Monday, 11 January 2010


The British are reluctant tippers. In the United States a 20% tip, while not usually included in the bill, is common practice. In the UK, I have seen parties of diners almost come to blows over a small saucer of pound coins. Try that in New York and the waiter would readily supply the knuckle-dusters.

Actors, accustomed to using their skills at silver service to support themselves between gigs, should be generous tippers. But there is a dying art to tipping in the theatre, and it is a skill that actors would do well to revive. Dressers and stage door keepers remember the days when the actors would tip them properly and promptly at the end of each week. This is a guide on how to do it, for those of us who have been neglectful, based on information supplied by both tippers and tippees (not tepees, they only need oiling and not toupees, they only need glue).

I was told all this many years ago and 'forgot' it. Mea Cupla. This is to remind me.

1. This sort of tipping is for the work where there is a disparity in wages, unless you are a film star on minimum wage slumming it in what counts for the West End even though your manager begged you to sign up for Comic Hero 2, in which case you can treat the entire cast and crew regularly. When you are all earning £356 a week a thoughtful gift at the end of the run will do.

2. Tip your dresser even if they don't actually dress you. Just as you tip the waiter even if your order was quite straightforward. They are still working and they have to pay the rent/buy baby new shoes/some other increasingly unlikely financial euphemism. At least £20 a week is the going rate if you have your own dressing room. If you are sharing, £10 each is much appreciated. If you are the only cast member do your best; you're probably a nightmare.

3. You'll have to work out who does what at the stage door. There is usually more than one doorkeeper, on a rotating shift. It will not be difficult to understand but it may be a little more expensive. It is not cool to divide £20 between more than two people.

4. Get envelopes and leave them with a name on at the end of the week. Don't start pressing crumpled notes into palms or counting out change. I once left the service charge in coins at a Californian restaurant. The waiter refused it and stood by unsmiling while we rearranged our wallets. It was embarrassing and ruined the meal but it taught me to be more prepared. So thank you, proud and difficult waiter, though I hope I never see you again.

5. Tipping is not a measure of how grand you are or how lowly are others. If you are worried you will seem high-handed, get over it.

6. There is nothing sexy about stingy.

7. If in doubt, you only really need to remember #6.