Great Expectations? A Rant About Tipping in America

    Great Expectations? A Rant About Tipping in America

    The Trouble With Tipping 

    The practice of  tipping is pretty well established in the American service industry. We don’t think twice about handing over 15% – 20% of our bill after eating out in a restaurant. But lately the circle of those expecting to be tipped is getting bigger and bigger. From bartenders, waiters, bellmen, valets, doormen, cab drivers, car wash workers and maids, to delivery people, parking attendants, hairdressers, barbers, manicurists and tour guides – more and more people are getting line for your wallet. Lately even baby-sitters, mailmen, massage therapists, and acupuncturists expect to be tipped. Is tipping in America getting out of hand?

    Back in Europe, where I grew up, tipping was for receiving exceptional service. Besides, it was never greater than 5%-10% in restaurants, or just some small change for cab drivers, porters, barbers and hairdressers. But not here, in America, where money grows on trees! 

    handing out your credit card


    Tipping is No Longer Voluntary

    If you live in the USA you can expect to be asked for money quite often. Fundraisings, church donations, charities, cancer research, boy scouts, the list goes on and on. But what most of us never expected is being asked to leave a tip. If you used your credit card in a small business location lately, you might have noticed a mobile-payment system that prompts you to a screen where you are asked if you’d like to leave a tip of 15%, 20%, or 25% of your total. It looks something like this:

    Of course, you may choose to leave “No Tip,” but declining it under the scrutinizing eye of the clerk behind the register will surely make you feel like a jerk.  Ah, and did  you notice the omnipresent tipping jars that sprang up like mushrooms after the rain in almost every store? They are clearly marked, so as not to be mistaken for trash cans: “TIPS!” From bakeries, to coffee shops, to delis and pizzerias, the word has spread that if you put them out, they will be filled. And indeed they are, because most people feel ashamed to simply ignore them.   

    Way back when, tipping used to be about appreciation and generosity and at the customer’s discretion, but not anymore. Like many other things in this country, tipping is becoming an entitlement also. 


    Does Tipping in America Make Any Sense?

    If you kept reading so far, you may be thinking that I hate tipping, but you would be very wrong. Far from me to say that tipping should be abolished. On the contrary, I think tipping can be a great incentive or a reward. Unfortunately, in our society today tipping is motivated mainly by the desire to conform with the social norms, to compensate for poor wages, or to avoid future bad service. 

    We like to believe that we are tipping for good service, but do we? Leaving aside the obvious fact that everyone should be doing their job right, does tipping for good service really make sense? Let’s say you are a waiter on your first day on the job. You are doing the best that you can to get a good tip but at the end of the day, even though you treated all your customers with the same respect, some gave you a 20% tip, others 15% and some barely gave you anything. How exactly is tipping an incentive for you to continue treating every customer with the same consideration in the future? Wouldn’t this rather encourage you to judge people based on their aspect, color of skin or other criteria? And while we are on the subject of good service, how about if we start tipping our doctors and nurses as well? After all they are the ones from which we really need good service, don’t we? 


    Let’s Cut to the Chase

    America’s tipping system is obviously heading in the wrong direction. Tipping is no longer optional, it is now pretty much demanded. We are constantly being reminded that we have to tip our servers because they make half of the minimum wage. That their livelihood depends on us.

    First of all, that’s not always true. In California for instance, the tipped minimum wage is just a few cents below the standard minimum wage. And even when it IS true, why should that be the customer’s concern? If restaurants paid their servers correctly, maybe we could start tipping for the good reasons, rather than guilt, or shame. And maybe if the servers have decent wage we could even get some serious, professional waiters. Waiters who love their job and do it with passion, like in other countries. Not just some unskilled temporary workers or college students looking to make an extra buck in their spare time.

    tip money left on the restaurant table

    I wish this tipping issue wasn’t so complicated. Just tell me how much it costs and I’ll pay it. Don’t show me a price and when the bill comes surprise me with a 10% restaurant tax on top of which you expect me to pay a 20% tip for the added bonus of having the food delivered to my table. And if you think that good service means asking me how my food is just as I am swallowing my first bite, you should think again. But just in case you are curios what I consider a good waiter, you should read this:


    Whom Should We Tip and How Much?

    • At a restaurant, I don’t think twice about tipping the waitstaff. However, I believe it would be fair to tip according to the service I receive, not according to some arbitrary guidelines imposed by the restaurants. In most places I dine the service is below average, although the prices are not cheap. Why should I have to leave a 15%-18% tip?  

    • I would gladly leave a 15% -20% tip to a hairdresser who works on commission at a hair salon. However, if the hairdresser is the owner of the salon, she shouldn’t be tipped at all because she can charge whatever she considers right for her services. Nonetheless, all salon owners in California or New York expect a tip of minimum of 20%. 

    • I don’t mind leaving $5-6 dollars to the porter who carries a big cart to my room and unloads my ski equipment. However, tipping the valet who jumps to take my small carry on out of the trunk and then drops it next to me on the sidewalk, doesn’t seem right.

    • It’s just fair to leave a couple of dollars to the bartender if he made me a cocktail, but not for simply pouring me a drink, or for opening a bottle of beer.

    .• As a rule, I always tip for someone who does something special, or extra for me. If the FedEx guy helps me carry a heavy package inside, he deserves a tip. But if he just drops it on my porch, he just did his job.  If the mailman turns back to deliver a package because he just saw me coming home, he deserves a tip.


    People Whom You Shouldn’t Tip

    If you hand out tips to everyone around, you will get a get a lot of respect and consideration. People LOVE those who give them money, especially when they didn’t do anything to deserve it. But should you do it? The good new is that not everyone who thinks they deserve a tip should receive one. 

    Here is a list of people whom you shouldn’t tip for their services: cable guys, mailmen, plumbers, electricians, road service providers, uber drivers, independent tour guides, travel agents, flight attendants, boat captains and pilots, FedEx and UPS delivery guys, airport shuttle drivers, movers. These people receive a good compensation for what they do. Unless they do something special for you, something outside their duty, they shouldn’t be tipped. 

    Also, don’t feel ashamed to ignore the tip jar at the deli store, pizzeria, or other places. The fact that someone would welcome your tip doesn’t mean that you are expected to pay it.

    Tipping is about doing what you think it’s fair, not what others think it’s right. But if you feel compelled to tip just anybody for “friendliness and personal service,” by all means do it. And you can start with me, because I believe I deserve a tip for writing this article! How about that?