Tipping: A Silly Tradition, But Do It Anyway

It is customary to tip most people who do stuff for you. Waiters and waitresses are an obvious example, but you’re also supposed to tip doormen, valets, maids, delivery folks (pizza, etc.), and more. Since tipping is customary in these situations, you should do it. People in most of these jobs are grossly underpaid, wage wise, since their wage structure assumes that tips will make up the difference. In many cases, the federal and state minimum wage laws do not apply (or, at least, do not apply in full) to people who can be reasonably expected to receive tips.

Having said that, I think we should stop making tipping customary. It’s an annoying, largely useless tradition. When I pay the bill at a restaurant, I have paid for the food, the wages of those who cooked it, and the wages of those who served it. The way it should work is the actual, list price of restaurant food should be increased (say, 15 percent), servers’ wages should be increased to a fair amount for the job they do (minimum wage or higher), and the whole tipping process should dissolve into oblivion. Good service is a reasonable expectation, and the way to punish bad service should be to report it to the manager (so the server, if bad service is a pattern, can be terminated). If we really don’t want to let go of the silly tradition, then permit tipping in cases of exceptional service (say, a going rate of 5 percent) but it should never be expected or necessary.

I admit, much of my dislike for the whole tipping process is the sheer awkwardness of it. It’s not so bad in restaurants, but the whole nonchalant passing of dollar bills into a doorman or valet’s hand just feels so goofy and contrived. If you forget to do it, you get the look of death and, if you didn’t notice the look of death, you’ll get poor future service and you just stiffed a hard-working professional who relies on those dollars as part of his income. My honest forgetfulness (or lack of pocketed petty cash) should not be put in a position to negatively affect others. This is especially true nowadays when fewer and fewer people carry cash, opting instead to use the more convenient credit and debit cards.

There is also the issue of how much to pay (and the fact that the ‘how much’ is continually increasing). In restaurants, it used to be 10 percent for halfway-decent service, 15 percent for good service, and 20 percent for stellar service. Now, 20 percent is essentially the norm and 15 percent is given when service was not all that great. But how much do you tip a doorman? A valet? A pizza delivery man? Your guess is as good as mine. These things aren’t taught in school, and if you didn’t grow up in a rich family you probably never picked this up during your upbringing either. Thank God for Google ;-).

The reality though is that these ‘tippable’ service positions are no different than most other service positions, so I mainly argue for the elimination of tipping society for reasons of consistency. I’m a web content manager for a Department of Defense web site, and most of my work involves getting requests from users and making changes for them on the site. I don’t get a tip every time I make a post to the site for a user, nor would I ever want or expect one. I’m just doing my job, and I get paid a particular wage to do that job, and that’s enough. If it weren’t enough, I’d get another job.

The same should go for waiters, doormen, and valets. Granted, their wages should be increased (and, to cover that increase, the cost of restaurant meals and hotel rooms and parking should go up too), but people in these jobs should be happy to do the job for the wage they have accepted from their employer. When I pay for a hotel room, I should have already paid for the doorman and the maid. When I pay for parking, I should have already paid for the valet.

As I said at the beginning though, the tipping world is the world we live in. Thus, you should give tips to those for whom it is customary to give tips. But we can change things. We can patronize businesses that have a no-tipping policy or where tipping is not expected and refrain from patronizing those that continue using archaic tipping policies. We can ask that tips be automatically added to our bills (to ‘simulate’ a tipless world). We can write restaurants and businesses and ask them to implement a no-tipping policy (and the requisite salary/cost increases).

There is no reason for us to plow ahead with a silly tradition that we have the power to fix.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.