I hate tipping. Like Mr. Pink, I think the whole system is ridiculous. Like Mr. Pink, I bow to societal pressures and do it anyhow.
Growing up, the standard tip was 10%. Nowadays, it is between 15 and 20%. Has service gotten that much better? I think is has. But not that much. There is no connection between the tipping amount and service rendered. In many cases, I’ve seen the exact opposite phenomona. Servers who are so incompetent that they mess everything up, but seem so harried that they get big tips for “having such a tough night”.
One of my frustrations is an ability to use tips to reward or punish. Many meals I think the server does a great job, but the food was terrible. Or the food was great, but the server was terrible. Or both were good people, but the corporate systems they were obviously constrained by ruined the whole experience. There’s no way to designate where your tip money goes.
It is also not connected with how much work the server performs. Last night I ate at a fancy steak house, and the bill was $120. A standard percentage-based tip would be about $20. I have lunch often at a local pizza joint, the bill is just under $5. A standard percentage-based tip would be about $0.80. I do not think the server at the steak joint worked 25 times as hard as the waitress as the pizza joint. In fact, servers at fancy places often do less — they have separate employees to bus tables, get bread, refill drinks, bring your food.
Because of this, I use a sliding scale for tipping. I just don’t see how working at a fancy place entitles you to so much more money. So I give more at the cheap place, less at the expensive one. In fact, I usually give $1.25 at the pizza place (a 26% tip), and I tipped $13 last night (11%). The worker at the steak place still got over 10 times as much as the pizza waitress, mostly for wearing a nice looking suit. (Well, he did have one of those little scrapers to clean the tablecloth at the end of the meal. That’s always worth a couple o’ bucks from me.)
And the eternal question, what situations do you tip in? I remember when Howard Stern was informed you were supposed to tip gas station attendants who filled your tank. “Really? Seriously? Geez, who knew that?” was his take. It turned out everyone did know that except him. Hilarity ensued. In New Jersey, the law is that you can’t pump your own gas. (A truly weird law. How many problems are there with pumping your own gas? Most states seem to get along just fine.) So why would I tip this person, I didn’t even have a choice!
The same kind of incident happened to me recently at a carwash. The last stage involves a bunch of obviously illegal underpaid ethnics hand rubbing the car down. I got a dirty look when I got in my car and drove off. I was later informed that I was supposed to tip them. Why would I tip them, isn’t that what I paid for at the front desk? Why did I tip my moving people, isn’t that what I paid them for in the first place? What is the rule here — if there is any manual labor involved, they get tipped? I should be tipping my Desktop Support people at work, they are the ones who really have to do customer service.
I wish I could just opt-out. But sadly, the tables are rigged. Most of these people count on their tips for much of their wages. To strike a blow against the system is to strike a blow against the very people who are victimized by the system on an hourly basis. Sigh. And of course if anyone at your table has ever worked in the food industry themselves, you’d better tip. You had just better tip, fella! The whole system stinks. But it’s The Social Contract, there’s no way out. Did Rousseau get mad about tipping?