Is hospitality in Australia becoming less hospitable?

I remember a time when the customer was always right. Within reason.

Now the customer's lucky to get a grunt of acknowledgement and even luckier if their order gets filled accurately.

A friend and I needed a quick meal on the Gold Coast the other day. We stumbled across an innocent enough looking Italian eatery.

Let's be clear. This was no Michelin rated restaurant. It will never earn a chef's hat.

In truth, it'd struggle to live up to the standard of a camp cook's hairnet.

But the masses need to be fed. Cheap and cheerful is fine.

Cheap and nasty is not.

"Here ya go," a surly teenager announced as he slammed food on our table. "Bruschetta."

We patiently explained that we'd ordered prosciutto pizza.

"Oh, yeah. I just don't know how to say it properly."

More patient explanation.

Eventually the burnt bruschetta found its way back to the kitchen, where there was plenty of hand waving and finger pointing.

It was all mildly amusing, until the girl who took our order stormed over to our table.

She addressed us in the tone usually reserved for a naughty puppy that just chewed a hole in your favourite armchair.

"We don't have prosciutto pizza on the menu," she lectured us.

"So, under the pizza section, the one labelled prosciutto isn't a prosciutto pizza?" Sarcasm. Blunt, but effective.

Surely the correct pizza would arrive soon.

Or not.

She was back. This time we must have resembled children with dubious intellect.

"Now, I'll just explain this to you, so you know how it works," she started.

Apparently the pizza on the pizza menu wasn't actually a pizza.

I may have explained a few alternative viewpoints.

I hate to think what extras we ate in that prosciutto pizza when it finally arrived.

But there's no point having a whinge unless I can offer a solution.

This is where things get controversial.

My suggestion is tipping.

I suspect, if our not-so-friendly waitress was working for tips, her attitude may have been slightly different.

Perhaps the teenager would learn the difference between bruschetta and prosciutto. And learn how to say both of them.

Call it a performance based salary.

A little incentive goes a long way.

Sure, it would take education. Tipping is such a foreign concept to Australians.

But imagine a trial somewhere like the Gold Coast.

Waitstaff would forgo some of their set wages. Restaurants would pass those savings on by dropping menu prices. And we diners would add an extra 15 or 18 per cent to the bill.

It's not a perfect solution, I know.

The taxman would be horrified. As would the unions. And most likely Australian diners.

But I'm convinced it could help.

Perhaps it would even get us better service overseas.

Go to a country where tipping is the norm, rather than the exception, and the first question waitstaff ask is where you're from.

I've found as soon as I say 'Australia' the service disappears. We're lousy tippers.

Of course, once the standard of service drops, so does the tip. The perception is perpetuated.

Perhaps if tipping was second nature to us, service would be as well.

Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelCoombes

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