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
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.