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Here is the question I have; the following sentence is what is causing me grief. I might be overthinking it but I'm not getting anywhere.

チップの習慣があったほうが、サービスが良くなると思いますか。どうしてですか。

Now, based on my own understanding of this grammar, あったほうが = if you had.

I would translate this sentence as, do you think having a tipping culture results in better service?

Is this a correct translation of this sentence, or am I misunderstanding the question?

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Your understanding looks good.

The 「た」 in 「~~[方]{ほう}が」 expresses a conditional state, not a past event.

It is just like how you say in English "If I had ~~", "If there were ~~", etc. You are not talking about past events when you use these conditionals.

Occasionally, though, you will encounter a situation where a native speaker might use the present tense with 「方が」, but again, that kind of thing would happen in any language.

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