Years ago in English taverns and inns, it was customary for patrons to put a few extra coins in a box on the wall for the waiters so that they could receive their drinks faster. Above the box were the words ÎTo Insure Prompt Service.â Eventually, it was shortened to Îtips.â Thus the practice of tipping was meant as a subtle bribe for special treatment. Eventually, tipping became a form of Îthank youâ for prompt services rendered or an incentive to perform duties in a more gracious and customer friendly fashion.

In todayâs world, however, tips ÷ also known as gratuities ÷ have unofficially become mandatory and automatic, and are taken for granted or expected, regardless of the quality of service given. Foam cups or tins with the word Îtipsâ emblazoned on them, along with a smiley face, have become prevalent in deli shops and take-out restaurants. The mere presence of a tip cup can be psychologically compelling. Consumers now feel obligated to give a tip even if they have not received good service: The option of tipping has become the expected, the norm.

Tipping is most widely practised in the food and beverage industry. In most restaurants in Bermuda, a 15 per cent gratuity is automatically added to the bill Îfor your convenience,â regardless of the standard of service rendered.

Other areas where tipping is an expected norm include the personal service industry (beauty and barber shops), hotels (there is a service charge per day of 7-10 per cent), airport skycaps, taxi and limousine drivers, tour guides, gas station attendants, pizza delivery persons and supermarket packers. The list can go on and on.

So what is the answer? Adding 15 per cent service gratuities to a bill is not illegal. Consumers do, however, have a choice.

If consumers receive poor service, they do have a right to refuse to pay the 15 per cent gratuity.

While more and more employees rely on their tips as a major supplement to their earnings, consumers have the right to expect quality service and the right to decide whether or not they wish to pay extra for the service received. Tipping should be an incentive for giving good or exceptional service.

Many local restaurants display somewhere on the menu or service card that 15 per cent will be added for your convenience. By doing this, the restaurant has implied that service will be provided in an efficient and friendly manner. At the same time you partake of their service, you are essentially agreeing to pay the 15 per cent gratuity. However, as a consumer, you do have the right to reject gratuities if the implied conditions of service have not been met.

So, how do you exercise your right? Politely ask to speak to the manager in private and explain to him/her why you do not wish to pay the 15 per cent gratuity. After all, it is in his/her best interest to address your concerns. The alternative is to have a dissatisfied customer spreading negative comments about the establishment. A word of caution; never discuss your dissatisfaction with the frontline staff.

Remember that if you are paying your restaurant bill by credit card, there is a section on the receipt that allows for a gratuity to be added. If you tick that box, you may be paying gratuities twice. Therefore, read the bill carefully to see what extras have been added before you sign and pay for it.

A friendly attitude and smile do have value, especially in an age of impolite and disagreeable attitudes. The next time you are given a service, ask yourself Îis it above and beyond the norm?â If it is, then show your gratitude by giving a generous (15 per cent) tip.

c Note: It is an offence under the Consumer Protection Act 1999 to engage in the practice of double tipping. Those establishments found guilty of this offence are subject on summary conviction of a fine of up to $10,000 or six months imprisonment.

Rhonda C. K. Daniels is the Education Officer at the Department of Consumer Affairs. For further information or advice, contact the department on 297-7627.