certainly took Tourism Minister Paula Bennett in for the ride. Perhaps she was the tearful Krystal of Waikiki in another life, that Heath had waxed so lyrical about.

The waitress who, at the flash of his bottomless wallet, started slipping him expensive champagne he hadn't ordered, gave him massages and wept "real tears" when he departed Honolulu. It was Madame Butterfly revisited.

When tipping is painted in such victimless colours - except, I guess, for the poor cheated bar owner whose wine profits plummeted - who could possibly complain? But for those of us who just want a meal, without the away-from-home, social-service extras, that Heath seems to expect from his wait-people, I say tipping is a foreign scourge as unwelcome as myrtle rust and Halloween.

One-time waitress Bennett thinks otherwise. Now deputy prime minister, she trips around the country at our expense, tipping as she goes. "If you receive excellent service, you should tip," she says. "People will enjoy their work more and get paid more - it's a plus plus plus."


Industry representatives have, of course, leapt on to the bandwagon to support the call and talk it up. "I think tipping is growing," dreamed Hospitality New Zealand advocacy manager Dylan Firth. He hastened to add that people shouldn't feel they're being forced to tip, which is a bit of a joke given the deliberate efforts the industry are putting into trying to imbed it into the Kiwi way. Such as designing Eftpos machines which halt the bill-paying ritual by forcing you to say yes or no to a tip, and what percentage, while the restaurant staff eyeball you over the cash register with a steely glare.

Tipping is a strange practice. It's based on the premise the service you're about to receive is going to be mediocre or worse, unless the wait person, or car attendant or other servant, can be brainwashed into expecting a golden handshake at the end. It's a bit like dog training really, with the promise of a treat at the end if the beast successfully completes the task. The industry encourages it because it enables them to pay lousy wages and point the finger at the customers as the villains if they don't play top-up.

It's a strange philosophy that in other lines of public service would be called bribery. Bennett says: "I always tip for excellent service and encourage others to, too, if we want standards to continue to improve." But if it's our public duty, in the eyes of the minister, to rev up wait staff by dangling money before their eyes, then what's wrong with crossing the palm of the cop who pulls you over for drunk driving, or the ACC bureaucrat who is dragging the chain over compensation for your wonky knee.

I'm old fashioned enough to believe the old proverb about a labourer being worthy of his hire. What we have here is an industry's attempt to avoid doing just that. If it means upping prices 10 per cent then so be it. At least that might mean the dishwashers out the back might get an increase in pay as well and not just the busty, young, front-of-house Krystals, who, according to American research, tend to rake in a disproportionate amount of the tips.

There was a time, says Bennett, when we advised tourists not to tip when they visited. She doesn't want this message resurrected. Why not? It sounds like a great idea.

Over the years we seem to have managed to keep a tight rein on this old-world disease. A quick search on Papers Past reveals that in 1915, the Arbitration Court actually abolished tipping on Union Company vessels, upping the wages of stewards on the passenger ships considerably in compensation. The newspaper report referred to tipping as a "curse to the travelling public".

Seven years later, the court lifted the ban on this "undesirable practice" because it had continued underground. The judges said that "Public opinion is the only effective means of dealing with the practice".

Nearly 100 years on, I might add, and pay the workers a living wage.