Why are blacks so renowned for not tipping?

2015-03-15 15:00

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Before blacks play the race card and claim they are made to feel invisible at restaurants, they should ask why they are so renowned for not tipping, writes Phakamisa Mayaba

This is a response to the article “Your colour matters at restaurants” by Sarita Ranchod (City Press, January 18 2015) in which she expresses disgruntlement about how blacks are made “invisible” at restaurants.

Although one can’t conclusively rule out the existence of restaurants with such de facto racist nuances, I refuse to accept that all her bad experiences are purely attributed to the colour of her skin.

Although her article is well articulated and moving, I find the content disconcertingly paranoid.

I happen to know my way around a restaurant like a brewer knows his lager. You see, Ranchod’s instinctive response to bad service is to use the predictable crutch that is the race card, while being oblivious to other dynamics of the bigger picture.

As someone relegated to jobs many look down on, allow me to put forward several reasons black people often find themselves being made to “feel invisible”.

Service, to many blacks, is foreign territory. In fact, it’s interchangeable with “your job”. I have never personally known them to show tangible appreciation by way of a gratuity.

To the average black person, it is someone’s job as a petrol attendant – for R15.50 an hour, in the harsh summers and winters – to fill up his tank, dash for change at the till, scrub his windscreen to an unblemished clean, check his oil, inflate his tyres and bid him off with a smile on their face.

He doesn’t leave a tip, only a hurried “thank you” that feels more like a “f**k you” as he drives off in his posh German saloon.

By contrast, white people generally show gratitude by reaching for their wallet and pulling out something to put a genuine smile on an attendant’s face.

Growing up in the townships, eating out was a white hobby. The only blacks familiar with this exclusive privilege were those who worked in restaurants. But one of the perks of democracy is that blacks can now be restaurant patrons.

Regrettably though, democracy hasn’t taught etiquette.

I have toiled at many a restaurant, subserviently tending to the aloof and finicky demands of some annoyingly arrogant people.

From personal experience, this obnoxious lot are most often the black nouveau riche – madams and baases of a darker hue, the kind who think the crumbs off their plates and a R5 coin are a good tip.

Restaurants rely on profit, but unlike most businesses, the staff, particularly waiters, earn a pittance. Unfortunately, black people are hardly renowned for their generosity – they don’t tip and those who do are few and far between.

I want to make the point using famous people I’ve served. Years ago, I worked as a porter in Colesberg, a Karoo town in the middle of the proverbial nowhere. Zwai Bala required my services.

Having carried the singer’s bulky luggage through the never-ending corridors and complicated flights of stairs to his BMW, he handed over what seemed like a postcard wishing “a merry Christmas from All You Need is Love” (his TV programme) before unashamedly driving off.

He returned moments later, not to clear his conscience as I’d hoped, but to fetch a pack of cigarettes he had left behind.

Portering was clearly not my forté, so I tried waitering. I once served a 30-strong Congress of the People (Cope) delegation during the party’s inauguration in Bloemfontein.

The patrons included Mbhazima Shilowa, Smuts Ngonyama and Anele Mda. After they had dined on an assortment of seafood delicacies washed down with fermented drink, the ANC detractors’ tab was well over R3?000 – to which they added a ridiculous R30 tip.

I’ll admit the person tasked with settling the bill was “an unknown”, but I still found the stalwarts guilty, albeit by association.

Recently, a well-spoken and sincere Lira visited our restaurant for a quiet dinner with the family. The bill was R800 and she managed a R50 tip.

I was tempted to do my rendition of her hit track Nobungahamba Ngeke Ndilile, which means “even if you leave, I will not cry”. It seemed suited to the occasion.

If celebs and high-profile politicians don’t tip or are unaware of the customary 10% gratuity, how can the average Sipho, Jabu and Zakes be any wiser?

The only exception to this non-tipping norm that springs to mind is Fikile Mbalula, who dazzled with a R500 gratuity on a R95 bill, topped with R200 for the barman – who did nothing but pour the minister a fruit juice.

It’s safe to deduce that if he visits us again, the waitering staff, black and white alike, will scramble to serve him, irrespective of how unapologetically African his Afro might be.

But I doubt the same enthusiasm would be extended to Zwai, Cope or Lira.

Sometimes it’s not racism; it’s simply capitalism.The invisibility trick Ranchod alludes to is not necessarily racially motivated. It points to the black man’s perceived disinclination to leave a tip.

Furthermore, I also have a bone to pick with her insinuation of “black areas” in restaurants. Tables are allocated according to the number of waiters on shift. Upon entering a restaurant, you are likely to be welcomed at the door by a waitron saying “Table for?”

After this, you will be escorted to a table, probably in the waitron’s allocated area.

Provided that the shop is not fully booked or busy, you have every right to choose an area you feel most comfortable in. That you find yourself in a section with more black people than another, or right next to the toilet, is purely coincidental.

Oh, and about being “told a restaurant was full, only to have their white friends make a reservation” – perhaps the owner valued “regulars” who spent appreciable sums of money consistently, as opposed to the occasional tourist.

I doubt that Ranchod – as a well-educated woman – has ever worked in a restaurant or knows anyone who does. I wonder whether she’s aware of the 10% tip or if she’s just one of those who “give what they feel like”.

The moral of the story? Nothing’s for mahala.

Mayaba is a Bloemfontein-based waiter

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