How tipping affects food deliveries, rides and cost of living in Malaysia; Will it help riders in the long run?

As e-hailing drivers struggle amid rising costs, customers grapple with the decision to tip

A food delivery rider bringing food to a consumer, illustrating a story on tipping e-hailing riders and drivers.
Mohideen Abdul Kader, president of the Consumers Association of Penang, highlights the nuanced stance on tipping delivery riders in Malaysian culture, emphasising its absence in tradition but not discouraging its practice. (Photo: Getty Images)


Weekends are normally good for Tajul's (not his real name) line of work. With more ride offers and the promise of higher fares, the e-hailing driver says he can earn a little more. However, be it the highest or lowest of fares, Tajul says his customers do not usually tip.

"You have to be smart about it," he says, revealing a list of notifications on his phone screen. "You have to choose the offers with the better fares."

A tip is a additional sum provided voluntarily by the customer that will go directly to the driver or rider.

Many apps and platforms that facilitate e-hailing services, food delivery, and other forms of gig work provide customers with options to tip drivers and riders.

Unfortunately, despite a general concern that drivers and riders may not be earning enough income, there are concerns that the charges for food delivery, rides and other services are already inflated due to service tax, transport fees and various surcharges.

So, should we forget about tipping altogether?

A part of culture and gratitude

Mohideen Abdul Kader, president of the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) says that tipping has never been part of Malaysian culture. He believes this is why the practice is not actively promoted.

Even so, it does not mean one should not top up purchases with a little something extra.

"Tipping depends on the individual (and can be) a gesture of appreciation for the person providing the service," he says.

Writer and producer Miriam Devaprasana also believes that a tip can be a sign of gratitude.

This is why she often tips; particularly, when a driver or rider has to brave challenging weather, travel far distances, and if the charges are "too low".

She also offers a tip when the drivers appear elderly or differently abled.

"It's not a must, (but) I feel bad when I don't tip ... I guess it's a nice feeling to show others you appreciate them," says Miriam.

A regular consumer of e-hailing services for food deliveries and car rides, Selangor-based student Nurul Adlina Fatini Binti Yahdi says she also frequently tips.

"I don't worry much about additional costs because living in the heart of the city, my priority is speed and convenience."

She notes, too, that tipping could make a significant difference to the incomes of service providers.

"I believe most full-time or part-time riders are looking for extra income to survive. By tipping, I can make them happy after their long hours of work and provide some financial support," she says, adding that she feels guilty if and when she does not tip.

Cost of living tipping point

But tipping is not always feasible in the face of escalating living expenses.

Granted, inflation has eased somewhat in recent months, and the official line appears to be that Malaysia's economy has turned a corner. Nevertheless, many average Malaysians continue to feel the effects of high prices. As such, tipping can feel burdensome and impact one's daily expenses.

Miriam says it is for this reason that she has had to cut down on using e-hailing apps for food delivery and transport. However, the dilemma for her is how then to support service providers.

"If I'm saving money, whose (income) gets cut?" she says.

E-hailing driver Tajul says he does not blame customers when they do not tip. Indeed, he believes that it is only natural that with rising costs, people are looking to save more money.

Even so, it is a fact that drivers and riders continue to face tough times.

"Payment for e-hailing drivers is low now because there's a lot of competition, so (the platforms) reduce prices to entice customers," says Tajul.

"The companies need to do something about this. At the moment, prices of essential items have gone up. Maintenance costs, like car servicing, are also increasing. Everything is getting more expensive, but e-hailing prices have gone down," he laments, adding that at the company he works for, drivers earn just enough to get by, while the platform takes around 20 per cent commission from each order.

"Shouldn't our fares tally with our living expenses?" he says, adding that the current state of affairs has pushed him and many of his peers to work harder.

"Before, I could work eight to 10 hours and still have enough to save. Now I have to work 13 to 14 hours just to 'cover' and get the same amount of salary I earned before."

Tajul notes, too, that many e-hailing drivers are forced to register with and use multiple e-hailing apps to sustain their livelihood.

Fair and transparent

In addition, the debate over tipping is more than just about costs and gestures of gratitude. It has also raised issues of fairness and transparency.

This is why some customers want e-hailing platforms to be more accountable.

"It is important to know where my money is going. I don't want to support companies that exploit labour workers because they can," says dance teacher and multidisciplinary artist Charity Yong Ren Mei.

"So, if a restaurant or e-hailing company charges an exorbitant amount for tax and delivery, then I best believe that money is also going to workers and riders alike."

She also suggests that platforms must make clearer distinctions between service charges, transport costs and potential tips.

"Doesn't a service charge already mean that we're paying for a service? Transport cost is understandable; more like an overhead cost. But if there is already a service charge, why is there a need to tip?

"Companies also need to understand that the public do pay attention to the little things. For instance, the state and appearance of a rider's vehicle can say more about the company than the rider."

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