Critique of Tipping System

Here’s a Tip: Don’t

For years, I have followed social protocol and tipped restaurant serving personnel the standard 15%, going up to 20% when I felt especially generous or when the service was exceptional. I have tucked a little something under the hair gel bottle for my hairstylist. I will invariably fold a few into the palm of the valet parking attendant, and reluctantly extricate a fiver for the faceless housekeeping staff at the hotel.

I have been thinking a lot about the outdated practice of tipping and feel I must stop this nonsense immediately. I am, essentially, subsidizing the salaries of the lower paid professions. If a burger and a beer cost $10.00, I would much rather be charged $12.00 and be spared the awkwardness of tipping. This would put the onus of the provision of superior service on the employer, where it should be. After all, a tip traditionally is given as a reward for the delivery of good service. However, good service should not be dependent on whether the provider of the service receives a monetary reward from the customer. With the increased employment cost, the employer would be responsible for hiring top-notch employees. I, as the consumer, would expect that the restaurant that charges $15.00 for the burger and beer would be paying higher wages and therefore be retaining better quality staff. Should I not receive good service, I would stop patronizing that particular establishment.

Currently, the concept of tipping simply does not work. I cannot fire bad restaurant personnel or my hair stylist. We all know that if you neglect to leave a tip for the waiter, all you will get next time, from the waiter with an excellent memory, is even worse service as punishment for not leaving him or her a tip the previous time. Your hairstylist, also endowed with the gene for brilliant memory, will keep you waiting an inordinate amount of time past your set appointment or worse, do his or her best to make you look like a nerd when you walk out of the salon. It is a veritable fact that tipped employees spend more time keeping meticulous notes on their customers’ tipping habits than on how to improve the level of service they provide.

Now, I used to work in the hospitality industry when I was going to university and can tell you that my tips provided me with more than enough to live on (for a student). I rarely cashed a paycheck; it would always go directly into my bank account. I also know that in many circumstances the tip I received had little relationship with the service I provided the customer. I recall on extremely busy nights, some unlucky customer seemed to be kept waiting an hour for a table, then had to wait an unforgivable amount of time before I could even take their order, and wouldn’t you know it, theirs was the order that the kitchen lost or blotched. I would cringe as they walked out the door, only to find a twenty-dollar bill waiting for me. More commonly, waiters can recall customers who they shared their best jokes with, rushed around panting to please, fulfilling their every desire, only to find that nothing awaited them at bill payment time.

On a recent trip to Savannah, Georgia I was shocked to see that restaurants had taken steps to ensure that the latter situation did not occur. The majority of restaurants stated on the menu that a 20% gratuity would automatically be added to the bill of parties of six or more (we were six). At some establishments, they advised that they also had the right to tack on this 20% gratuity if the parties requested separate bills. We felt we had now lost the tipping game. The tipping process had effectively been removed from our control. The personnel would receive the gratuity whether we wanted them to or not, independent of whether or not good service was provided.

Tipping also offers some awkward moments with valet parking. Do you tip the smiling young fellow that takes your car away to park, or do you tip the guy that retrieves it from the lot and delivers it to you? I have a big issue with tipping the hotel housekeeping staff. Am I not paying $150 a night for a clean room? What are the consequences of not tipping a taxi driver? If you ask them the cost of driving from the airport to your hotel, you will most likely be told it is $25.00 or whatever. You do not expect a supplementary explanation of, “But if you want me to get you there in one piece and by the shortest route possible, don’t even think of not leaving me a tip.”

If I tip my child’s schoolteacher, should I expect my child to receive more attention from her? Why do we not tip government employees who go out of their way to avoid giving us the runaround? I would be more than willing to. I am also in favor of tipping the postal delivery person who unfailingly delivers my mail to my mailbox instead of my neighbor’s.

Not to single out restaurant serving personnel, but if we all stopped tipping, the staff could not continue to deliver bad service, since the owner would surely catch on and fire them. The restaurant owner seeing the loss of business due to bad service would be forced to pay higher hourly wages in order to attract better quality staff. In turn, customers would patronize the establishment with increasing regularity. Perhaps, always preferring to be up front with people, I could have lapel buttons made that state, “I Don’t Tip” so the food server is not disappointed at the end of the meal. I could deliver them to mailboxes across the nation, hand them out in malls. Declare Valentine’s Day Official Non-Tipping Day (normally a big tipping day, I would assume). While I ponder the best approach over my burger and beer, I encourage you to watch your mailbox.