Tipping point: The art of appreciation in times of pandemic

Post-pandemic consumer behaviour has changed the way we tip people for providing a service

While all service industries are among the worst impacted by the pandemic, staff at restaurants struggle under workload and are exposed to higher risks.
While all service industries are among the worst impacted by the pandemic, staff at restaurants struggle under workload and are exposed to higher risks.

Usually, a tip is a way of saying ‘thank you’ to people who provide a service. But there’s a strong connection between tipping and quality of service, and this seems to be very subjective. Some may like the service and not pay, or may not like the service and still tip, if expected.

For instance, every time Bengaluru-based communications professional, Iwin Valli takes a service—restaurant or cab—she likes to tip the receiver. That’s because they go an extra mile to understand, appeal and help her. “Tipping is meant for appreciation. I have seldom seen rude staff. Many times, they are extremely nice. But a good attitude is always admired. Like restaurant staff ask about preference of food, palette, allergies and suggest a few dishes that the restaurant is good at… so it does not restrict to one service or one person, the service is judged in totality,” she says.

What do we expect?
During the pandemic, public sentiments with Covid heroes, drivers, essential service providers like restaurant staff, or food or service delivery staff peaked average tip. Home delivery is tough and under extreme weather conditions, and there is a need to enhance rider motivation without hurting consumer experience. Zomato and Swiggy offer an incredible option of being able to choose a tip beforehand that goes directly to the rider.

Constant motivation to delivery partners has made Zomato add real-time gratitude (tip) views for delivery partners in 2019, and it helps to motivate the fleet. “We keep them informed on how they’re doing on a real-time basis. In a generation consumed by impatience, instant gratification is a magical way of motivating someone, be it through words or actual benefits we receive from any sort of service or transaction,” says a 2019 blog on Zomato’s website. When users tip the delivery partners, it reflects on the pay out at the end of every week. The new update on Zomato now notifies the partner at the time of tipping.

Post-pandemic consumer behaviour has changed the way we tip. If one is blown away by the experience, then one can tip. Especially, in a fine-dining setup or premium casual dining, where service levels are high, there is a good tip collection.

However, at times, it becomes unfair for some people to tip based on delivery, style, time. A service charge in restaurants and hotels from 5% to 10% in lieu of tips, in addition to the service tax or the GST on the food and service, is a voluntary offering for some F&B outlets.

“In India, tipping has always been on the lower end of the spectrum when compared to other countries, especially in the west,” says Zorawar Kalra, founder and managing director of Massive Restaurants, who finds tipping to be a very cultural thing. “People are getting more empathetic towards staff post lockdown. A lot more patient with the service staff treating them like frontline staff and are now willing to wait without losing their cool. Tipping culture is undergoing an overhaul for the better and people have really begun to understand the trials and tribulations that are part of the industry,” says Kalra.

While all service industries are among the worst impacted by the pandemic, staff at restaurants struggle under workload and are exposed to higher risks. “The tip from customers not only helps restore the server’s optimism but is a small token of acknowledgment for a job well done,” says Delhi-based Ankit Mehrotra, CEO, and co-founder of Dineout, a dining out and restaurant tech solutions platform.

Mehrotra expects to see a mechanism of regularising the tipping system like mandatory service charge for every table to guarantee a regular income to restaurants to pay their workers well and to cover their insurance costs. “Being paid more means more comfort and stability for these hard-working men and women and will go a long way in helping restaurant workers financially and emotionally. Tipping on takeout services has become the new normal,” adds Mehrotra.

Other consumer services like Uber in February last year introduced tipping in India, allowing riders to show appreciation for drivers when a 5-star review or a compliment is not enough. Tips go directly to the driver and Uber receives no service fees. Small gestures like playing the perfect song or lending a hand with a heavy piece of luggage make a big difference. “These updates are part of the commitment to make driving more flexible, less stressful, with earnings and support drivers can depend on,” as quoted on the brand website.

This also includes the salon industry where the frontline worker tips are a crucial part of total earnings. It’s no longer a part of basic etiquette but a gesture to thank them and appreciate their work. “It’s a norm for people to tip only on the conclusion of a service and if one is unhappy with the quality of the service rendered, it is entirely up to the recipient to decide whether or not to tip. However, given the times, it is a thoughtful gesture. Customer satisfaction plays a very crucial role here and from a service provider’s perspective, brands should always strive to ensure 100% customer satisfaction,” says a senior director of Enrich, whose salons are in Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Bengaluru.

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