What’s the deal with tipping?

img_4856 by Steph Holton

Unless you want to look like a jerk, you can’t not tip. But after some thought and research into the matter, I feel that our cultural compulsion to leave gratuities for services rendered is perhaps a more sinister institution than we believe.

Tipping at full-service restaurants is a standard 15%, while tipping hairdressers, tattoo artists, drivers, and innumerable others “isn’t expected but is highly appreciated.” The American consumer likes to believe that leaving a tip is an act of kindness for a job well done, but studies show that the amount of a tip rarely has anything to do with the quality of service provided and often depends on factors of race, age and sex. The practice of tipping in restaurants can create both unnecessary competition between waitstaff, and a rather large wage disparity between front and back of house workers. Psychologically, tipping is a way for consumers to assert dominance over a server, and also to flaunt social status.

The no-tipping movement is struggling, however, because it is a financially risky stance for a restaurant to take: Consumers have shown they’d rather tip than be charged a service fee. I’m not suggesting anyone stop tipping when they go out to eat or get a haircut. At this point, it’s part of our social contract. But I am suggesting we all question the tradition, because like many other institutions in our country, just because that’s the way it’s been doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the way it should be.

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