The gratuitous injustice of American tipping culture


Less than 100 years ago, people genuinely believed that there was no such thing as “menial service” to an American, that waiters could be gentlemen, and that service didn’t mean servitude. They believed the idea of tipping was a fundamentally demeaning and classist notion of which they wanted no part. Since then, we appear to have come a long way down a road paved with good intentions.

What the hell went wrong?

I’m always of two minds when it comes to tipping and appreciate those places I’ve travelled where it is not allowed or culturally frowned upon.

  • monkeyrun

    I honestly do not understand why tipping became a mandatory thing.

    If the restaurant owner cannot afford to pay his employees a living wage, then they really should not be in business.

    • imthedude

      Exactly. Why should I pay someone to do their job, when I’m already paying for the food. It’s idiotic.

    • The owner can pay employees. But if he can get customers to do it, the difference goes into his pocket.

      • George

        I don’t understand, the customer is what pays everything, including salaries, tips, and the owner’s profits. If the customer pays $30 that’s $30 regardless of if part of it was an explicit tip or if the tip was built into the price. Either way the customer is still paying $30, so I don’t understand how the owner is better off either way. What exactly is being illegitimately pocketed here?

        Don’t read into this a support of existing low-wage practices. I prefer to frequent establishments where workers are treated better even if it costs more. I just don’t understand this logic that a tip is somehow special profit to the owner because the customer is paying either way.

        • We’re not talking about tips being built into the price.We’re talking about a low wage that is supplemented by tips if the customer feels like giving it (for whatever subjective reason). If the customer does not tip, the worker gets $2.13/hour and the boss takes in the larger cut (for whatever use the boss makes of it, whether that be business or lining pockets). If the customer does tip, the worker might get all of that, but many places now pool tips and the tips are divided at the end of the shift among everyone, including the kitchen staff. That helps the staff out who never sees a customer or who might get fewer tables that night, but it seriously hurts the staff that work their asses off.

          The restaurant sector should be required to pay the same minimum wage at least as everyone else with tips only optional and then just for service above and beyond — not just because the customer is supposed to feel guilty if they don’t help the waiter pay rent. (Usually they don’t feel guilty.)

  • stsk

    Thanks Shawn. This is one of the most interesting pieces of social commentary I’ve read in years.

    • You’re very welcome. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Lukas

    I always find tipping confusing when I visit the US, and I’m never entirely sure in which situations I’m supposed to tip, and how high the tip is. So I constantly over-tip people who are probably insulted because I’m not supposed to tip them at all.

    Why can’t companies just pay their employees reasonable wages, and then tell me how much the stuff I’m buying actually cost?

  • I would much rather move to the non-tip way of doing it. Just pay the servers and help more. I don’t carry cash on me the majority of the time,so when I pay by my card and they don’t have a way for me to add extra, I feel guilty. Tipping should be for extra and above board service — not just expected as the daily wage.

  • K. Langoso

    A good insight as to why customers put up (or even demand!) tipped staff, is “Observations From a Tipless Restaurant, Part 5: Sex, Power and Tips”, by Jay porter.

    In parts 1-4, he talk about his “experiment”, but part 5 is the real kicker.


  • GFYantiapplezealots

    I had no idea servers and waiters in Seattle made the same minimum wage as everyone else, which will be $15 in a few years. No more tips for them. Why did I goto college again?

  • JDSoCal

    BS left wing article. Waste of time.