Tipping: one place that gets it right

I view tipping with a sense of distaste and see it as a sad legacy of a class system that should have died out decades ago. In a nutshell I don’t see why service staff aren’t paid a decent salary so they don’t have to beg to customers in order to make up for their employer’s shortfall. I’ve written on the subject already and won’t repeat my previous rants but I did recently find an example of a tipping policy that seemed to be novel, unobtrusive and above all else, highly successful.

Those who have spent any significant time in Laos recently may have found their way to Joma Bakery. It’s 100% geared to the falang market, and the prices will exclude not only the average Lao person but also many a hardcore backpacker. They do however offer a fresh cool interior, and their AC cafe is a welcome relief from the heat of the day in Luang Prabang or Vientiane. Their cheesecakes and shakes are fabulous, and I have no doubt that if they produced the same stuff in London or New York they’d be constantly packed with regular customers.

Joma have a focus on their community involvement in Laos and Vietnam, and the posters in the cafe display their involvement with local villages (like Starbucks but it appears a bit more real). There is a Tips jar next to the till, and each time we visited the cafe in Luang Prabang it was fairly full of cash. We heard that this was not always the case, and had changed dramatically as a result of a suggestion by the local manager.

Tips had typically totalled around $15 a month; not much between 6-7 staff, even in Laos where average salaries are little more than $30 a month. The manager suggested to the staff that they start a policy where 50% of tips are donated to the local community projects. You might think that this would be resisted, given the difference that even a couple of dollars can make in a month. But the staff embraced the idea, and the policy was implemented. A sign was placed on the Tips jar, and the effect was immediate.

People came in, enjoyed the service (it was excellent) and wanted to tip. Knowing that their money would not only help the local baristas but also the local communities in the area, the tips rolled in and in the first month they collected $300: a great contribution to the community and a ten-fold increase in tips for the staff.

No pressure, no suggestions, just a ‘tip what you like, if you like’ jar on the counter. As a result people tipped willingly, and not through fear of a likely confrontation. A small step, and such a big difference to the staff and others who benefitted from their initiative.

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Freelance travel writer

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