How much to tip the keeper
George Padley considers the principles upon which a tip is given to the keeper, and navigates the muddy waters surrounding just how much should be given.
Ranging in effect on wallet thickness, from relatively modest to undeniably significant, the principle upon which a tip is given to a gamekeeper should, in theory, remain consistent. By virtue of likely offence caused if considered too small, however, tipping can be a sensitive conclusion to formalities at the end of a day.
Many theories are whispered on how best to calculate an appropriate tip; the most recent I've heard being £10 per 50 pheasants or partridges, and £40 per 25 brace of grouse. This is a base guideline and by no means gospel. Besides, should bag size be the only means of deciding the size of the keeper's tip? And should this be exponential? Many smaller days - i.e. small farm shoots - require as much effort on the keeper's part, sometimes more, especially if they're working single-handedly.
A palpable reminder
In the context of a day, your tip represents a notable yet relatively small proportion of the overall cost of the day, but the act of handing over bank notes reminds us we're parting with significant sums. For most, physically parting with hard cash somehow feels more real than signing a cheque, swiping a card or keying in a pin number. It's strange really - in theory, a pound is a pound regardless of whether it appears at the bottom of an invoice or as coin in your pocket. But I'm fairly confident that if we were asked to pay for our next day in £10 and £20 notes, most of us would think a little harder about what we'd just committed to.
For some it may not be immediately apparent that many gamekeepers' salaries are configured in anticipation of expected accrued tips. Grossed over the duration of the season, and in some way divisible amongst any other keepers involved, they represent a vital proportion of a keeper's income. Large shoots, and those which operate over larger areas, are likely to have a greater number of keepers and therefore tips would usually be slightly more substantial to reflect this.
Then and now
Short of a disastrous day apportioned directly to the keeper, Guns should always tip the headkeeper. But what are we tipping for?
Historically, the purpose of tipping was to express an appreciation for the hard work and efforts of a keeper in running a day - a gesture in recognition of the countless hours invested in preparation during the close season. Nowadays, although considered by many to be more of a formality, the underlying principle remains.
For me, a tip represents an acknowledgement of the sport we as a team have been provided with and how well I feel we've been looked after by a keeper and his team. It's my way of saying "here's a token of my appreciation for your efforts in ensuring we had a great day". I might not have had the most shooting, I may have shot poorly at times, but that's the nature of our sport.
Generally, there is an amount below which it would not be acceptable to tip on a given day but, over and above that, each Gun may give as freely as they wish. No hard and fast rule is applicable - like in a restaurant, it should be a gesture at the discretion of the customer. This said, I know I'm not alone in thinking tipping can, occasionally, become farcical. There's a growing culture amongst some shoots and their management that has sought to impose mandatory or set amounts, and I make no apologies for entirely disagreeing with this - it's not a tip if it's a three-line whip!
If tips are to be imposed in this way, then I'd rather they formed part of the contractual agreement signed when booking the day. A good or great season's tips should not be the difference in a keeper's job satisfaction; the purpose of a tip is very definitely not to underpin the payroll of the shoot, and should be given, not demanded.
I recall a day I spent on a grouse moor in October 2013 which was captained by the resident 'agent'. The final horn of the day sounded and we proceeded back to the vehicles, but upon his return, the agent seized what he believed to be an opportune moment to approach the Guns individually and announce a sum we were to tip the keeper and any loaders.
Whilst a very forward approach, this was made all the more surprising by the fact that the figure 'advised' was nearly double what most people would have had in mind - and we didn't even know what the bag was yet as he hadn't waited for the remaining Guns and pickers-up to return from the drive! And to make matters worse, this agent had been a self-designated loader that day.
I assure you, this is not a case of tight-fistedness or unwillingness to play by the rules; the effects of predetermined, over-inflated tips are likely to result in endemic 'norms' that will affect everybody; before long we could be in a situation where the bar has been set at a certain level for all shoots, irrespective of the quality of sport or the enjoyment of the Guns. Surely, this cannot be right? Tips of, say, £50 for a 250-bird day would be regarded as perfectly reasonable by most keepers - until the recipient chats to a neighbouring keeper and discovers he is always tipped £70 for an equivalent day. Inadvertently, a precedent has been set.
Tips should, within sensible guidelines, remain reflective of ones enjoyment of a day and not leave keepers waiting in hope or expectation based upon a previous experience or what was tipped yesterday, 10 miles down the road. Tipping needs to remain a discretionary act, one that neither leaves a keeper feeling under-appreciated, nor results in a sense of compulsion on the Guns' part, which undermines the very principle upon which a tip should be given in the first place.