Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 9 July 2020

Tipping in the UAE: Some are more equal than others

UAE folk are generally good at giving servers such as waitresses and taxi drivers tips, but some workers are deemed more worthy than others.
A waitress at a cafe in Abu Dhabi. A new survey reveals how UAE residents weight their tips for servers. Silvia Razgova / The National
A waitress at a cafe in Abu Dhabi. A new survey reveals how UAE residents weight their tips for servers. Silvia Razgova / The National

During a diner discourse in the US film director Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 smash hit Reservoir Dogs, Mr Pink, played by Steve Buscemi, says: “This tipping automatically, it’s for the birds.”

Why do we tip some people society deems worthy and not others? he asks. A waitress? Yes. A McDonald’s server? No.

“I don’t tip because society says I have to,” Mr Pink maintains.

What do UAE residents think?

It seems they side with the US film’s Mr White (Harvey Keitel), who argues that servers work hard, have few options and so deserve a little extra.

About half of UAE residents responding to a ServiceMarket.com online survey said they tip always, or most of the time.

But not all tippees are created equal. Just as Mr Pink points out, some are deemed more tip-worthy than others.

Waiters or waitresses get tipped most – 79 per cent of the time, the survey says, followed by food delivery people, who get tipped 70 per cent of the time.

Drivers? Not so much. Emirates residents tip taxi drivers about a third of the time and Careem/Uber drivers can expect a little extra just one out of every five trips.

Tipping customs vary widely around the world – the US leads, of course, with restaurant tipping alone accounting for about US$42 billion a year, according to the Northwestern University behavioural economist Ofer Azar. Continental Europe traditionally prefers a system of fixed service charges, although that is moving toward a more American practice.

Modern tipping seems to have evolved out of medieval aristocratic practice – “a sprinkle of change for social inferiors”, according to a New York Times review of its history. There have been several movements against it over the years, critics arguing it is demeaning for workers who should be paid proper wages instead of relying on the beneficence of the customer.

The debate still rages, most recently when the New York chef Danny Meyer eliminated tipping in his restaurants, saying he would compensate workers more equitably (and settling a $700,000 class action lawsuit over his tips policy, which had been filed two years previous).

But that level of debate has yet to reach the UAE’s shores.

Dubai tipping etiquette, meanwhile, seems to be similar to that in the United Kingdom, according to a guide from ServiceMarket.com: 10 to 15 per cent for waiters/waitresses; let the drivers keep the change (or give them Dh5 to Dh10), the same for food delivery, and so forth.

So, if in doubt, do as Nice Guy Eddie’s dad instructs in Reservoir Dogs and “kick in a buck”, or at least Dh5.

amcauley@thenational.ae

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Updated: April 5, 2017 04:00 AM

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