For a long time, tipping waiters, waitresses and other service industry employees has been viewed as commonplace in the United States. We understand the social expectation of tipping, as well as that in many industries where tipping is standard, employees make very low wages and actually depend on additional sums to get by. But most of the world doesn’t work this way. In fact, many international citizens visiting America might find the concept of tipping downright strange, and similarly many Americans vacationing abroad quickly discover that tipping is weird and uncommon. But which side has it right? Here are a few points on both sides of the debate….
You Shouldn’t Tip Because….
The system is blatantly unfair. Tipping is entirely up to each individual customer. Using a restaurant scenario as an example, the guy before you might leave 18% for his waiter because that’s his standard practice. But maybe you’re younger and operating on a tighter budget, and it’s a fairly casual meal, and 15% sounds about right to you. Who’s to say which of you is “correct?” Is it fair to the waiter to have a portion of his income decided by the amount you feel comfortable tipping?
You don’t always know where the money’s going, anyway. Again, I’ll use the restaurant scenario. At many establishments, servers pool their tip money and divide it evenly – meaning if you leave a 20% tip for a job well done on the part of your own server, you may be providing equal reward to some person across the restaurant who was providing horrible service to another group of tables. Or consider another situation entirely. Maybe you have such a wonderful meal and experience that you want to reward the restaurant as a whole with a big tip. You know who might not see any of that money? The chef who cooked the meal, the team that planned the menu, the owner who hired the chef, etc. Often, a great experience at a service industry establishment depends on a team approach that can’t easily be rewarded with tip money.
You don’t have to. This approach may sound cynical, but by tipping for service you’re participating in a system that, as mentioned, is unfair to employees. You’re dictating the income of a server when that should be done by the owner of the restaurant, who ought to be providing a living wage. Of course, if in the short term you decide to stop tipping, all you’re accomplishing is screwing over servers within this system. Still, change doesn’t come about randomly.
You Should Tip Because….
Servers need the money, plain and simple. It’s a sad situation, but in the U.S., most service industry workers are paid barely enough to get by, the assumption being that they can supplement small paychecks with tip money. Fair or unfair, that’s how it is right now.
It’s a classy gesture. It may seem weird to international citizens, and it may be borderline silly from an economic standpoint, but neither of those things makes the concept of tipping wrong. Ideally, the system would work both ways, with service industry professionals making adequate wages, and tipping serving more as a bonus or gesture of a job particularly well done. Either way, however, there is a personal aspect to eating out or engaging with other service industries. You speak to, make requests of, and sometimes enjoy the company of your server, and if the experience is richer because of it it’s perfectly classy to leave a tip to show your appreciation. Just because your sister’s new French boyfriend thinks it’s weird doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. In fact, if he’s bitching at you about tipping, just ignore him completely.
There’s a common argument about incentives, and it’s perfectly legitimate. Basically, if service industry employees depend on tips, they’re theoretically more likely to offer good service and to be pleasant to customers. If on the other hand their wages were all they needed, they might not feel obligated to do more than the bare minimum. Naturally that’s an unfair statement to plenty of honest employees who take pride in their work, but the basic theory definitely has something to it, fair or unfair.
Which side of the debate has it right? No idea – probably neither, completely. I still leave tips because it’s how I grew up. I enjoy the opportunity to help someone out when he or she does a particularly good job, and if I’m honest I don’t mind being able to show my displeasure when someone in a service industry is a jackass. That said, I recognize some of the inherent injustice in the system. What do you think?