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Thoughts on Tipping

Written by Nickel - 21 Comments

My post the other day on how much to tip a tax cab driver stimulated a good bit of discussion, so I thought I’d follow by asking a substantially broader question…

What do you think about the practice of tipping in general?

I have a friend that spent several years in Australia and, upon his return, swore that he’d never complain about tipping again. This actually dovetails nicely with a comment from ‘chosha‘, who said:

Discussions like this make me so glad I live in Australia, where I’m not expected to use 20% of my spending money topping up the wages of underpaid service industry workers. Employers pay them less because tips are considered part of their pay, but it never makes the prices cheaper. Here we pay people properly and tip only for exceptional service. I don’t know anyone who’s ever tipped a taxi driver, because taxis are already so expensive. We usually leave some sort of tip for excellent service at a restaurant, but it’s not expected.

The downside, according to my friend, is that the level of service in restaurants in Australia was (in his experience) horrible compared to what you get in a typical restaurant in the United States. Thus, while it might seem logical for restaurants to simply raise their prices and pay their staff a higher wage, it seems that tipping might have its advantages.

What about tipping in other contexts?

Do you think it’s reasonable to be expected to tip your hairdresser, postal worker, or the guy behind the counter at the local taco stand who just happens to be enterprising enough to set out a tip jar? What are your limits?

Personally, I’m fine with tipping in most “normal” contexts, and we usually tip rather generously (especially when people have to deal with our sometimes messy kids). But this does beg the question of the limits of “normal,” and I don’t really have a good answer.

Why is it that we tip some individuals in the service industry, but not others?

Published on January 25th, 2008 - 21 Comments
Filed under: Miscellany

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21 Responses to “Thoughts on Tipping”

  1. 1
    Andy2 Says:

    I think it also has to do with the culture. I have spent the last couple summers in Italy and Greece, and the service is certainly “worse.” I think the expectations are just different though. In Italy, I think it is just expected that if you need something from your waiter, you say something or gesture or somehow get his attention to come to you. Also, I think when you dine out you are expected to take more time and spend a couple hours, so speedy service is not a necessity. Just my thoughts.

  2. 2
    Lily Says:

    Tipping is not customary in Japan, and in fact servers will outright refuse tips. But the service is still impeccable.

  3. 3
    KMunoz Says:

    Agree with Andy2… in Europe, service is generally slower, but meals take a lot longer (2+ hours for dinner out) than in the U.S., so your request for water isn’t met with the same urgency as it might be here.

    That being said, I usually give my hairdresser a generous tip because a good haircut/style is important to me, and it’s hard to find someone who can deal with my hair the way I like. For other places, I tip a standard amount — but if the service was exceptional one way or the other, I’ll adjust it accordingly. I guess we tip extra for services we value more.

  4. 4
    kitty Says:

    Depends on how they are paid. In the US, service industry employees are paid less and tips are considered part of their salary. So I don’t mind tipping here. Not sure about postal workers, though, as they get adequate salary and benefits. In other countries – e.g. in Europe, service employees paid normal salaries, so tips are only given when they go above and beyond and are generally much smaller than in the US.

    In terms of service in restaurants in Europe being worse, you need to be aware of some cultural differences before you judge. I read an interesting discussion once when someone complained about the UK and a British guy living in the US responded. What he said was that the definition of “good service” is different there. For example, over there people who come to restaurants want to be left alone and often find American “is everything OK?” a bit annoying and intrusive. They feel that if they need something, they’ll ask, but they don’t want their own conversation interrupted. Additionally, over there if a waiter or waitress brings a bill, it is considered impolite, like they are telling you “it is time for you to leave”. People often come to restaurants there not just to eat, but to spend time there, talk. They don’t want to leave immediately after finishing the meal. Consequently, the waiters expect to be asked for the bill when customers are ready to leave, not just bring it. Consequently, we shouldn’t assume bad service simply because we are made to wait for the bill: unless we ask for it, it’s not going to be brought to us.

    Personally, I encountered different service in Europe in different places. It was excellent in Germany, but, yes, I had to ask for the bill. In Italy and the UK it varied.

    I have a cousin who lives in Germany (but grew up in Russia). When she came to the US last time we travelled together. She was always bothered by our tipping habit: “why doesn’t anybody tip my mother who also doesn’t earn much and who works in a factory where they don’t even have an air conditioner in summer?”. I explained to her that in the US their salaries are low because they expect to get tips, but it was still a bit difficult for her to understand. At the same time, when I tipped the porter at the hotel because he warned us we wouldn’t make it to our plane if we waited for the bus and got us a taxi, she gave him more money because she said he did more than what he was supposed to.

  5. 5
    Owen Says:

    I’m normally a generous tipper but there are some situations where I hate that I’m pressured to tip. The biggest one is at the fancy coffee houses. I’m pretty basic. I like black coffee. No cream, no sugar, no flavor shots, no extra shots of espresso, no mocha frapa chino something or another. But when I grab my coffee and go frequently the person looks at me like they are shocked I didn’t put anything in the tip jar. This is pretty much the reason I try to avoid these places and stick with Dunkin Donuts if I need a caffeine fix when I’m on the road.

  6. 6
    Danielle Says:

    The tipping at nicer hair salons bothers me. I have always been the $10.00 haircut person (although now its more like $13!), and I recently started going somewhere where the base price is $22.

    I’m paying more for a more experienced person, so why do I need to tip as well?

  7. 7
    plonkee Says:

    As a Brit I concur with kitty. I do not want a waiter hovering over me as I eat. Good service should be unobtrusive, and we have much more of a negative politeness culture (it’s ruder to interfere than ignore).

    I hate tipping. Service should be included in the price. To me, it also seems slightly demeaning – almost like a bribe.

  8. 8
    KC Says:

    I’m a better tipper at places where I’m a regular (regular restaurants, TCBY, my massage therapist – who is also a good friend) or where the folks aren’t paid much (cheap restaurants, Fantastic Sams, hotel maids, newspaper delivery guy). I get better service that way, because they remember me.

    I’m much more likely to leave a 20-25% tip at a cheap place than an expensive one. After all $2.50 on a $10 check is nothing. But $40 instead of $30 on a $200 check is a different matter. But if I eat at an expensive restaurant with many waitpersons, maitre d’s, etc and they provide good service – then I’ll tip more – 18-20%.

    But personally I don’t care for tipping as a practice. That being said, I’m not willing to take it out on the waiter because they chose a poor paying profession. But I am much less likely to frequent a place that makes tipping seem like a requirement – restaurants, Starbucks, cabs, bars etc.

  9. 9
    vh Says:

    So you go into a sandwich shop where you stand in line for 10 or 15 minutes to order a prepackaged “Caesar” salad (scare quotes used advisedly) and a pop from the counter. The counter clerk takes your money and hands you an empty cup and a plastic box full of pre-cut iceberg lettuce over which someone has poured a dollop of bottled dressing.

    You pour your own pop. Then you wait until someone gets up from a table and you sit down at their soiled table in their still-warm seat. When you are done eating, you bus your own table.

    Do you tip the person at the counter?

    Why? If you would tip the counter staff, isn’t that a bit like giving a hand-out to a panhandler?

    P.S. In this true-life lunch emporium, one of the counter clerks added an extra 50 cents to the tip the last time I charged a meal there. And I DO mean “the last time.”

  10. 10
    MITBeta Says:

    I always feel guilty about writing —-0 in on a charge slip when I get take-out. As VH wondered, do you have to tip counter staff? I would tip them if I were paying cash, but on a charge slip you have to actually write in Zero and the total…

  11. 11
    Ron@TheWisdomJournal Says:

    I don’t write zero there, I just circle the amount and sign the slip.

    I went through the drive in at a Starbucks and they had the wherewithal to put a tip jar on the shelf that hung outside the drive up window.
    What’s up with THAT?

    I work in and office and have thought about putting a tip jar on my desk with a few bucks in it for laughs.

  12. 12
    EJ Says:

    Americans are usually in a hurry with everything they do. Restaurants will rush you out so they can fill the table again and again. Today the wait staff will even start clearing the table while you’re still eating. When I’m in France for instance, I can relax knowing it will be a two hour meal and I won’t be disturbed by staff. Do I really have to know the servers names and have a conversation. I say raise the wages and if the staff are poor, tell the manager or just don’t go back. We have far to many bad restaurants as it is. And really, twenty percent is ridiculous. But, that’s what I will tip until things change.

  13. 13
    Sam Says:

    We tip servers 15% for adequate service and 20% for good service. I tip my hair dresser 20% and I give her a holiday season tip equal to the cost of a hair cut $75. I also give my dog walker a holiday season tip of $50. I have a long and good relationship with my hair dresser and dog walker. Otherwise I’m not much for tipping. I don’t put cash in the bowl at a counter (one of my pet peeves as those folks are paid full wages). And I hate valet parking, almost standard in So. Fla., but I tip those guys a couple of bucks if I’m forced to use the service (i.e. no self park).

  14. 14
    Minimum Wage Says:

    Tipping? People, yes. Cows, no.

  15. 15
    Jason L Says:

    The entire concept of tipping in the States annoys me to no end. I consistently tip minimally. The wait staff almost invariably disappoints me, and if they’re leaving it up to me to pay according to my satisfaction, then that’s the price they “pay.” What spoiled me, is the large amount of time I’ve spent in Japan (where I’m currently living). The service here is light years ahead of what I get back home in the U.S., and I don’t have to childishly dangle a carrot in front of their face to get it. How does this work in Japan, if there is no bribe incentive? It’s quite simple. The people have pride in their work. From janitors, and McDonald’s drive-thru clerks, all the way up, the people take pride in their work. Sadly, we don’t have that in America. Instead we have the “I just work here” mentality.

    This goes for barbers, wait staff, etc. If you’re not getting paid enough, don’t work there. If you deserve more for your work, then charge more. Don’t give me half-a** service, and then have the gall to expect me to shell out EXTRA money for you.

    Tipping is an anachronism, and needs to end.

  16. 16
    H Lee D Says:

    In food establishments, I don’t tip anyone who doesn’t give table service. I’m not tipping for the food itself, I’m tipping for service. So anywhere that I go to a counter and walk away with food or drink, I do not tip.

    I always put a line through the “tip” line on the slip (if I pay credit) because I’ve had a slip altered to add a tip (turning 13 into 18). Because of this, I try to remember to bring enough cash.

    In places where tip is added automatically, I do not add a tip (generally for “parties of 8 or more”). If they’ve already decided that 18% is what they’re getting, then that’s what they get.

    Otherwise, I think tips are asked for in places where the person providing the service has out-of-pocket expenses for their trade, like cab drivers and haridressers. That’s why it is customary *not* to tip hairdressers who work from home/own their own business – they are setting their own prices. But in a salon, that is less true, and they have to rent their space and buy their own supplies.

  17. 17
    Jessica Says:

    I have worked in the service industry for nearly ten years (since my fist job at 15). It has provided me with extra cash, money to pay my rent, put me through school, taught me everything I know about patience, integrity, conflict resolution and time-management, and help me build hundreds of relationships with co-workers and customers alike.

    I HATE the tipping system!

    The issues with the tipping system are extensive. The first of which being that it is absurd that the owners of these establishments are able to pay their employees a mere $2.13/hr (the national required server minimum wage)! It should not be the customers responsibility to pay these restaurants’ employees, and it is unfair to the servers to have to rely on the generosity of their guest.

    I have also traveled through Europe and was consistently disappointed with the service. I attribute this to a combination of culture difference and worker indifference. I actually worked in a cafe in England, getting paid minimum wage. I was making far less money than I ever did in an American restaurant, far less was expected of me, and admittedly, I put forth much less effort.

    The other issue that many people do not realize is that the tipping system of a restaurant is often not confined to the wait staff. As a server, every shift I must tip the bus boy, the food runner, the shucker (I work in a seafood restaurant) and the bartender. This system is different in every restaurant, but here is an example of how this works for me:

    You spend $200 on dinner and leave me a generous $50 tip. I then tip out 5% to my food runner, $2.50; 5% to my bartender, $2.50; 10% to my buss boy, $5, and a small amount to my shucker .50. That leaves me with $39.50. These amounts are generally calculated based on my total tips for the night, and amount to nearly 25% of my income! This is because not only do I get paid a sub-minimum wage, but all of my support staff do as well – a great deal for the payroll department and a real bummer for five people when I get a low tip.

    My hourly wage does not even cover my tax withholdings(I shelled out an extra $500 last year), causing me to get void $0 paychecks. I depend solely on my tips to pay my electricity, my rent, my tuition, and feed me.

    I would love nothing more to get paid a decent hourly wage with tips as a “bonus” for excellent service, but for whatever reason, that’s just not how we do it.

    All that being said, I love my job. I love my regular customers and the people I get to meet. I do make a decent living – much better than if I was a secretary or a store clerk, and I truly appreciate people who tip 20%.

    Write a letter to your congressperson and ask them to raise service workers’ minimum wage!

  18. 18
    MITBeta Says:

    My understanding is that all workers in the US have to make minimum wage, so if, for example, a restaurant has zero business during a shift, the business is required to make up the difference between the regular server’s wage and minimum wage. This is also true if you get stiffed or just don’t make much in tips in a given night.

    That probably still doesn’t help, since minimum wage isn’t worth much, and I’m sorry that I can’t cite a reference for this information.

  19. 19
    Jessica Says:

    MITBeta: that is correct, though the average is calculated on a weekly basis, not by night. It is often very difficult to get any compensation for things like, stiffing, slow business, etc, due to a lack of regulation and job security – I once filed a complaint about payroll/withholding practices with the IRS and state labor board and was subsequently fired for being three minutes late (a valid justification in the state I was working in at the time). I suppose it might have been a coincidence.

    It’s a tough business to be in, but it can be extremely rewarding – I just recently finished school (MA in Political Media) and got a full time position in my field, but still work at the restaurant on weekends because my starting salary is about $5,000 less than my average restaurant year.

    Oh, and as far as tipping takeout/counter people, etc., being someone familiar with staff attitudes, I would say that it isn’t necessary, but if the person goes out of their way for you it is a nice gesture. Most people I know that work these jobs see tips as a bonus and would never expect it.

  20. 20
    Margaret Says:

    I’m surprised nobody has already pointed out that USPS employess are not allowed to accept cash. (Though many people look the other way about that rule around the holidays)

    Tip jars just tick me off. I don’t tip at Dunkin donuts, Cold Stone, etc.

    I don’t tip the lady who cuts my hair and my children’s hair because she’s the owner. Traditionally a salon owner is not tipped, but a lot of people don’t seem to know that these days.

  21. 21
    Justin H. Says:

    I agree that tipping is getting out of hand.

    The Starbucks tip jar is a perfect example. I’m paying 3-4 bucks for a cup of drip already. A simple Thank You and a smile seems enough, no?

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