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Feb 8, 2009 04:07 AM

Oz Restaurants & Gratuities

I've been reading mixed messages on tipping in Australia. Lonely Planet says tipping is not expected but appreciated, other sources say no only rarely, or yes around 5-10-15%, or only in really nice restaurants.

So, what do you do? Do you tip at all restaurants, or only when service is truly outstanding, or only at fancy ones? What is your standard percentage?

I've been scouring various menus in SYD and MEL, and although these are some of the nicer places, I am surprised at how high the prices are, especially desserts. In the US, desserts are usually a little less than the average starter and about 1/3 to 1/4 the cost of the average main at a restaurant, but rarely more than $10 - maybe a few are $12- 15 in our biggest cities. I've been looking at a lot of menus with $20-25 desserts, up to $35 at the higher end! This boggles my mind, especially because as a pastry chef I know that the food cost on most desserts is only a dollar or two or three. Are these prices a reflection of restaurant workers being paid a living wage (and not relying on tips for income) or is it just a different approach, that the dessert has equal value as the starter, even if the dessert is fruit and cream when the starter was meat and fish (i.e. more expensive)? Sometimes I like to order two desserts - for professional research purposes of course - but I can't afford that at $25 each (especially if tipping is expected on top of that)!

Thanks for your insight.

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  1. I think you must be looking at desserts on the menus of some very high end restaurants as usually they would be the cost of a starter (entree) - certainly under $20 and probably nearer to $15. In Sydney in top restaurants mains can be $40 -$50. In Melbourne food is cheaper with the most expensive mains touching $40. Wine costs are creeping up as restaurants try and keep food prices down.
    Yes, staff here are paid a living wage but the usual would be to tip about 10% for exceptional service. If you are not sure about tipping don't be embarrassed to leave nothing.

    9 Replies
    1. re: tomatom

      True, i am looking at the two- and three- hat places where desserts are so much, but in the US the normal range is around $7 to $10 around the cost of a salad or soup starter but less than a meat or fancy starter, I guess with the exchange right now AUD $15 is the same as USD$10, so that's not so bad.

      I'm living in Asia, in a place where tipping is not expected but it still feels weird not to, mostly because everything costs so little and it doesn't seem fair - even where they add 10% service. In the US, it feels like there is sooo much pressure to tip too much all the time, our system doesn't really work, and a lot of both diners and servers end up feeling resentful and ripped off.

      Thanks for your advice.

      1. re: babette feasts

        Mains in Sydney's 3 hatters are now between $50-$60. Desserts are close to $25 in the best places. The cost of premium fruit in Aus is up over the last couple years (due to drought, floods, low yield etc) as is the cost of delivery from suppliers (petrol prices have been passed on in many cases). Labur costs in Aus are huge for restaurants and can make up nearly 40% of your total expenses in the fine diners especailly.

        Babette, tipping IS expected for good service in Sydney. 10% is the standard. Many tip more for excellent service, including knowledge and advice, wine recs and general service.

        Tipping in the USA (especially when you earn AUS$$) made it expensive for me, but i have to say the service that i had, even in cafe style places, was great over there.

        A tip for you, Pier restaurant's dessert in sydney are considered some of the best. Also the cakes and pastries at Yellow, in Potts Point (especially the cheese cake)

        1. re: brunelleschi

          Great, I'll be staying in Potts Point four nights at the end of the month and will look for Yellow. Still researching dinners for SYD, Pier is definitely in the running, especially if they have great desserts!

          10% for good service sounds fair, I'll have to leave some room in the budget to reward good servers. Do you have any idea if tips are usually shared with everyone or if they go only to the servers?


          1. re: brunelleschi

            "tipping IS expected for good service in Sydney. 10% is the standard". Brunelleschi - are you a waiter?

            IMO tipping in Australia is the exception not the norm. We, and all our friends, rarely tip at all. OK if the service is exceptional maybe a little but definitely not the norm, and very, very rarely 10%.

            My expectations may be far too high but I am disappointed if I don't get "excellent service, including knowledge and advice, wine recs and general service." Isn't this what you should be normal service? Isn't this what you are already paying for?

            I am also more inclined to tip for great service in a cheaper restaurant rather than a high end restaurant as I assume staff in the better places already earn more.

            1. re: PhilD

              To answer your questions're right about one thing only...YES, i am involved in restaurants and have been obsessed with food, wine, service and restaurants since i was very young.

              No, this is not "what you are already paying for". In Sydney (compared to the UK, where you're based) the food is extremely cheap considering the quality of fruit, seafood and meat. All of which are generally superior in Aus to that in the UK in terms of quality. Go and find a place in London (or NY, Paris, Rome, Tokyo) with the same quality of food and service (including room, view, glassware and all aspects of the restaurant) for a comparable price....

              No, staff in the top end restaurants are not paid much more than those in cheaper places. The difference, if any, is generally not more than a dollar or two per hour. In fact, young staff in a lot of top restaurants are often paid LESS because it is considered a learning opportunity.

              I don't think your expectations are "far too high". I think you SHOULD get great service everywhere you go....BUT you should also reward it with a reasonable tip.

              Babette, to answer your question, tips are generally shared between the staff and the kitchen usually get 10% of the floor's tips. Katrina Kanetani (Pastry Chef at Pier) has the most beautiful desserts. I think as a pastry chef you'll really appreciate it! I hope you enjoy Sydney.

              1. re: brunelleschi

                Where is Pierre Roelofs working these days? Has he made the trip to Sydney? I assume Phillippa Sibley-Cooke is still at the Price in Melbourne.

                In more general terms, I can't remember being blown away by a dessert in Sydney - except once at Marque with their tomato.

                And I never tip :-) In fact, my employers forbade it.

                1. re: mr_gimlet

                  Pierre is travelling and working in Spain for a while. Robin Wickens hopes he will join him when he returns at The Deanery where he officially starts next week.

                  1. re: tomatom

                    The Deanery, huh? There's a restaurant that has never delivered on its location and potential despite a series of reasonably high profile chefs. I would have thought they were feeling the downturn as it was mainly busy at lunchtime and not cheap - it was close to my old workplace so was a regular lunch haunt but I never thought it hit stride.

                    Anyway, I hope Pierre returns to somewhere in Melbourne - I had thought that Vue de Monde would have snatched him.

                2. re: brunelleschi

                  Brunelleschi - we clearly have very different views on tipping in Australia.

                  As I said my experience is that tipping is not common and not expected. My colleagues, friends and relatives generally don't tip, and I haven't heard of 10% being a norm anywhere. OK sometimes we did leave a bit extra but this is rare. Has it changed since I was last at home approx. 18 months ago?

                  Restaurant staff in Australia are covered by industrial awards/agreements that are usually union negotiated. The awards set out reasonable pay rates (compared to countries without such protections) and overtime rates for extra hours, public holidays etc.

                  It is a different system to the US where staff are paid negligible wages ($2 an hour) and make a living wage on tips; or he UK where the service charge/tip is allowed to make up the minimum wage (it is an employer tax loophole). In fact it is closest to France where tipping is also quite rare because staff pay/conditions are so protected, and thus is often simply a token of appreciation.

                  I didn't really follow your point about food prices. I was simply saying that in any decent restaurant I would automatically expect the staff to give good services, give advice and know about the wine list (after all we do make the stuff in Australia). For me a tip is "earned" when someone goes the extra yard and does something special.

        2. Tipping is NOT CUSTOMARY in Australia. They may expect (okay, HOPE) that foreign tourists will leave a nice big juicy American-style tip, but nobody who was actually born there will do it unless there is some outstanding reason to do so. And even then it's a very small amount because it is for going above and beyond the call of duty, not a percentage of the bill. Waitstaff are paid an actual living wage, they don't rely on the customers tipping for their salary.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Kajikit

            Thanks! I don't want to break my budget but also don't want to offend anyone by being a dumb American -- maybe will manage that in other ways : ) It just seems to good to be true, sushi, nice fruit, fine wine (coming from the Himalayas I am desperate for all) and you don't have to fork over 20% extra? I'm so excited to be there next week!