03, The Tronc system

On several hotels and restaurants in the West End waiters used to have to pay to go to work – that is, they had to pay to serve customers at so many tables. The management got the customers served without cost, and even pocketed no small trifle from the waiters. The waiters solely depended on tips from customers. In other catering firms there was what was and still is what is called the Tronc system, which worked in this way. Every waiter and all those depending on tips, after receiving a tip from the customer, had to fold it inside a paper with his or her name or number on it with the amount of the tip. It meant the sack for anyone seen to put his own tip in his pocket. At the West End, after all tips went into the box or tronc, it was opened by the head waiter or manager who shared it as he liked. Naturally, he got the lion’s share. Many might have paid into the tronc during the week two, three or four pounds, but got as their share anything from ten to twenty-five shillings (50p to £1.25), according to the grade of the worker. The head waiter or manager put nothing in, yet took the largest share. The tronc system is an evil, but tipping in any form is a curse. It makes a man or woman a servile animal. All human dignity and self-respect are gone. Only the humble, servile, cringing, bowing-and-scraping serving machine remains. That is what makes a waiter so different from the kitchen worker who does not depend on the generosity of customers but has a stated wage, however big or small, and is free to accept or reject this wage. He has no respect, he feels no terror about any important customers: he knows his job, does it, gets his wages and that’s that. No servility or cringing for him. Black or white, French or British, male or female – they are all the same, comrades in slavery, because they must submit exist somehow. Yet they will not bear more than they are compelled. That was the waiter and the kitchen worker of yesteryear.

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