Millennials have been described as stingy tippers, perhaps a cliché by now, yet I’ve seen first-hand young professional, pen in hand, look at the tipping line on the credit card receipt as an affront. I’ve seen a tab for $86 graced with a $2 gratuity, and one for over $100 with the words “no way” scribbled across the tipping line. “It’s like an extra tax,” I’ve heard diners say. My daughter once worked at a Washington DC taco and burger joint where almost a third of the customers left no tip. Whether parsimonious diners are reacting to bad food, bad service, are just cheap, think tipping is charity, or feel they have dropped enough coin for a meal and it’s the restaurants that should pay their servers a living wage….I have no idea. Maybe it’s all of the above, and more. I would love to see a consumer survey.
Tipping allegedly started in 17thCentury English taverns, when patrons gave servers extra money ‘to insure promptitude” (TIP). The practice was later adopted in the States and other countries, but a fair number of cultures discourage the practice. Others add a gratuity automatically to the bill. Optional tipping is where a variety of emotions are aroused, not just from diners but servers and counter people. If using a digital device to indicate the amount of gratuity, I’ve watched the wait person turn away for a moment, giving the diner privacy in making his or her decision. To some, it feels rushed and awkward, but I’m not sure what can be done about it. Some waiters don’t even glance at tip amounts because it’s beyond their control, while others work diligently and hope to be rewarded. For many, the extra ten to twenty percent or more you add to your bill makes a difference in their standard of living, from affording an extra gallon of milk to paying the rent.
When I was younger and eating out was a luxury, I left a ten percent tip (parroting my parents), which was the standard at the time. As my wife and I grew financially secure, I raised the ante to fifteen or twenty. Now, witnessing the vast disparity in American incomes, and its consequences on the social fabric, I tip 25%. I can afford it and I know my server appreciates it. I find tipping not to be a tax but a bond between strangers. It’s a feel good moment, which there never seem to be enough of in the daily grind.
The other day I was introduced to a new word, Precariat. It blends “proletariat” and “precarious,’ and refers to a social class with little job security, resources, or means of escape to a better job. Sounds typical of today’s America, I thought ruefully. Anyone without bankable job skills, living paycheck to paycheck, whether it’s a waiter, bellhop, taxi driver or delivery person, knows the importance of a gratuity. I have a friend, whenever he eats out, who forgoes ordering an ice tea, or a dessert, and adds the difference to his tip. Small acts of grace and common sense ultimately change our thinking and maybe the world
In a world where one news story, no matter how wrenching, risks being eclipsed quickly by another tragic event, the story of Parkland, Florida has stayed with me. Like, every day. It grabs my heart even more than Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, or dozens of other school killings. It’s hard emotionally to get beyond the slaughter of innocents, or the mental illness of their killers, but the survivors of Parkland found a collective voice to challenge a dark pattern of history, proclaiming “#Never Again.” They have an ambitious agenda now of lobbying legislatures, pursuing social media, and broadening their coalition. I’m rooting for them with every step.
Down deep is another remarkable thing about Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In the weeks following the tragedy, I listened to Cameron Kasky, Emma Gonzales, Alex Wind, David Hogg and other student leaders speak for sensible gun legislation and the responsibility of adults to protect minors. My take-away was maybe it’s high school students who need to protect and keep honest the adults. Their outspokenness was perhaps unprecedented coming from an American high school. Watching how poised, articulate and impactful a sixteen, seventeen or eighteen-year old could be, I was struck by their cohesiveness in rallying behind one of our century’s major issues: how to make us safer in an age of deepening insecurity, uncertainty and anxiety.
I have come to view students, in public and private high schools, as inescapably important members of society. For all the painful stories of kids marginalized by bullying and shaming, or who turn to drugs or guns or suicide to escape because they see no tunnel with a light, look again at Marjory Stoneman High School. Students are proving there is a light to follow—speaking their convictions with dispassionate eloquence—and to move toward that light means self-esteem and self-empowerment. High schools across the country now have a precedent for being heard on crucial issues because a tired Congress, overworked media, churches, and political non-profits can’t get the job done alone. I hope more students give themselves permission to be taken seriously. They should insist on it, and ignore critics who view high school as a mere launch to college or adulthood.
I was in college in the golden age of President Kennedy’s dictum “don’t ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Responding, my generation threw itself into the civil rights movement, the Peace Corp, local and national politics, and a search for a deeper identity for ourselves and our country. In the category of social activism. high schools might be the new colleges. As our political culture grows jarringly complicated, and I feel repression in the air, I long for the strength of new voices.
Michael R. French
Michael French is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University. He is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.