These days it seems as if the debate over tipping can cause as much controversy as politics or religion. When I say “tipping”, I mean to give someone a money in the form of a gratuity after they provide some form of service. This immediately brings up several questions: Who deserves a tip? When should you tip? How much should you give? Is it wrong not to tip? These are all great questions and we’ll get to the bottom of it in a moment.
First, have a look at a clip from the movie Reservoir Dogs.
This scene gives a great example of both sides of the argument. For the record, I tried to find an edited version but couldn’t, so beware because there is quite a bit of naughty language in here. You’ve been warned!
Wow. It might seem crazy but that conversation takes place more often than you’d think. So who is right? Sadly, this issue isn’t as black and white as we would all like. I can’t tell you what’s right or wrong, but I can give you my personal opinion to give you a glimpse of my thought processes when I’m presented with a situation like this.
I tend to side with Mr. Pink.
Played by Steve Buscemi, Mr. Pink is the character who says he doesn’t believe in tipping. Before you start huffing and puffing, let me explain myself. I do believe in tipping, but like Mr. Pink, I have some strict guidelines I follow when doing so. I share the opinion that a tip should only be given when someone provides exceptional service. For example, if a server at a restaurant takes our order, brings us our food, and occasionally checks in on us, that server is just doing their job. The employer pays the server to do that job and at this point there is technically no reason to tip because that server is already being paid to do those things. If that server makes an extra effort to be polite, kind, and serve me more quickly than expected, that’s a different story. Let’s say we’re at a restaurant and there’s complimentary chips and salsa at our table. If the server notices we’re running low and brings more without us asking, that’s extra effort. If that server goes to the trouble of putting maraschino cherries in my cherry coke, that’s extra effort. To be honest, if a server wants to win me over, all they really have to do is keep my drink filled – that’s it! My top restaurant pet peeve is when I run out of something to drink and have to flag someone down for a refill. In order for me to leave a good tip, I need to feel like the server is taking extra measures to make sure my dining experience is the best it can be.
There’s no excuse for bad service.
I admit, I have never worked in the restaurant biz, but I have worked in the customer service business for many years. Yes, I know it’s not the server’s fault if my food takes forever to prepare or if my fork is dirty, but there are many little things a person in any service industry can do to make the best any situation. Do I only tip if the person does a truly exceptional job? Honestly, no that’s not quite true. As long as the server does everything I would expect of them, I tend to tip ~15%. If a server goof’s up because they’re overwhelmed or still learning, I’ll tip around 10%. If a server is rude or does an exceptionally bad job I will not leave a tip, period. In the end, it’s all up to them. The amount I tip is completely up to the server. In other words, the harder you work for me, the more I pay you. There’s nothing more American than that!
I do have a limit, and that limit is 20%.
If I get great service I leave a good tip, but I never go over 20%. Think about it, you pay for your meal, then you get hit with sales tax, and then you’re purposely adding another 20% to your bill. That sounds ridiculous! In our culture, 20% seems to have become the norm. Some people use that as their baseline and only go up from there. Time Magazine reported that last year, the median tip was 19.5%, and that some waiters and restaurants suggest that 25-30% is the proper gratuity.  Don’t get too crazy just because that’s what our society has deemed the standard. Remember, our society is full of broke people living beyond their means and charging everything on their credit cards. Don’t be like everyone else. Next time you get your bill, stop and evaluate your service and leave a tip that you are intentionally and consciously comfortable with leaving based on the quality of that service.
You shouldn’t always tip based on percentages
Let’s look at a few scenarios. Imagine you’re at a restaurant with a group of people. The server waits on you for a couple of hours, and in the end your bill is $200. The server did a good job and you want to thank him with a 20% tip, so you leave him $40. Forty bucks is a pretty good tip for two hours of work if you ask me. That means he made $20 an hour on top of his base hourly wage, and it’s likely you weren’t his only table. Now let’s say you’re having a party and you order ten pizzas, which comes to about $200. Does that pizza guy deserve the same tip as the server did for his two hours of service? Probably not. So let’s say you only ordered one pizza instead. A 20% tip on a $20 pizza would be $4. That sounds reasonable for driving to your house and walking a pizza to your doorstep. So what about the pizza guy who delivered ten pizza’s for $200? Should you tip him more just because the bill is bigger? The trip from his car to your door might have been a little heavier or split into two, but he’s not doing much more work than the guy who delivered one pizza. If you go with the cultural norm of a 20% gratuity, you’re going to tip $36 more to the pizza guy who delivered ten pizzas, even though he did roughly the same amount of work as the guy who delivered one. In my opinion, a tip should always be based on the difficulty of the job. Basing tips off of percentages should only be used as a reference point. Don’t let percentages overrule common sense.
It’s up to the employer to compensate their employees for hard work, not the customer.
Tips and gratuities should be reserved for those who go above and beyond normal expectations. If the guy working hard at McDonalds is unhappy with his wage, he can always go work somewhere else! The reason McDonalds pays people minimum wage is because people are willing to do that work for minimum wage. If nobody was willing to do it, they would have to offer a higher wage. So while it may be true that people work equally as hard at McDonalds, it’s also true that McDonalds doesn’t offer the same kind of service as a traditional restaurant and those employees know that when they sign up.
There are other ways to reward someone for a job well done.
Maybe you received great service at a place where it’s not normal to tip, or at a place where money is not exchanged. If you still want to reward that employee, you can tell them how great you think their service was. A few kind words go a long way in the service industry. You can also track down their manager, supervisor, or call their headquarters to let them know what a great job they did. If you want to leave feedback anonymously, or just don’t feel like talking to anyone, go online and write that company an email. Be sure to include the person’s name and location so the right person gets the credit they deserve.
I believe in the open palm philosophy.
The “open palm” philosophy means to not be a stingy person who holds my money with an iron grip. Instead, hold money with an open palm, letting money flow out and money flow in (this is figurative of course). It’s important to be smart and intentional with money, but it’s also important to not be a Scrooge. Besides that, you wouldn’t believe how much something like a bad tip can impact someone. For example, if a server is having a rough day and you stiff them on the tip, it could push them over the edge. All I’m suggesting here is that you take the time to stop and think about what you’re doing before you start writing down numbers and thoughtlessly giving money away. In the end, it’s not so much a question of whether or not you should tip. It’s more about being intentional with your money and breaking away from the “rules” our society has created. When it comes to tipping, have high expectations, be kind, be generous, and make smart and thoughtful choices.
Enjoy this clip from the movie Waiting, which was dubbed “Every Server’s Dream”.
Click here to view the US Department of Labor's Fact Sheet on tipping.