Tippin Ain’t Easy

In the news recently there have been restaurants in the U.S. that have started moving away from tipping, along with the sad stories of waitresses getting no tip at all for not doing their job to the customer’s liking. In all honesty I think it is surprising in many ways that the U.S. has kept gratuity the way it is for this long. As minimum wage has become one of the focuses of the country’s political attention it seems that the U.S. may be ready to experiment with the system used by most other countries in the world, or at the very least start thinking about tipping better.

In a perfect world tipping in the U.S. works where something like 10-15% of the meal’s prices work out to, along with the meager dollar or two they are guaranteed, a livable wage. This then allows for anything above that to work as an incentive for the waiter or waitress to provide exceptional service so as to make more money. On the whole it sounds like a great deal, waiters make more money by being better at their job and get instant feedback on how they are doing.

Somehow things haven’t worked out like this though… We all have a friend or relative or two that might think that a dollar a head or something like 10% gratuity is more than adequate for exceptional service, and they won’t be told otherwise. The problem is that while not all waiters and waitresses work in 50’s themed diners, their guaranteed wages are pretty much stuck there. When people hear about the 2 dollars and thirty cents or a similar figure that waiters make before tips they are usually pretty thrown and can’t understand how its really legal, but then somebody mentions tipping and the math gets complicated but it seems fine enough. The thing is waiters are often at the whim of the supply of customers provided to them without any way to really affect that, aside from slowly building a cult following of customers that will only come in while they’re working.

The number that most people are familiar with as being a customary tip is 15%. As the cost of living and inflation increase however minimum wage hasn’t quite kept up. The minimum wage for tipped workers has done even less to stay competitive and so things like 18% standard gratuity on certain checks or the number of 20% for quality service have popped up.

When these same sorts of figures are told to travelers, or vice versa when Americans are told they don’t have to tip when abroad there is definitely some disbelief. So from this phenomenon it seems that American’s lack of progress away from tipping is probably just cultural sticker shock from the prices that we would see on a menu if restaurants were forced to pay their employees all a standard wage. We have yet to adopt the inclusion of tax into our advertised prices and so adding a service charge to many would seem to be met with similar disapproval.

So far the main focus of the article has been on waiters and waitresses, those who get very little pay and so depend on tips in order to not live off of things like ramen and canned tuna. However, most people in the service industry in America accept tips. The people cutting your hair, moving your furniture and making your coffee all work hard in hopes of earning a little bit extra at the end of their interaction with you.

In the end I’ve lived in countries where tipping is nearly mandatory, in countries where a dollar’s tip is more than generous and in places where tipping isn’t even really thought about. In all honesty I think that tipping helps customers more than it does workers and those that rely on tips have probably been getting taken advantage of for a long time now in many respects. Tipping should definitely be an option but I hope that things like a dollar or two for good service become the trend in America and that I can pay for my food without thinking that my server wouldn’t be able to buy lunch at the restaurant they work at without me tipping generously. What are your experiences with tipping in America and Abroad? Do you think it’s time for the custom to stop or does it need an overhaul?