To Tip, or Not to Tip? – a Rant About Tipping in America

    To Tip, or Not to Tip? – a Rant About Tipping in America
    Last updated: July, 2018

    Is Tipping in the USA Getting Out of Hand?

    Tipping is one of the many things that shock first-time visitors to the US. Back in Europe where I grew up, tipping was a reward for good service. And it was optional, not “suggested!” Besides, it was never greater than 5%-10% in restaurants, or just some small change for cab drivers, porters, barbers and hairdressers. But American tipping system is a totally different ball game. It’s not considered a “reward”, but rather a humanitarian act intended improve the welfare of low paid workers! 

    The practice of tipping has become so embedded in the American culture, that certain workers take it for granted that they will receive a gratuity. Americans don’t think twice about handing over 15% – 20% of their bill after eating out in a restaurant. In the US you are expected to cough up a tip any time you receive a service. 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. 

    handing out your credit card

    Tipping in America is No Longer Voluntary

    If you live in the US you should expect to be asked for money contributions 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:

    chart for tipping in the USA

    Of course, you may choose to leave no tip, but the scrutinizing eye of the clerk behind the register will surely make you feel like a jerk. 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. 

    To Tip, or Not to Tip?

    After such a rant you probably think that I am against tipping, but you couldn’t be more wrong. I am actually a good tipper, but I believe in tipping as an incentive, or a reward, not as a substitute for poor wages. Nor do I believe that every service I receive should be tipped. If we would start tipping all those who work in public service, where would we get? Unfortunately these days tipping is motivated mainly by the desire to conform with the social norms, or to avoid future bad service. And that’s not right!

    Let’s Get to the Point

    America’s tipping system is obviously heading in the wrong direction. Leaving a gratuity 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 if it were 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 had a decent wage we could even get some serious, professional waiters. Waiters who know 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! 

    money left on the table for tipping in the USA

    And please don’t tell me that good service means asking how my food is just as I am swallowing my first bite. Or hit me with the check and the candid “whenever you are ready” phrase, while I still have half a glass of wine on the table. And in case you are curios what a good waiter is, read this:

    Whom Should You Tip and How Much?

    • At a restaurant, I don’t think twice about tipping the waitstaff. Unless the service was terrible, I’ll add 15% tip to the bill, BEFORE the tax. I am  NOT paying a tip on the tax. If the service was unacceptably bad, I won’t pay any tip. I had a couple of incidents like this over the years, but I called the waiter and explained to him why he wasn’t going to receive a tip from me. I believe it’s 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 then leave a 15%-18% tip?  

    • I would gladly leave a 10% -15% 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. As the owner 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 a few dollars to the porter who carries a big cart to my room and unloads my ski equipment. But 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 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 only 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

    So what happens if you don’t tip in America, some friends from Europe asked me last hear? In most cases you’ll just get a disapproving look, like you are a scum. But I heard stories about waiters who chase their customers to the door and yelled at them for not giving him a 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. 

    jar money for tipping in the USAHere is a list of people whom you shouldn’t tip for their services: cable guys, mailmen, plumbers, electricians, independent tour guides, travel agents, Uber drivers, flight attendants, boat captains and pilots, FedEx and UPS delivery guys, airport shuttle drivers, movers. These people receive a fair compensation for their job. 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, Starbucks, 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 about 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?