Having recently endured another in a long line of lunches with my friend Bad Tipper Guy, I feel compelled to wonder aloud if it isn’t about time that we as a nation phased out the archaic custom of tipping service workers like restaurant servers and valet parkers?
For one thing, tipping creates a business model that screws customers and employees in favor of increasing employer profits. And don’t we all have enough guilt and shame in our lives without piling on still more every time we dine out, visit a coffee shop, ride in an Uber or have a pizza delivered?
Me, I’ve had enough guilt tripping – and guilt tipping – for three lifetimes.
Take the aforementioned lunch. Because I know Bad Tipper Guy will do one of two things when the lunch check arrives – deliver a dissertation on the 1938 federal Fair Labor Standards Act and sub-minimum wages or simply leave a single crumpled dollar bill on the table – I feel duty bound to offer to pay for lunch.
Sometimes, BTG loudly insists that it’s his turn to buy. Him winning that argument means I have to lag behind as we leave the restaurant, usually by lying about needing to use the restroom. Then I have to double back to our table and add enough cash to his buck to get us to a 20 percent tip, minimum.
Why go to all that trouble? Partially it’s my fear of bad karma. But mostly it’s the years I spent waiting tables for more Bad Tipper Guys and Gals than I care to remember.
I earned $2.13 an hour in those days and was obligated to “tip out” a percentage of each check to the host staff and busboys. If a diner stiffed me or left behind a buck, that meant I actually paid for the privilege of waiting on their table.
A quarter century later, I still go out of my way to tip well, even though I strongly dislike the concept – and the way “tip creep” seems to be impacting more areas of society.
Nowadays, there’s a tip jar on every counter: the bakery, the ice cream shop, the pet groomer, the car wash.
That often leads to customers standing register-side, 53 cents in hand, waiting for the barista to return for the ceremonial dropping of the coins.
Because if a tip falls in a Starbucks and no employee sees it or hears it jingle, was it really a tip at all?
Then there’s the newfound popularity of Square, the app that allows anyone with a dongle and an iPad to take credit cards.
Each Square transaction comes with a gratuity opportunity and suggested amounts – no tip, 15%, 20%, 25% – helpfully pre-calculated.
Talk about a chance to feel like a grinch.
Now I find myself tipping people for labor-intensive acts like handing over an empty self-serve coffee cup or stuffing a wienie in a hot dog bun.
The latest weird tip request? As of January 1, cheapo airline Frontier has started encouraging tips for flight attendants who sell travelers a pre-packaged sandwich or a can of soda.
What’s next? Maybe a dental hygienist with a tip jar next to the tool tray. Or it’ll become customary to start slipping the minister a folded twenty after a particularly moving eulogy. Or, better yet, maybe we will move away from the gratuity model and instead pay people what they’re worth – even if that means a price hike.
I’d rather hear Bad Tipper Guy complain about paying an extra two bucks for his stromboli than listen to him whine one more time about how tipping encourages indentured servitude in 21st century America.
David Leibowitz has called the Valley home since 1995. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.