Tipping is becoming more common in Singapore, as a wave of new eateries does away with the service charge and leaves diners to tip at their own discretion.
At least 10 new eateries have opted out of levying that extra 10 per cent, going by a Straits Times check of restaurants that opened in the past two years. And the Restaurant Association of Singapore said more are doing so, though it could not give estimates.
A service charge is not compulsory but most eateries, except self-service ones, levy it.
Another sign that tipping may have reached its, well, tipping point: Those that have long embraced tipping and dropped the service charge, including La Petit Cuisine in 2007 and Windowsill Pies in 2012, are now getting more than double the tips they used to.
Australian barbecue restaurant Burnt Ends waived the service charge when it opened in 2013, a move that its manager Thomas Koh, 32, hopes will change the "big fat lie in the industry".
"Being in the industry for so long, we know that service charge seldom goes to service staff," he said. "Hopefully, we will also help start a positive movement in the local scene."
Unlike tips, the service charge is less visible and many eateries do not pass it on to employees.
Mr Koh reckons that four out of 10 of his customers leave a tip. The largest was a $2,000 tip from a table of 10 Australian diners - 40 per cent of their bill. Tips add an estimated $600 to the monthly pay of each employee.
At Mexican joint Super Loco in Robertson Quay, even dishwashers get a cut from the tip jar - which can be an extra $500 per month. Six in 10 customers give a tip, said restaurant co-owner Christian Tan, 44.
Staff who get tips are recognised for good service, and if they don't, they know maybe they could have done better, he said. "Singapore is not known for its good service, so we were looking for a different way to motivate staff," he added.
Other new eateries that have gone this route: Wheeler's Yard in Lorong Ampas, Milagro Spanish Restaurant in Orchard Road, and EatPrayLove cafe in Aliwal Street.
All restaurants contacted said they give the tips back to staff, including back-end employees.
Customer service trainer Ron Kaufman, 58, said few restaurants that charge for service share the proceeds with staff. The tipping trend means more business owners are giving staff what is due to them. But he warned against rushing to scrap the service charge as tipping might work only if a restaurant's clientele is "well-travelled, or because the price point of the venue is in that kind of world where people regularly tip".
In fact, BAM! Tapas & Sake Bar, which opened in 2013, made a U-turn and started imposing the service charge recently.
Mr Kelvin Lim, 30, who waived the levy when he opened Rokeby in Jalan Riang in 2013, reckons only one in 10 customers gives tips.
"People don't even tip 10 per cent. They just leave their spare change," he said.
This article was first published on Jan 9, 2015.
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