How to tip desi-style – a guide to the “baksheesh”

Pappu Patligali was seated with his friends at at a table in the A.C. section of New Aroma Restaurant located just off of National Highway 6. He was visiting India during semester break and he had a few days to enjoy with friends and family before heading back to the US to finish up his Master’s thesis. Before heading to India, he had packed his suitcase with gift items for friends and family that included cosmetics, watches, and toiletries. He had even picked up a couple of liter-bottles of single-malt for sharing. But even though he packed as much as he could without having to pay for extra baggage, he found that by the fifth day of his stay he always ran out of “itemized” gifts. He had learned the hard way that it was advisable to carry massive family-size bags of Snickers bars and Jolly Ranchers candy for these types of emergencies. Sadly, this time even the hyperglycemia inducers got depleted after a week.

It was then that Pappu decided to take his friends to dinner at New Aroma. He had heard good things about the Mughlai dishes prepared by the restaurant. Another nice thing about the restaurant was that it had two sections, an A.C. for upper-class patrons such as Pappu and his friends, and a dhaba-style section with charpoys for drivers, helpers of drivers, and assistants to driver’s helpers. The same food was served in both sections, but the AC restaurant had steeper prices because it was air-conditioned, it had a menu, waiters served patrons in crisp white shirts, and bottled mineral water was provided (at extra charge of course).

Pappu and his friends received an excellent table, great service, and a delicious meal for dinner. They enjoyed the food thoroughly, and once they were done eating and chatting, Pappu picked up the bill for 720 rupees. He pulled out eight hundred-rupee notes from his wallet, while stuffing a bit of the moist saunf and hard sugar crystals in his mouth.

The tipping point:

David, the waiter brought back the balance of 80 rupees. Pappu thought to himself, “well, this isn’t exactly 15% gratuity, but I’ll leave 80 rupees which should be enough to cover it.”

He was getting up from his chair to leave, when he was stopped by Karthik.

“Dude, what are you doing?” asked Karthik. He was glaring at Pappu.

“I’m leaving a tip,” said Pappu in a matter-of-fact tone while spitting out a twig from the saunf.

“Yes, but why so much? Give the bugger five or ten rupees for his effort” said Karthik while the others around the table nodded.

“Yeah, but I enjoyed the service, I thought I’d give the waiter around 10% for his effort. I mean they can’t get paid an awful, lot can then?”

Everyone at the table started laughing at Pappu’s naive comment. “Dude, this isn’t Amreeka. Leave your 10%, 20%  for when you are back in the States. Here we give loose change unless we are at a Five-star hotel with our girlfriends. Then we pay a good tip to impress the ladies.”

As soon as Karthik got done, Abhi started to explain the desi baksheesh philosophy to Pappu. ” Service-wervice is fine, but what does it matter if you give the guy 80 rupees? You will be back in Amreeka, na? What difference will it make if you don’t come again? When I wanted to get security clearance for my parents’ passports I paid baksheesh to the local intelligence bureau up front. You should always tip in expectation not in appreciation. ”

“Look Pappu, if I want a nice table at a busy fancy, restaurant I slip a few notes when I arrive. Pay them later for efficient service? Yeah, right,” said Kathik as he rolled his eyes.

Chal, Pappu, pick up the change, ” said Somesh. “Beta, Amreekan ban gaya. it looks like you’ve forgotten everything about your own country, yaar.”

More of the Charmed Life of Pappu Patligali here.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

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21 thoughts on “How to tip desi-style – a guide to the “baksheesh”

  1. Anirban that was a real experience so common to all of us and you have narrated it so well.Sometimes this tipping thing feels a foreign concept just like the Happy Birthday and ur friends are right as we are more generous when we expect a favour than actually appreciating a service…however when we are blessed with enough now mostly i feel we do it as a routine.i remember tipping even when food has been low grade and the service late.
    Another thing even in the foriegn land it’s strange though how we think of this 10% diligently when at the drop of the hat we are converting all things bought and all services used in rupees.It will take eons to change that because i remember my friends who are living in the States and elsewhere for the last 20yrs telling me that their yearly trips to India is hectic with trips to the salon and tailors and this host of shopping of sundry items that they have to do as these specially the services in a parlour are soooo expensive.
    And i keep thinking after reading ur article that this too could be a British legacy that has been perpetuated by all of us for so many reasons one being to keep up with the joneses because i believe India as a country meant Atithi Swagat be it hotels or Dhabas where you would be fed well and you wouldn’t have to bother about anything but the actual price of what you consumed.
    Does that make me sound like a real pain in the-Kanjoos i guess not because i know when it is really needed i do shell out dough with happiness and pleasure and never have doubts if that was ok on my part or i did less.

    • No it doesn’t make you sound like a kanjoos, but if someone does a particularly nice job, it is a small reward like a pat on the back.

      The difficulty arises when there is no cultural norm or if you get poor service because it was expected.

      Thanks for reading. 🙂

  2. I can totally relate to what you feel. The other thing is tipping a dollar for every drink you buy. What is it supposed to be in India ? Rs 10? or is that too much.

    I actually had the opposite issue while tipping a while back. I spent some time in China, and the best thing about eating at Chinese restaurants is that tipping is just not done and for a miserly desi like me, that was just simply awesome! And so, when I came back to India and tipping time came, it was quite interesting to see my friends wondering why I had become such a kanjoos and not tip at all !!

    oh… maybe I should blog about the food in chinese restaurants.. 🙂

  3. US and Desh differs in tipping culture because of the wages pattern.

    In US, many restaurants ( if not most) don’t pay the waitress, it is the tips that they take home. Even the ones, who are paid the payment is minimum or less. That is the reason 10%/18% tip is expected there. In India, waiters get payment ( don’t get me wrong, I also feel the payment is miniscule, but unlike US, here they do). Hence the tipping expectation is different as well.

  4. Yep you got that absolutely right….In India waiters do not get the share of the tip…it goes directly in the pocket of the owner.

    Better to hand over some cash to the waiter directly or call him outside and thrust some notes in his hands if you really liked the service.

  5. You know, once I inadvertently left a Rs. 50 tip for a Rs 350 bill. My husband wondered if he should get a job at that restaurant! And i’ve never lived in Amreeka!

  6. Erm. Loose change – that’s exactly how we tip when out with friends. But obviously we are students not on amreekan scholarship like pappu 😛

  7. I am not sure what your view is about this situation. You seem to be leaning towards tipping @ 15%+ rate. That sometimes sends bad signals to witresses in India :-p
    I tipped @ 15% at the Ballygunje Dhaba this time, and was heavily criticized for showing off dollar income. I tipped @5% everywhere else.

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