The tipping culture

As an American who’s lived in America all my life, even I don’t quite understand the tipping culture of this country. I do it automatically and usually don’t think much about it, but sometimes, I sit and really think about it. Why do we do this? As a matter of fact, most of Asia does not have much of a tipping culture, and this is even considered rude in places like Japan where good service should be expected and taken for granted. A pretty noble idea. Other countries that do tip waiters do not even tip as much as America, the standard for which is 15% to 20% (but has been sneakily trying to make 18% the “new 15%”). What’s up with you, America?

In South Korea, you would be chased down if you left more money than you were supposed to. It’s happened before with the restaurant owners running after you to give you your change because it’s such an odd concept to them that their customers would give extra cash to their servers when they’re being “paid enough” to work at the restaurant. And it’s not just servers, it’s taxi drivers, hairstylists, delivery people, and more who expect a tip. I understand that it makes their services cheaper, but why not do what Shake Shack started doing–raise the prices so that they can actually pay their workers better salaries? The founder, Danny Meyer, recently made an argument, as well, that the tipping culture was founded on racism, calling it “one of the biggest hoaxes ever pulled on an entire culture.” Another alternative is to do what some other countries do: tacking on service charges. Then they don’t have to worry so much about not being tipped, they’ll have a steady enough income. Of course, I am being idealistic, but if other countries can make it work, why can’t ours?

As you can tell, I’m not particularly content with tipping culture. This may seem ungrateful because I’ve been on the receiving end of tips before, but I’m also quite the idealist and believe that things could be better. I don’t understand why we are paying people extra to do their jobs. If your job is to serve me, then serve me (okay that sounds super elitist like I’m Marie Antoinette, but you know what I mean). But actually, I do understand–I understand it’s something that shouldn’t be on the customers. It should be on the employers. I understand that people need tips to live off, but I don’t think that their livelihood should be so fundamentally based on the whims of other people. After all, some people might be purely stingy and others might be particular, merely disliking the way a server does something trivial. Like, gasp, how dare you serve me from the right? And some might just be jobless at the moment but it’s not like they can go around with “unemployed” tattooed on their forehead. Ultimately, this doesn’t provide a steady inflow of money that workers can rely on because the exact amount changes all the time. It’s the duty of the employers, not the customers, to make sure their workers are getting the right amount of money that they deserve. As said before, following the examples of other countries, what employers could do is add a stable service charge or fee, ensuring proper payment for their workers.

Tipping is not even a great system because a server could be fake and polite to you upfront but then go spit in your food behind the scenes, so what exactly is the point? And some people would make more money purely off the basis of being attractive or more likable, but they’re all doing the same job, right? So that doesn’t seem quite fair, either. They should all work well for the sake of keeping their jobs and doing their jobs well, not for wheedling out some extra cash. (I just randomly thought of something… why don’t we tip stewardesses? Sure, they probably get paid well, but they still do a lot of work… in tight spaces… in the air…)

Another thing that bugs me is that tipping is supposed to be voluntary, but it’s not. It’s really not. It’s a rule of culture. There’s pressure to tip, and if you don’t do it–or you don’t give enough of a tip–you’re at times treated rudely by the person and made to feel bad about it. People are guilting money out of you! That or they’re tricking money out of you because lots of times, when they give you “suggested tips,” those were calculated after tax. And tax should really not be included, so you gotta do the math yourself by taking the subtotal (before taxes) and calculating what the tip should actually be. Some places even start the tip off at 18% and I laugh, then do the math for 15% (although I hear in New York City, the lowest should be 18%… like the restaurants there aren’t overpriced enough… I get they have really high rent, but come on…it’s not worth it).

On top of that, a lot of places actually mess with your receipt, so you have to be very careful about checking up on this. Look at the receipt in the main picture! I never even thought that could be a possibility. And I’ve heard from a friend that all the waiters at one restaurant would actually add a bit more to the tip and total by drawing in different numbers with a pen. This is why you always need a copy of the receipt and to look over your bank statements, but poring over those every month with a big wad of crumpled receipts can admittedly be a pain.


Going back to if you don’t tip enough, that could mean worse service the next time around. Shouldn’t the work still be done well or equally regardless? Their services are still being paid for. Tipping has gone from an incentive for workers to do better to a right taken for granted… even to revenge the next time around if they don’t get the amount they think they deserved from the tip! Sometimes it doesn’t feel like actual respect for the customers but sleazy buttering up for tip. Of course, do remember, respect should go both ways, and some customers are truly horrific… They should be fined for it or something… Might we introduce tipping customers? Or reverse tipping? Like deducting from their receipts if they’re really nice or adding more if they’re rude as hell? Nah, that probably wouldn’t work, but you know what I’m getting at…

Anyway, in conclusion, it is a very tricky situation, and I wouldn’t say it’s the most important issue for the country to tackle immediately or anything like that, but I do find it very interesting and somewhat controversial, so let me know your thoughts below! How much do you normally tip?


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