TO tip or not to tip?

Not a dilemma that appears to trouble rap star Jay Z, who is reported to have spent more than $90,000 in a New York bar at the weekend - leaving a whopping $11,000 tip. The multi-millionaire, on a night out with friends, is said to have bought around 40 bottles of champagne, racking up a bill that came to what it would take me years to earn.

(How many homeless families in wartorn countries could that money have helped? That’s often what I think whenever flash celebrities throw obscene amounts of cash at stuff like booze and jewellery).

I guess when you’re spending that kind of money, any tip you leave isn’t going to be small change. But, by anyone’s standards, $11,000 is a pretty generous tip. It got me thinking about the etiquette of tipping, why we tip some workers and not others, and whether we should be tipping at all.

It’s an issue we encounter in various walks of life - eating out, booking a taxi, having a haircut. I see it as a goodwill gesture; acknowledgement of a friendly face or good service. But, where tipping was once left to our own discretion, it’s increasingly being taken out of our hands. Often, paying a restaurant bill by card, there’s an option of pressing ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to a tip, and if you choose to add one there’s either a pre-set gratuity or an amount of your choice. It gets confusing, so you’re left to sweat it out while the waiter/waitress stares at you, making a silent judgement through their frozen smile on your generosity, or lack of. It’s beyond awkward.

I prefer to leave cash, but I never know if it’s enough. My partner flatly refuses, pointing out that nobody tips him in his job so why should he tip other folk for doing theirs? He has a point but, having been a waitress, I feel obliged to tip in restaurants and cafes, unless it’s bad service.

I also find myself tipping hairdressers and saying “keep the change” whenever I get a taxi, coming over all Lady Bountiful because I’ve made tedious smalltalk with a monosyllabic cabbie for five minutes.

In America tipping is pretty much a national sport. A couple of years ago I went to New York with my sister and we quickly realised we should have budgeted for tips, because New Yorkers expect to be tipped for EVERYTHING.

Arriving at our hotel, a morbidly obese porter was called to take us to our room. Before we could say, “It’s fine, we’ll find it,” he was wheeling our cases to the lift. By the time he’d squeezed himself and our luggage in and out of it he was wheezing. We followed him, slowly, along corridors, expecting him to collapse each time he stopped to wipe sweat off his face. We’d have reached our room without him in half the time.

He didn’t utter a word. I asked where Times Square was and he gestured impatiently towards the fire escape. When we were finally in the room he stood, panting. He was going nowhere without a tip, so I pulled out a 10 dollar note, the lowest amount of cash we had, having just arrived. He snatched it and shuffled off, saying nothing.

Over our four-day trip we handed over a small fortune in tips to restaurant, bar staff and an intimidating driver taking us to the airport who kept asking whether his tip was cash or card, despite a service charge already included in the pre-paid fee. Americans pride themselves on good service, and expect tips. But even with bad service we felt obliged to tip - it’s not that easy to ignore a borderline-aggressive cocktail waitress holding her hand out.

“Here’s a tip, love: learn some manners,” is what I didn’t say, reaching for my purse.

* MY headline of the week: “KFC re-opens - with limited menu”.

Fast foodies were bereft this week when KFC branches closed due to chicken delivery problems. People actually called the police. A child on the TV News was in tears. Maybe he should try eating some greens instead.

Relax, people. Maybe, just maybe, you can go without eating chicken for a day or two. Or even meat in general. It won't kill you.

I find the nation's insatiable appetite for chicken depressing. But then, I'm on the chickens' side.

* I'M enjoying BBC's Back In Time For Tea, in which a Bradford family experience the daily life of working people from 1918 to the present.

But it struck me that TV social history programmes always tend to focus on a conventional ideal of family life. They never touch on the issue of caring, which is something that many of us will face at some point in life.

This series began as the First World War ends. While many families lost sons, husbands and brothers, others would have been left caring for injured men. What was the impact on family life? With the welfare state a thing of the future, some would have cared for grandparents and other older relatives too. When did we begin to the plight of recognise carers - adults and children - and their need for assistance and respite?

Next time a TV show goes back in time, to see how life changed for ordinary people over the last century, why not explore this rarely told history of Britain?