x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Generosity of holy month raises tipping quandary

With residents from so many backgrounds, customs can differ widely. Even less clear is where those tips go. Ali Khaled examines the etiquette.

Petrol pump attendants find that the tips they earn depends on where they work, says one.
Petrol pump attendants find that the tips they earn depends on where they work, says one.

As all taxis are metered, there is no ambiguity on the costs of rides within the city and drivers do not expect any extras. The drivers have daily fare targets that they seek to reach and they then keep a certain percentage, as well as their tips, while the rest goes to their employers.

Sayed Hussain, a 31-year-old Pakistani taxi driver in Dubai, said he was allowed to keep all his tips. However, on an average day he makes as little as Dh30 from gratuities during a 12-hour shift, when he must make Dh400 to meet his target. Most passengers surveyed said they made it a point to be generous. Ali Hassan, a 35-year-old Iraqi who works for a construction company in Dubai, said he felt better tipping when he knew who was getting the money.

"I always round up whatever the fare is, so if it's Dh22 I'll give Dh25," he said. "If it's already a round number I'll add two or three dirhams. It's good to know that it goes straight to the driver's pocket, but I didn't realise that they make so little out of tips in a day." Paul Stevens, a 27-year-old Briton who works in information technology, said the relatively low fares made it easier to pass along something extra to the driver.

"Taxis are very cheap here compared to where I come from so I always make sure I tip the drivers," he said. "If it's a very short taxi ride that costs about Dh10, then I'll add about Dh5. Some drivers are not very knowledgeable and many are very reckless, but in general they deserve to be tipped." The situation in Sharjah and Ras al Khaimah is similar to Dubai, with taxi drivers not expecting tips but keeping them in the event of their being offered.

Recent legislation made it illegal for those not operating under a tourist licence to levy a service charges on their customers. What establishments who are allowed to collect the fee do with it varies. Some use it to top up expenses and salaries, some keep a portion and divvy out the rest while others pool the tips, periodically distributing them evenly among staff. Hiba Kosta, the managing partner of three restaurants at the Dubai Marine Beach Resort, said the latter system was the best and fairest option for her employees.

"The management doesn't get a single dirham of the tips," she said. "All the tips are collected and, at two-week intervals, are divided among all the staff. All the restaurant waiters and bar staff receive exactly the same share, while our kitchen staff get half the amount, so if at the end of two weeks our waiters are getting Dh500 each, the chefs get Dh250 each. Smaller independent restaurants tend to have a similar policy. Fadel Saghir, the marketing manager for the Castello Restaurant and Cafe in Jumeirah, believes that pooling the tips is the most equitable system.

"We keep a book throughout the month, with all the waiters declaring their tips," he said. "We work on a points system, so at the end of the month the money is distributed amongst the waiters according to their positions. According to their seniority waiters might have four, three or two points."

Tips are also the norm at petrol pumps, although attendants have seen the chance to earn them diminish. Emirates National Oil Company (Enoc), which operates the Enoc and Eppco filling stations, announced in November last year that its employees would no longer wash the windows and windscreens of cars. A typical Enoc or Eppco station attendant was paid a basic monthly salary of approximately Dh1,000, and they kept their tips, said an Enoc spokesman. Ajmal, a Pakistani Enoc attendant at a station in al Satwa, Dubai, said he kept his gratuities. However, they did not amount to much. "Usually in my eight-hour shift I make about Dh30," he added.

The amount of tips an attendant amassed depended on the location of the station, he said. However, petrol attendants at Emarat stations, who continue to wash car windows, cannot keep any tips and are expected to declare them at the end of the day. Management then decides what to do with the cash, with some of it making its way back to the attendants. "I am new here but, at the end of each day, I have to hand the tips to the management," said an Emarat trainee. "I don't get to keep this cash."

Another attendant at the same station said the manager put the tips in a box and distributed bonuses to attendants from the pooled funds. @Email:akhaled@thenational.ae