Tipping Points

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A recent story in the Chicago Tribune discussed the merits and drawbacks of our tipping culture. The article focused on tipping in restaurants, but it got me to thinking about all the services for which tips are expected.

Do you tip the Starbucks barista? How about the doorman at a hotel? If you tip your hair stylist, do you need to give the assistant who shampoos your hair a separate tip? And don’t even get me started on how much to tip. Should you give 10%, 15%, or 20%? Does it vary according to the service? There is so much disparity and confusion about tipping that I propose an end to all of it.

One of the reasons for tipping is that the service personnel attending to our needs are often underpaid. Restaurant workers, for example, make well under the minimum wage, which is allowed because – you guessed it – they make extra money in tips. But why not just pay the servers, bussers, and bartenders a living wage and charge the prices needed to make the establishment profitable?

The advantages to this system seem obvious to me. First of all, restaurant workers will make a more steady income. Whether business is busy or slow at a particular time, workers will make the same wage. Secondly, all patrons will contribute to the livelihood of the workers instead of the more generous ones making up for the cheapskates. The same system could apply to hotel employees, taxi drivers, and the like. No longer would customers need to keep a supply of fives and ones in their pockets to dole out to these various service providers. I know I would feel more relaxed.

Naysayers will argue that doing away with tipping will remove the incentive to provide excellent customer service. I find that ridiculous. There are plenty of businesses that don’t rely on tipping. Their incentive to provide good service is simple. They want customers to come back. In fact, a restaurant near where I live does not allow tipping, yet their servers are some of the friendliest and most attentive I have met.

Some servers in tip-based industries object that they might make less money with a simple wage per hour system than they do now. This is possible, particularly in high-end establishments. But I’ve often thought it unfair that a waiter in an expensive steak house makes more in tips than a waitress at a local diner simply because the food is more expensive. In fact, a server at a diner possibly works harder in terms of the amount of attention given to each table. (Can you say, “More coffee”?)

The Tribune article cited the experiences of diners in Europe as an argument in favor of tipping. In Europe, a service charge is automatically added to the bill, no matter the size. Some travelers complained that, as a result, the service at European establishments was poor to indifferent. I think this is just the European way. I mean, really. I challenge anyone to find a waiter in Paris who greets them with enthusiasm.

I will continue to be a generous tipper as long as the system exists because I don’t want to see servers underpaid. But it’s time the system changed. You might say it’s “the tipping point” for change.

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3 thoughts on “Tipping Points

  1. This morning’s Chicago Tribune had a story about Marriott Hotels, which is planning to leave tip envelopes in their guest rooms so that customers remember to tip the housekeeper. Once again, relying on the largesse of strangers is not a substitute for a living wage.

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