The Dos and Donts of Tipping

Tipping is an art form and like most things involving human sensibility it’s a completely subjective exercise. Telling you how much to tip is a bit like saying The White Stripes are overhyped or that government no longer serves the common interest – if you need to be told then it’s likely too late for you. Still, this is a rough guide based on my personal experience as a somewhat-miserly individual. If you doubt the generosity of these recommendations feel free to double them and make someone’s day a bit more pleasant. Being a good human being is kind-of a gratuity for the universe. It improves everyone’s lot all at once.

How to treat your waitress: In the 80s, it was acceptable to tip fifteen percent. Somewhere along the line twenty percent became the norm. People associated with service sector jobs often choose to tack on an additional dollar or so to this, since they have genuine empathy for all that a wait staff endures. That may be the nice thing to do. Personally my recommendation is to let management pick up a little more of the slack. Have you ever wondered why a restaurant that rakes in profits by the handful gets away with paying slave wages to its employees?

How to put a hop in your bellhop’s step: This is interesting. A flat fee of two dollars is appropriate here if you are capable of carrying your own bags and would otherwise do so. It’s quite an imposition when the bellhop insists on carrying your things, a hotel policy. It’s a fine service, but tipping someone when you’re forced to oblige them is a bit much. It’s time to arrest this policy. Looking on BLS there wasn’t much data concerning bellhop wages, but the fancy hotels that employ them certainly don’t need indirect financial subsidies!

Street Performers: If you like what they’re doing give them a five dollar tip. There’s no social safety for these creators of ambiance. If a street performer gets sick they don’t have health insurance to take the day and rest. They have to fund their own retirement too. Street performers make life a little more bearable for everyone around. You can carry your own bags but often you cannot carry your own tambourine with you on the street. Let them play! It is possible to walk by and give them nothing and still they don’t begrudge you. Music is a positive externality that ought to result in any individual pursuing it a decent living!

Helping the Salvation Army: They ask for so little it’s almost sinful not to tip. It’s convenient to give your change from the purchase you have made as you exit the building. Once per year at Christmas give them a twenty dollar bill and a “God Bless!”

Out of the Blue: Unless the policy of a particular vendor or institution strictly forbids it, every so often you should tip someone who does not get them. How much would this sudden gesture change the complexion of their day? It’s true altruism when there’s no social compulsion to tip preying on you. Keep this in mind the next time a DMV worker is a little less ornery than usual!

Homeless men/women with signs: Use your complete discretion. Obviously a good many of these vagrants have fallen through the cracks. However, these solicitors can be frauds looking for a payday. You may never know one from the other. It’s appropriate to give a flat rate of 1.00 to the first homeless veteran you see per day.

So this is my redistribution policy. It reflects my personal mores, and your tipping strategy ought to as well. Naturally you would like to give everyone what they deserve but cannot afford to consistently do so. The only “don’t” included in this article is for withholding a tip completely as punishment for poor service. So what? Your waitress still needs to make a living even if they take too long to bring your food! Remember, one thing that remains free is to be pleasant to everyone you meet, telling them you sincerely appreciate them. It may be sentimental but the act of saying to someone that they matter is even better than money.