Marka Rifat returns to the Leopard Arts pages with another thought provoking essay with Here’s a Tip a short musing on tipping in Theatres.
The theatre, remember that? Over the hubbub of voices, assuring the harassed woman at the reception desk that you really do have four tickets to collect and, as the growing crowd edges you towards the toilets, that (louder) yes, that’s how you spell your surname, then being ushered by a person of a certain age to your row, then putting your soft-wearing bum on a hard-wearing seat, and then, ah, then folk, in-the-flesh folk, seen and hidden, all working together to put on a show for you.
Uncannily smilar to going for a meal. Certainly, you may view an evening wrapped in a sleeping bag, with cocktails in a can and a full flavour range of proper-brand tortilla chips, the remote at your elbow, as the acme of fancy dan. Being the case, we’ll discretely leave you and your arteries to it.
For those of us who do shift out the front door, we are greeted, just inside the restaurant entrance, with the hard stares of diners who don’t appreciate the draft. You find and assure the waitress you really do have a booking and, no, that’s your first name, but never mind, it’s still your reservation, and you take your place on a less than comfortable chair or a straight-backed booth designed exclusively for yoga teachers, and then, if you’re lucky, the show, that is, the food, is brought fairly soon and in a performance which ranges from stunning to perfunctory. But you still tip. Whether the bill comes with a flourish and hand-made chocolates, or a vacant stare and a dusty Pan Drop.
Declaration of interest: I have been a barmaid and a waitress many times, from the large seaside hotel of long ago where guests came with the regularity of migrating birds and stayed for a fortnight, to the fast churn caff. I waitressed before the days of cashless payment and so the jars and dishes of coins, plus the occasional note, were there for all to witness and were shared equally, without question, because everyone worked hard at their allotted task. And I was very fortunate that it was never conidered part of my wage.
Before the pandemic, the opinion gatherers YouGov asked British people about when and there they tip, if at all. There is plenty analysis of age groups and what tips a punter into withholding a tip, but the survey does not cover thinking outside the tip box.
I am not advocating the end of gratuities, but the extension of them, particularly to areas of work which are often low paid, precarious and performative. You cannot eat applause, filling a hall with laughter will not buy new socks, and you only warm your ego on wild cheering.
Even a solo performer, aka, a barber, gets a tip. Maybe the presence of very sharp instruments is a factor, but usually it’s their tonsorial restoration of the old you, or even the invention of a new you. Whatever happens, you feel different and it took less time than a band needs to set up in readiness to give you hours of amazing music.
Do you not feel different after a trip to the theatre? Didn’t your teenage years time-warp back to you at the Rocky Horror Show? Didn’t your girls adore every second of Frozen at HMT? Aren’t you transported on waves of sound by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at the Music Hall? Don’t you tell everyone about Dundee Rep’s gob-smacking Titus Andronicus? Didn’t you gasp at Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound at the Lemon Tree? Don’t you talk for days after every National Theatre of Scotland play and will a snooker table ever be the same after Black Watch? And yet, how do we show our appreciation at the end of each event of towering skill and teamwork?
Time for a stonking big tip jar. Coming to a theatre near you.