ever heard them introduce themselves and they rarely fake a laugh when our group cracks a stupid joke. The expectation for a server to entertain or welcome simply isn’t there. They are only employed to serve.
Now, that doesn’t mean that our servers have taken advantage of the system. We’ve eaten at a variety of places, from the Italian chain Pizza Express to a forties themed restaurant called Poppies, and we’ve always gotten prompt service. Servers are compensated for their work in a different way, as we found at Poppies and some other restaurants, because the price for eating food inside often exceeds take out. Servers also make at least minimum wage. Though it’s a system that took me a while to accept, perhaps because all of my expenses here are paid for by past customer’s tip money, I can appreciate it. I actually find myself noticing the quality of the food more, because service among restaurants is basically the same.
Overall, though, I can’t decide whether I prefer the British or American system. Although I can appreciate the honesty of customer interactions over here, I also really would have liked the server at the Chinese restaurant yesterday tell me that, yes, the pepper chicken was a good menu choice. It would have been nice to leave a pound or two on the table for the lovely gentleman at the Blue Posts, who delivered each of our plates after hauling them upstairs by dumbwaiter. Especially after all of my training and toiling to earn tips, it’s a system I’m not ready to dismiss just yet.