Abolish Tipping? The Practice Should Actually Be Expanded

Three reasons gratuities are good for everyone.

You fly to Chicago. Your hotel has a courtesy shuttle that picks you (and a few other people) up at the airport. The driver has a “tips” bucket in the front of the van. Do you tip him? How much do you tip him?

You arrive at the hotel. A valet greets your shuttle, helps you down with your bags and points you to the reception desk. Do you tip him? How much do you tip him?

Before going to your room, you go to the Starbucks in the lobby. You buy a $4 coffee. Typical of most Starbucks in hotel lobbies you are given a receipt to sign which has a line for a tip. Do you tip the barista who poured your coffee? How much do you tip her?

Later that day you leave your hotel and another valet hails you a taxi from the line of taxis waiting around the corner. He opens your door, tells the driver your destination, and wishes you a good day. Do you tip him? How much do you tip him?

You check out of the hotel the next day. Before leaving your room do you leave a tip for the housekeeper? How much do you leave?

Everyone tips the wait staff. But do you tip the coat check person? Do you tip the cab driver? Your hairdresser? The pizza delivery guy? The furniture delivery guys? The babysitter? At Christmas do you give “gifts” to your postman, your newspaper delivery person, the doorman, your trash guys, your manicurist?  Why should you? Aren’t they getting paid already for their job? Why tip them and not tip other service providers, like the flight attendant or even the SEPTA bus driver? What makes the SEPTA driver different than the taxi driver – aren’t they accomplishing the same thing?

According to the hospitality blog Food Woolf tipping “may have originated in the taverns of 17th Century England, where drinkers would slip money to the waiter ‘to insure promptitude.'” It wasn’t embraced by all Americans at first. In fact, “a movement against tipping began in the late 1890s as many Americans believed that tipping went against the country’s ideals and allowed a clear servile class that would be financially dependent on a higher class.” The blog reminds us that as far back as 1915 “six state legislators from Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Carolina attempted and failed to pass an anti-tipping bill that would make leaving gratuities unlawful.”

OK, let’s all just relax. People get crazy when you bring up the issue of tipping. Everyone’s got a position. Some are sympathetic to those in the service industry who often make lower than average wages. Others are annoyed that they are asked to tip for a service that they’re already paying for. It’s become such an issue that a number of restaurants across the country, including the Girard Brasserie and Bruncherie here in Philly, are making news by offering “no-tipping” menus. LeSean McCoy became embroiled in a tipping fiasco last year. Writers for outlets from Slate to the New York Times have argued to abolish tipping. But everyone seems to be missing the point. Tipping is actually a good thing. A really good thing. For at least three good reasons.

First, it makes you feel good. Admit it: You’re not very charitable. You feel bad changing the channel as Sarah McLachlan begs you to save those abused puppies. But really, you’re not a bad person. It’s just that you’re barely paying the bills. Sometimes, depending on your mood or the amount of drinks you’ve had, you feel that you can still afford a few dollars. So when you drop your spare change in the café’s tip jar or you fork over a buck to the hotel van driver and you get a “hey … thanks man” you kind of feel like you’re a king … for a minute. I know it’s a short wave of self-gratitude but what the hell. You’ll take it.

Secondly, it makes the recipient feel good. Of course, everyone’s in it for the money. Of course you know that the minute you leave the table the waitress is checking out the tip you left her or that the concierge is patting his inside coat pocket 20 times a day, drawing comfort from that wad of cash growing there. But there’s a little something else: a reward for a job well done. People do want to feel that they’re doing a good job. And what better proof is there then a nice tip? It not only says thanks, but in some cases it says you’re really good at what you do. And what’s wrong with that?

Most importantly, tipping keeps your overall costs down. You’re not rich. But when it comes time to tip, you can feel a little rich at least just for a minute. You’ve got the power. You can tip that waitress an extra few bucks because she did a great job for you, or you can stiff her because she had an attitude. You’re not being forced to do this. It’s an added expense that you have control of. If every service organization, every restaurant, every hotel abolished tipping then they would have to make up for the lost income by paying their employees more. And ultimately, these added costs would be forced upon their customers: you. If tipping went away, you would have no choice but to pay the higher amount. Today, you do.

So, no, tipping should not be abolished. In fact, I think it should be expanded. It makes people on both ends of the transactions happier. It gives the customer more control. It helps to keep costs down. So stop complaining: If you don’t want to tip, don’t tip. If you want to tip, go for it. You don’t have to be overly generous. You don’t even have to be consistent about it. You’ve got the freedom. You’re not going to make or break someone’s life just because you’re not a big tipper. On your list of headaches, tipping should not be one of them. Unless you want it to be.

Follow @GeneMarks on Twitter.