Let me give you a tip

The BBC News website has had an interesting wee discussion going surrounding the practice of tipping. As anyone who has ever visited the US will know this is the source of many awkward moments (especially when you realise you’ve run out of change!) as tipping in the US is not really optional but compulsory…well you can choose not to tip, but chances are the waitress will then choose to pour you’re coffee all over you and the taxi driver will “accidentally” reverse over your luggage as he drives away in a huff! ;D

Of course by contrast, in some other countries tipping is a serious social faux pas. In this article the beeb relate a few samples of people’s horror stories about what happened when they failed to tip sufficiently (and got it thrown back in their face) or indeed when they tipped someone in a country where tipping a waitress can get you into trouble (she might think you’re trying to proposition her or something!).

I was actually put off tipping somewhat by my experience in the US. As the beeb article highlights you have to tip everyone for everything under the sun. For example, I was on the train and bought a coffee for about a dollar, I didn’t leave a tip because in Ireland giving someone a 10-20% tip on such a small amount would be considered insulting. Anyway the guy gets into a right huff over it |-|.

My first day in NY I saw a waitress chase four blocks after someone who failed to leave an adequate tip (funny thing was, I’d been talking to her and she was Polish!). Another traveller told me how he failed to tip the barman in a bar, even though in his country (as in Ireland) you would not tip a barman for a single drink (again, it would be considered insulting, if you started buying rounds, you’d normally tell them to keep the change or add an extra 10% to the tip jar). As a result that was the last pint served to him that night in that bar! The bar man simply ignored him and refused to serve him another drink!

And as the BBC article highlights tip jars have started to proliferate both in the US and Europe. You can expect in some places to pay a tip to the person who hands you a sandwich, then pay a tip to another person at the till. And there seems to be no logic to who gets a tip and who does not. A taxi driver (hardly low wage workers) gets a tip, but the cabin crew on a plane or the driver of a bus does not. You’ll tip someone in a restaurant, or a barman, or the doorman of a hotel, but not someone in a fast food restaurant or an off license till nor the hotel receptionist.

So it would seem you’ll tip to ensure “good service” the person who carries you’re Burger the 10ft from the kitchen to you’re table, but not the postman who carries a parcel several miles, nor the person responsible for you’re safety at 30,000ft nor the person who handles you’re finances, even though many of these jobs are also fairly low wage :crazy:.

Welfare tax?
As one American lamented to me the tipping rate in the US has also been gradually creeping up. It used to be that 10% was sufficient. Then it went up to 15%, now even 20% will get you sneered at. Of course there is a very obvious explanation for all of this. The minimum wage in America is too low. Indeed often in jobs where tipping is expected workers can be paid below the minimum wage, some less than $3 an hour (that’s IDS and his Welfare Chain Gang sort of rates!). Waiter’s and barmen rely on those tips to make it worth their while showing up for work at all!

But of course as living costs have risen (due to inflation, etc.) yet the minimum wage has not risen as quickly the resulting shortfall that tips need to meet has increased, hence why you need to leave a larger tip. So in essence tipping in the US is essentially a sort of welfare tax as a consequence of America’s low minimum wage rates. Which sort of makes a mockery of many of America’s claims to be a “low tax” economy (once you factor in this 20% “tipping tax” you suddenly find you’re paying a lot more in tax in the US than Europe!).

Of course, I would argue that this completely undermines the whole argument behind having a minimum wage to begin with. It would seem more sensible to raise the minimum wage, make tipping purely optional (for good service) and the expectation that someone being paid to do a job will actually do it and get sacked if they perform badly or throw a tantrum in front of customers.

Tipping is also somewhat unfair and discriminatory, not all tips are equal. As the Beeb article points out there is statistical evidence to suggest that if you are white, female and particularly young and pretty you can expect more from you’re tips than someone who is older, male or worse – black or Hispanic (even from other customers from an ethnic minority!). On the other side of the table, those with mental heal issues find the whole social awkwardness of tipping quite stressful, particularly if they get their sums wrong, fail to tip adequately (or simply are faced with a greedy waiter who expects over the odds in tips) and get abused and slagged off (which they are mentally ill equipped to cope with).

Ban tipping?
Indeed some US restaurants seem to be acknowledging the problems that this policy causes and have been trying to get around it. Some US restaurants will now calculate your bill with an optional 15-20% extra service fee included on the bottom, which you can choose to pay or not. Others have simply banned tipping of staff, raised the staff wages and slapped a compulsory 10% service charge on all bills to compensate. There’s even a website up calling for tipping to be banned outright.

Now Americans would counter that the point of tipping is to ensure good service. But I would struggle to rate the service in the US as being any better than in the UK, even though here tipping is far from compulsory. Furthermore, in cultures where there is no tipping (such as Singapore or Scandinavia) I would actually rate my experience of service there higher than in the UK (or US)…which probably has something to do with the higher wages paid to staff!

And of course I would argue that the “penalty” for poor service shouldn’t be the waiter’s tip is withheld. It’s that the manager gets called and the waiter gets a pink slip and a boot out the door.

So while I understand the reason behind America’s tipping culture and I’m not going to go all Mr Pink on the subject (I still do tip). But I’d argue it’s a system that’s ad hoc, generally unfair (if not a tad racist & sexist) and low paid staff are better served by just being paid a higher basic salary rather than having to rely on social peer pressure to pay the rent.

2 thoughts on “Let me give you a tip

  1. I give tips in restaurants 15 -20% but not taxis as they overcharge these days!
    and i object to tipping hairdressers even when they hover around smiling while charging 50 quid for 3/4 hr work!


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