To Tip or Not To Tip?

The New York Times Magazine offered up a food-centric issue this past weekend and it’s chock full of good food nerd stuff, from food politics to a catfish controversy. But it was this profile of a small restaurant in San Diego that has officially done away with tipping that really caught our eye. A tidbit:

Eighty percent of Americans say they prefer tipping to paying a service fee, according to a Zagat Survey. They do so, Leo Crespi’s surveys first demonstrated, primarily because they believe tipping provides an incentive for good service. But there is little correlation, in fact— less than 2 percent, according to Michael Lynn, a Cornell professor of consumer behavior and marketing.

Economists have struggled to explain tipping. Why tip at all, since the bill is presented at the end of a meal and can’t retroactively improve service? And certainly there’s no reason to tip at a restaurant you will never revisit. “Using a rational and selfish agent to explain tipping, one reaches the conclusion that the agent should never tip if he does not intend to visit the establishment again,” Ofer Azar, the economist, writes. “Yet this prediction is sharply violated in practice: most people tip even when they do not intend to ever come back.”

How do you feel about tipping? Would you rather just pay a service charge? Do you think you get better service? Do you tip to make yourself feel better?