Why Do Operators Force Gratuities?

Posted on July 28, 2010 by - Also by this author

BAD MANNERS: How would you like it if you sat down at a restaurant, you and a companion ordered food, and then. . . you were told you must pay a 20% gratuity? Or if your boss told you that YOU MUST pay out of your own pocket for mandatory Christmas gifts to your fellow co-workers? Then why do some operators levy a "gift tax," err, gratuity on chauffeured clients?

ARE YOU A GRATUITY GRABBER? In almost all services involving tips, a customer chooses the tip amount based on the quality of service received after the service has been delivered. Yet, so many operators assess a mandatory gratuity ranging from 10% to 20%. I have never figured out why anyone should be automatically bestowed what the dictionary defines as a “gift.”
The topic recently surfaced on the limos.com operator forum. It is a topic that has been cussed about, discussed and beaten to a pulp, yet the debate rages on. The most common argument is that operators want to “take care of the chauffeur.” Well, if you are that interested in taking care of your chauffeurs, pay them a decent hourly rate and you won’t have to worry about it. Boston Coach Connection forbids their chauffeurs from even accepting a tip and that policy carries through to affiliates as well.
Let’s just imagine for a minute that when you walk in to your favorite restaurant that before you order, you must pay a 20% gratuity based on your estimated total. Where is the incentive to refill your ice tea often? How about stopping by frequently to make sure everything is okay? Imagine paying a bartender an estimated gratuity when you belly up to the bar? The bartender has no incentive to make you a good stiff drink or to be there the moment you finish your previous drink to make another. He has no incentive to remember that you like gin and tonic with Blue Sapphire gin. There is no incentive to do anything extra when you know the customer is going to be forced to give you a tip no matter how crappy your service delivery may be.
There will be those that say restaurants add on a tip for parties of eight of more. Unless you have ever been a bartender or server, you cannot use this theory to argue my position. Having been a bartender for many years, I can tell you that you work much harder to take care of a large party simply because people consume their drinks at an uneven pace so the table requires constant attention taking away your attention from other smaller parties. Then there is the proverbial mistake that everyone thinks someone else in the large group took care of the tip when in fact no one did. There is good reason in the food and beverage business to implement this policy.
By comparison, let’s say that a chauffeur does an airport transfer in a sedan with a single passenger and one carry-on bag. The trip is two hours to the airport. The client loads his own luggage in the backseat and hops in. The chauffeur closes the door and begins the trip. The client nods off and wakes up as the car exits the freeway. The chauffeur hops out, opens the door at the airport, and the passenger walks away giving the chauffeur nothing. The total base fare was $240 and of course the gratuity “should be” $48 at 20%. As a client, why should I have to pay a chauffeur nearly $50 who did nothing but drive the car? This is a profession he chose. This is a career where the primary function is driving. If it was a poor choice, that is not my responsibility. Now, I believe chauffeurs absolutely should be tipped, but it’s ultimately a free, voluntary transaction between two parties. That brings both risk and reward.
The chauffeur of a high-capacity vehicle such as a bus or Hummer has a lot of clean up, a ton of ice to load and restock during the trip, oodles of glasses to clean, napkins to fold, and helping people in and out of the bus all night. He also might be expected to know where the hottest clubs are and a true professional chauffeur may even get his people to the front of any line or have their cover charge waived. The chauffeurs that perform this level of service don’t need a mandatory gratuity. In most cases they are richly rewarded for their knowledge, contacts, and assistance during the trip and truly earn their gratuity.
We are in the luxury transportation business. You would think that most clients are well-heeled, big spenders that splurge on transportation. Do we really need to force a tip on them because we are afraid they won’t know or will forget? Do we lack such confidence in our chauffeurs that we feel they won’t deliver service well enough to garner a tip at the conclusion of the ride? Or is it another problem that many of you don’t realize that your chauffeurs are your front line ambassadors that represent your company and you should pay them accordingly. I have found by paying double the minimum wage your employees will never leave or even look around for that matter. They will not have to worry about what type of trip or vehicle they are assigned to estimate how much they might make in a tip. They could actually learn to enjoy the tip as the icing on the cake and the gift a tip was intended to be.

— Jim Luff, LCT Contributing Editor

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