It's possible I'll never be able to go to a restaurant after this column. Confession: unless there's extreme provocation, I don't tip.
Tipping seems like going to an appliance store, telling them there's a toaster you saw in their catalog, and when one of their staff brings it to the counter, being asked: "Sir, would you like to pay more for this?"
Huh? I'd wonder if I'd heard correctly.
"You know, would you like to tip? Add ten or twenty percent to the sticker price?"
Would I like to? Ten percent or twenty? It seems the cashier has assumed I'm an idiot, but wants to know precisely what kind of idiot: dumb or dumber?
I'd allow a beat of silence, so the cashier could register their own words - maybe they're sane, but they've misspoken. I'd look around to see if there was perhaps a hidden camera. This has to be a prank, right?
Realising my shocked expression isn't getting the message across, I'd say: "Um ... do I get - anything more for that?"
"No sir, that would be for the service."
"Sir, I smiled, spoke to you civilly, outlined other toaster specials, went all the way to the shelf, came back with the toaster. A gratuity, totally up to you. Appreciation. A choice you would make, because you're that kind of person."
The cashier beams like an emoji, prepares to draw a love heart on the receipt, and grabs two mints in plastic.
Not so fast, honey. "So an anti-discount? What's happened? Sudden massive inflation, between the time I saw this on the shelf, one minute ago, and the time I got to the counter? Did the Government devalue the dollar? Are we rationing meat? Are we at war?!?"
Mercifully, here we leave this scene. It doesn't end well. My bad: I'm being argumentative. (The cashier started it.)
Tipping is a coffee card - buy ten, get one free - except tipping means, buy five, get four.
It makes no sense. But would service improve in New Zealand if we adopted tipping?
Some say American service is better than service here - clearly an assertion, objection sustained, but let's roll with it - and America has tipping, so there you go, cause and effect.
But is a hospo worker really richer in the US? Show me 'Waitress of the Year' in the US; and next to her, on the podium, put the most curmudgeonly, incompetent, slovenly, unshowered 90-day trial waiter in NZ.
Despite the American's trophy and all those juicy tips, she has much less money, in real terms - the moment she needs to visit a hospital. Or if she'd care to attend university.
NZ provides free healthcare, and ACC to boot. And nobody expects you to tip the surgeon.
Forget nickels and dimes, the EFTPOS illusion of generosity: the real measure of a society's generosity is the deep welfare state.
State hospitals, a minimum wage, emergency housing, sickness benefits, the dole - a money-where-your-mouth-is, unglamorous, workaday system whose goal is to look out for each other, and strive for a launchpad of equality. (Naturally, all this has escaped the notice of Paula Bennett, in her championing of tipping. It's not like she's ever been on the receiving end of any of it; or had any portfolios in the vicinity.)
But even if we remove the wait staff from the society in which they live: why is bringing food to the table, unique among products and services, for being unable to accurately display their price?
On what planet is service not a component in the restaurant meal? Surely part of the package, at a restaurant, is delivery, from the kitchen, to the table, intact, without additional fluids of contempt.
And if bringing the meal to the table is not included, then spell it out: give restaurant customers the choice. Like an airline ticket, offer a deluxe option, which costs 20% more, whereby the meal shows up, with a smile, and a generous portion of suck up.
And for the economy diner, offer the stripped-down option: interactions are abrupt, surly and begrudging; and upon a humiliating signal - a disdainful handclap, perhaps - I have to traipse to the kitchen myself to get my own meal.
And while we're at it - speaking to you, fancy restaurants - can we put the vegetables, and potatoes, into the main dish? Don't make each one a side dish! It's like a meth dealer charging you extra for precursors.
The precursors are part of the meth! The correct term is ingredients. And one of these ingredients is service.