Taking a break in France the other week and prior to the humid airport chaos later in the day, I took the opportunity to spend an ambient hour or so in a cool, simply whitewashed riverside café in Brittany before my homeward journey. If I played my cards right, I had time for an ordinary but delicious luncheon before the flight, rather than a dreadful one on it. I could do all this before the cursory inspection and occasional shoe removal that passes for airport security, was to bring me back to cattle-class reality.

Pointing out my time constraints to the accommodating cafe owner, I was given a no-nonsense menu offering a modest, straightforward selection of local produce with an assurance of prompt delivery.

There was the obligatory confit duck, a single rustic casserole of wild hare with cream and mustard, and the scribbled appendage of fresh oysters towards the bottom of the page. With plump Atlantic shellfish on offer at an almost embarrassing 6 Euros a dozen, there was no contest. When all were preceded by a glass of a Cremant – that accommodating dry white fizz from the Loire – and the accompanying fresh lemon, olives and homemade bread, I became a calmer traveller within seconds.

The establishment was un-fussy, sparsely decorated yet scrubbed to within an inch of its architectural life, had taken thoughtful control of the limited menu, provided a tiny but focused wine list, offered efficient and gracious service, and much later, delivered a clear and explanatory bill. The neatly folded piece of paper, offered with simple courtesy, was scanned and agreed to, as was the helpful information that stated that any additional gratuity this particular traveller was inclined to leave, would be distributed via  their Tronc system to all staff. It was good to know exactly where one stood.

Suffice to say, we are talking about that vexed issue of tips.

Tronc it appears, is derived from tronc des pauvres, literally the box (or trunk) of the poor, and was located at the entrance to medieval French churches encouraging the congregation to donate a few sous to the destitute of the parish. It is an interesting analogy when applied to the present employees of the catering fraternity.

Much confusion surrounds the tip in an English restaurant. When the moment arrives to pay the bill, one is frequently thrown into chaos. How much to leave, what percentage is normal, am I topping up low wages, where is the money going, does the person get the cash in whole or in part, and do I have the right to withhold additional payment altogether? Even more confusing, is that the answer can often be yes and no in equal measure.

In many aspects of modern European sensibility, our drift to the arguable notion of a written constitution, have all but occurred. All of course bar one: the food service industry. Is there any other aspect of British life where we still regularly confuse service with servility?

With the advent of our national pride in British produce, the increased awareness of seasonal cooking and the dramatic entrance on the world stage of the British ‘gastro-pub’, why do we pay its front line advocates so little, and respect them even less? Why does Britain, almost alone in modern Europe, show such little regard to the financial well being of its food delivery personnel and why do the last remaining vestiges of our long diminished Empire still reside in the catering industry? Why do we still find it tolerable to hold so much social and commercial control over waiting staff in a manner that would barely be tolerated in other financial contracts? All of this with people who are expected to serve, advise, select, administer and finally clear away that most life enhancing and uniting of products – our food.

No idea, but the Tronc system works moderately well in the meantime. It is a simple method of distributing all tips to all staff members. So if you leave a tip, it is shared amongst the chefs, the kitchen porter, the cleaner, the front of house and the very waiter, or waitress, with whom you offered the settlement. They are all part of the efficiency, cleanliness and enjoyment of your eating experience, no one aspect taking precedence over any other.

Although the team, not just the individual are rewarded, it will never replace the necessity of a proper wage for a highly skilled and necessary profession. It is a shame, but the European Union still thinks we live in an episode of Upstairs Downstairs when we enter a restaurant.