It’s a misconception that service charges on bills go towards staff wages
In the tourist haven of Cyprus, tipping at bars and restaurants isn’t as straightforward as it might seem, but rather a juxtaposition of discretion and tradition.
Shaped by a law from 1968 that links service charges with the bill and in a country heavily reliant on tourism, the role of waiters in Cyprus is often crucial, despite the sector’s employees subsisting on low wages and the unpredictable nature of tipping.
Low wages for waiting staff aren’t new in the hospitality industry, but Cyprus adds a twist to the story. In many places, tips help boost their salaries. However, in Cyprus, the law dictates a different narrative, and it’s causing a dilemma.
The 1968 law says that service charges are always included in the bill, making every tip optional. Not tipping isn’t unusual, it’s just up left to the customer.
The Association of Recreation Centre Owners (Osika), representing food and drink establishments across the island, has been pushing for a change in this law, seeing its potential impact on the country’s tourist industry.
The association’s head Fytos Thrasyvoulou stressed how low or zero tipping was hurting the core of the tourist industry.
“Tipping in Cyprus is very low. It’s a fact. But it’s only normal because we have a law in place since 1968 that says service charges are included in the bills at bars and restaurants,” Thrasyvoulou told the Sunday Mail.
The head of Osika shed light on a common misunderstanding among customers, namely the belief that the service charge included in the bill contributes to waiting staff salaries.
“When most people find out that the service charge is included, they don’t tip or they don’t tip much anyway,” Thrasyvoulou added, emphasising the need for a change in the law.
Efforts to change the legislation have, however, faced continuous setbacks. Thrasyvoulou lamented,
“We have tried for many years as a federation to change this old law and to bring Cyprus into the modern world as far as tipping is concerned. So far, however, our proposals have fallen on deaf ears.”
The repercussions of the current law extend beyond waiting staff, impacting the broader food industry already grappling with staff shortages.
Tipping, albeit just one facet of the issue, stands as a stumbling block that demands attention and resolution.
“The current law is not helping waiters and is also affecting the entire food industry, which is being severely affected by staff shortages,” Thrasyvoulou explained.
“Tipping is just one of the problems, but it is indeed a serious problem, and it needs to be properly addressed.”
The crux of the matter extends beyond legal frameworks. Thrasyvoulou contended that a shift in mentality is imperative, urging Cypriots to reconsider their stance on tipping in restaurants and bars.
In many countries, patrons are conscious of the relatively low wages of waiters, leading to the custom of leaving generous tips. However, in Cyprus, where service charges are perceived to cover staff salaries, this awareness often falls by the wayside.
“With the service charge included in the bill, clients think they do not need to leave tips. This is a misconception. Service charges are not added to the waiters’ salaries. Low salaries and no tips make things effectively difficult for the category.”
A representative from the labour ministry acknowledged the waiters’ justified grievances but highlighted the complexity of changing a law.
“It is certainly something that can be considered [the law change], but at the moment we cannot provide a timeline for the change of the law on service charge,” the representative told the Cyprus Mail.
Tipping, in Cyprus, has also taken a controversial turn in some instances. Customers, vying for a coveted spot in popular establishments, reportedly leave tips with the promise of a secured table on their next visit. The bigger the tip, the surer the spot.
It’s a practice that underscores a mentality problem, as customers often perceive tips as charity rather than recognising it as a crucial part of staff salaries.
Nicos, a waiter in a well-known restaurant in Nicosia, expressed frustration with the misconception surrounding service charges.
“The service charge is never added to our salaries, it’s impossible to calculate and add it to our wages. I’m not saying it gets lost, but it certainly doesn’t end up in the waiters’ pockets as it should,” he told the Sunday Mail.
A regular of the restaurant was shocked to know that the service charge was not all added to the waiters’ wages.
“I admit I have never been a big tipper,” she told the Sunday Mail. “But I was under the impression that the service charge went to the waiters. I am appalled that it doesn’t.
“From now on, I will leave bigger tips whenever I go out to eat. That is, however, provided the service is impeccable. After all, I think a tip should be a reward and not a given.”
Beyond the bustling restaurant scene, the issue of very low or no tips extends to food delivery drivers who navigate through traffic and weather conditions.
According to Mohammed, a delivery driver working for Wolt, said “people add one or two euros to their bills when they order food online, but that’s rare.”
“And again, there is a misconception regarding the delivery fee going to the drivers. That doesn’t happen. Only the tips added by customers when ordering food or we’re given when we deliver it goes to us,” he told the Sunday Mail.
Some people, however, are aware of the difficulties, mostly financial, faced by delivery drivers on the island and do leave tips that, for some, might look generous.
“I always tend to leave between €3 and €5 euros per every meal delivered to my house,” Viki, a resident of Nicosia born in the US, told the Sunday Mail. “I’m always shocked to see how surprised they are, which leads me to believe that they are seldom or even never tipped.
“For someone accustomed to tipping such as me, this is not the way to go. Tipping should always take place.”
She also called on delivery companies to make it clear that tipping goes a long way.
“Wouldn’t it be appropriate for them to have a banner on their apps or website saying something like ‘our drivers work hard and tipping is highly appreciated’? It might change people’s mind and it would actually help the drivers.”
In Cyprus, where antiquated laws persist, tipping remains voluntary. However, the call for fairness and gratitude echoes loud, especially considering the challenges faced by those in the service industry.
While the dilemma persists, the question lingers – can Cyprus find a harmonious balance between tradition, discretion, and fair compensation?
In the US where tipping has always been ubiquitous, businesses have been slammed online recently by adding a ‘tip screen’ to self-service checkout machines.