The Canadian put the tip on a small plate, almost 10% of what he paid for lunch with a young woman he’d just met. He left the restaurant rubbing his abdomen with satisfaction while she headed to the bathroom. The girl, however, went by the table where they had eaten and put her companion’s two shiny convertible pesos in her purse. From the bar, the bartender’s shrewd eyes caught the moment and he shouted to the waiter. But when he tried to catch her she had already gone, without saying goodbye to the bewildered tourist waiting for her in the sun. With this loss, the waiter calculated that he’d been left without the most substantial reward of the day. Annoyed, he finished drying the glasses and arranging the knives and forks.
For many years, to accept tips was an act catalogued almost as counterrevolutionary. To receive a small economic stimulus from some client could be seen as a petty bourgeoisie tit-for-tat, an undignified gesture. Those were also the times when money had no real value, when it could not be converted into goods and services given the strict ration market that governed our lives. Perhaps this explains the mistreatment employees subject their clients to, conduct which, sadly, continues even today. But it can be said that with the return of tourism, the appearance of the dual monetary system, and the opening of stores that operate only in hard currency, this propina makes some sense, discretely slipped into a hand, or left under the checked napkin wrapped around the bill.
Right now, the main incentive for those who work in snack bars, restaurants and hotels lies in the possibility of a visiting foreigner leaving them some material gratification. There are also Cubans who have begun to reward good service at certain places, handing out centavos here and there. But the most sought after customers are those who come from countries where it is established practice to give the waiters a percentage of the total consumed. In the State sector, however, there sill exist administrative measures against this practice, and in the airports ECASA — the management company — has tried to eliminate it without much success. Despite the stinginess of some and the prejudices of others, the habit of rewarding good service is gaining ground. At times deserved, and in other cases insistently demanded or simply included in the bill, tipping now prompts grins, accelerates the arrival of the trays, and makes the distressed waiter of this story smile again.