Tipping is a distinctly American practice. This societal phenomenon is purportedly important because of its economic magnitude, and also its implications of behavioural economics. Dating back centuries, tipping or gratuity as some call it has been a way of showing appreciation for the service you receive. Whether that is still the case nowadays is debatable.
Today, tipping is not about rewarding an act of service well done. Tipping is not a means of showing your generosity. Tipping is an etiquette that is expected of you regardless the quality of service you received.
For many foreigners, tipping is a custom that is complicated and even at times, frustrating. As someone who only just moved to the US, I was confused by the tipping culture. Who do you tip? How much should you tip?
For those of you who are not familiar with the tipping culture in the US, tipping is expected of customers after receiving a form of service. The most popular form is after one eats in a restaurant. In any restaurant where you are served at your table, the bill at the end of your meal will include a line for you to write how much you want to give for gratuity. Generally gratuity fees are between 15-20% of your total payment (before tax). How much to tip is usually at the discretion of the customer but if you don’t tip enough, waiters/waitresses will tell you that it’s not good enough. Hence this calls into question the validity of tipping in a midst of social awkwardness, feelings of obligations and random calculations following meals.
More and more, tipping has become a social debate and the cause of controversy among many people. Some see it as a means of avoiding tax while others claim tipping has lost its original good intentions. In a utopia, customers who are generous tippers would receive better service than those who tip less. The more you give, the more you receive. Simple logic. In reality that is often not the case. Often customers who received far from good service are still expected to give tips. The ugly truth is that when tipping becomes a mandatory payment, you are not ‘tipping’ but rather you are paying an obligatory service fee. People tend to tip out of social obligation as opposed to tipping because they want to.
The economic element in the tipping culture engenders problems for people from both ends of the trade. Most employees would prefer to receive a decent guaranteed wage and many customers are uncomfortable and reluctant in the tipping process. It seems that both parties would be better off if the tipping culture changed. However, the party that does benefit from tipping is corporations and business owners. By paying a third of the wage, employers give the burden of paying labour costs to customers. The onus of ensuring that employees in these service jobs can make ends meet is on the customer. Employees who receive tips are paid $2.13 given that the tips they receive in addition to the direct wages add to more than the federal minimum wage ($7.25). So as a result, employees who work in service rely on tips as a means of survival.
Waiter Dublanica, who worked in New York restaurants for seven years, said, “If you don’t tip, I can’t pay the rent. But the reality is you can work hard and get no tips and do nothing and get good tips.” There certainly exists a discriminatory element when tipping. A waiter who provided excellent service may be tipped less than another waiter who provided only mediocre service because of variables such as race that come into play in the mind-set of a customer. Michael Lynn, of Cornell University School of Hotel Administration claims that “both black and white diners tip white servers more than black ones.” Moreover, what is interesting is that the quality of service does not correlate to the amount of the tip in many cases according to a research carried out by Lynn.
The realm of tipping has a surfeit of variables. There are many inconsistencies and at times it’s baffling to foreigners are why the tipping custom is still such an ingrained aspect of everyday life in America. In certain restaurants where the gratuity fee is specifically stated, why bother calling it a tip? If tipping is about rewarding acts of service why do we tip the hotel maid but not the school janitor? Tipping has long lost its significance and original intentions. So how long will these math equations at the end of every meal drag on for?
“To tip or not to tip… or should it be banned?” Geoghegan, Tom. Web. BBC News Magazine, 13th June 2013.
“What is the minimum wage for workers who receive tips?” Web, The United States Department of Labour.