When paying for a good or service, tipping is probably one of the messiest parts. It’s awkward and confusing, and highly based on superficial factors. In my view, both the people paying and the servers being paid would be much better off without it. And, guess what? This is all coming from a working busboy.
So what did I mean by superficial factors? Here’s an example: A common practice is to give someone who brings you your food 15 percent of whatever the bill is. If your end bill is $30, you leave them a $4.50 gratuity. It’s a seemingly reasonable, but actually completely arbitrary percentage. Following this rule, that would mean that we give a bigger tip to a server who brought us, say, a lobster compared to a salad. The lobster wasn’t “harder to carry,” it was just more expensive on the bill, which means the poor waiter left carrying the salad just got shafted for no discernible reason.
But, then again, we don’t always leave a 15 percent tip. Sometimes, we decide to give a larger gratuity to servers who, for whatever reason, seem to rise above the rest. And how do we classify “better” servers? The answer, prejudiced as it is, really shouldn’t surprise you. Studies have shown the waiters who get tipped the most aren’t the ones with the quickest, best quality service. The waiters who the get the biggest tips turn out to be blonde, thin, big-breasted white women. This is great for the voluptuous blonde women looking to get into the restaurant business. But for people like me, being a man who is neither voluptuous nor blond, it’s an inherent disadvantage.
Most restaurants here in the U.S. form their workers’ wages automatically assuming their employees are going to be tipped, meaning that they have a justification in paying them the least they can — minimum wage. Whatever the establishment doesn’t pay their employees, the costumers are supposedly going to make up for it in gratuities. But, as we discussed above, what the customer leaves is often grossly unfair. It’s based on what food they are eating and how the waiter looks, with actual service perhaps an afterthought.
But wait, tipping does increase the quality of service, right? The answer to this one is not as clear cut as it may seem on the surface. After all, servers want to keep their job. I knew if I just stopped serving customers, I’d probably be fired. The money incentive is still there — I want to stay employed and, thus, paid. If it were up to me, I would have tipping abolished and the minimum wage raised, making it fairer across the board for everyone involved. After all, not everyone in the restaurant always gets a percentage of the tip, and, just sometimes, a few waiters might feel a little bit greedy and decide to keep the whole tip for themselves.
Perhaps one of the worst parts of tipping is its lack of consistency around the world. While I was abroad in Southeast Asia, more than once I found myself at a loss as to when to leave a gratuity. “So I don’t tip the person who gave me a haircut… but I tip the taxi driver?” There were definitely some culture shock moments when I went to leave a tip, only to find the person at the other end utterly confused, perhaps even a little offended at me trying to hand them money. Of course, looking at it from their perspective, I am starting to realize that tipping looks suspiciously like a bribe. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there’s a correlation between the amount of tipping and corruption in a country.
I believe walking into a restaurant knowing that a gratuity charge has already been considered takes a little bit more stress off my mind. If the service happened to be exceptionally good, I wouldn’t object to leaving a little something extra. But, if the waiter kept spilling spaghetti all over me, I’d probably take it up with the manager. Otherwise, I just want to eat my meal without worrying about some random amount of money to leave for my server to compensate for what their employers should be paying them in the first place.
Of course, I am going to continue tipping. Not leaving a tip, especially in this country, wouldn’t be accomplishing anything, and would make me look more like a jerk than anything else. Until we get the customers, servers, and restaurants all in agreement, I’d say the messy institution of tipping is (unfortunately) here to stay.
Jay Grafft is thinking about bleaching his hair for the tips.