The Tipping Point

To tip or not to tip?  How much do I tip?  Has the tip already been built into my tab?  If so, is that even a tip then?  Am I expected to leave a tip for the person that cleans my hotel room?  Do I tip my hairdresser even though she is the owner of the salon?  How long do you stand and listen to a street busker before you leave a tip in his instrument case?  When did tipping for good service become so confusing?   I don’t know about you, but I am unclear on the tipping rules.  And the old-fashioned side of me wonders why there should even be rules around tipping.  Isn’t a tip supposed to be a thank you for excellent customer service that goes above and beyond and not an expectation?  Now the owner expects customers to tip their employees to help cover the cost of their wages. 

Like most things, tipping has evolved over the years.  Now it is expected to help subsidize many service workers’ wages.  The standard federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.  However, employers of tipped workers can pay a minimum wage of $2.13 per hour to employees provided their tips make up the difference.   The main service sector that this affects are food service workers.  It is up to the state if they utilize this federal tip credit pay structure, but only a few states opt out of it and pay their tipped employees at least the standard $7.25 per hour, regardless of how much they make in tips.  So, the burden of ensuring that servers make a living wage rests on those of us paying their tips.   

We have been on a trip this week (more about that in a later post) and so we have been eating out a lot and using Uber and Lyft.  It has prompted me to consider the whole tipping situation.  The worst part of any bill is not the cost of the bill itself because I know what that is ahead of time based on what I ordered.  The worst part is the last-minute decision on how much to tip.  I want to be fair, but not taken advantage of.  And the new electronic payment systems with preprogramed tips of !8%, 20% or even 30% make me feel that way.  You can put in a custom tip, but of course this has to be done while the server waits over your shoulder.  And for someone such as myself that does not do air math, it takes me longer to determine a custom tip.  God forbid, I might even need to use my phone calculator while the server continues to wait for me. Tipping etiquette recommends that you base your tip on the bill prior to the taxes being added.

It seems that the amount you tip often depends on the era you were raised in.  My dad, who was alive during the great depression, is not a big tipper.  Not because he is being stingy, but because he was raised in an era when tipping 5% was considered a lot.  I remember my mom slipping a few extra dollars under the tab right before they left because she did not think he gave a big enough tip.  I notice that young people, who typically have less discretionary income than I do, tend to tip more.  The tip also depends on where you live. In Europe, tips are appreciated, but not expected.   Some places even consider it rude to tip.  Apparently, the U.S. went in the opposite direction.

I have been on the receiving end of tips.  My very first real job was working at a fast-food joint.  I waited on tables and worked in the front pouring sodas and making shakes with real ice cream, but my title was “car hop.”  You knew you had made it to the upper echelon of car hops when you could swirl a large soft serve ice cream cone so that it came to a perfect peak.   Customers could come inside to eat, but more often, people would pull up under the awning and order from their cars. There was a retractable table with a speaker attached to it where they could make their order. The car hops wore belts with change machines that would jangle when you walked (no roller skates though.)  We would deliver the customer’s food to their car and make change for them right there.   The occasional tip, which was typically the leftover change from the order, was a pleasant, and appreciated surprise.   

Below is a photo of the menu at Topper Too around the time I worked there. Back when a jumbo burger was .89 cents and a tip of left over change was an exception and not the rule. The Double Wammy was everyone’s favorite burger, but it was a splurge at $1.49. We also made a delicious secret fry sauce there (if you know, you know). Employees were strictly warned not to share the recipe with anyone. Topper Too has long since closed down so I can probably tell you that the secret ingredient is a little sugar.

The menu at Topper Too.
This is a picture of Topper Too from the outside. It was taken several years before I started working there but the covered parking where you pulled up to the retracting tables with menus and speakers on them had not changed.

Several of my sons delivered pizza when they were in high school.  I remember them being so excited to come home and tell me how much they made in tips.   So, I understand the importance of tipping.  But I want it to be for great customer service and not an expectation.

Tipping would be less complicated if it was just the food service industry.  But now it feels like we are expected to tip for every service we utilize.   So, for right or wrong, I have developed a few generalized rules around tipping so that I don’t have to make so many last-minute decisions.

  • I give a general standard tip for service of 15% on the total bill (not the pre-taxed amount).  More if it is exceptional or I know the server and less if it is really poor service.
  • I have decided that, if I need to go to the counter to order and pick up my own food or drink, I will not generally tip.  The exception would be if they took the time to give you samples to taste, or they were really nice and helpful. 
  • If I am just ordering drinks but sit at the table and the server takes our order and brings them to us, I tip $1.00/drink. 
  • If a street busker is good enough that they cause me to stop and listen, then I will leave a few dollars in his/her case. 
  • I do not tip the maid that cleans our hotel room.  Heck, does that even exist anymore?

I still haven’t figured out a standard tip for haircuts, pedicures or valets, so I am constantly making last minute decisions.   Agh!   Let me know if you have any tipping advice.   Or should I ask, do you have any tips on tipping? (Bad dad joke, I know.)

Mini jukeboxes, just like the one above, were at each of the indoor booths at Topper Too.

Photo credits:  Old school Coeur d’Alene Facebook page.