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In the Social Responsibility of Tipping Well, m_turner makes a cogent and important argument for tipping, especially in areas where the cost of living is tremendously high as compared to other places. Below, I suggest an alternative intepretation, arguing that tipping should cease immediately if we are to support those whom we intend to help by tipping.

Let me begin by noting my major objection to tipping: It is a subsidy of private business, who in conjunction with government, has managed to legally underpay staff who then must rely on tips.

As far as I know (and I am willing to be shown otherwise), almost all employees working in the food service industry as waitstaff are exempted from standard minimum wage legislation which has been enacted to help to provide a living wage, or something approximating it. That waitstaff have been exempted is nothing short of criminal. Private business has manged to get this exemption to keep from having to pay those very staff members what they deserve to be paid. Instead, private business relies on the consumer not only to pay for the product that is provided, but also to pay at least part of the true cost of hiring the help. Imagine if this were to happen in other areas. Suppose you went to the grocery store and you were expected to pay for your purchases, as well as to kick in some money for the clerk behind the counter. Likely you would be incensed. However, over time, we have become so accustomed to this in the food service industry that we give it hardly any thought.

Why then should we not tip? My thinking is that if all tipping stopped immediately, it wouldn't take more than a few hours or days for workers to realize that private business was screwing them over. When the tips stopped coming, I believe the workers would organize to press for a reasonable wage for what they do. That reasonable wage would then equal the minimum wage (at least), or whatever the market would support, which my guess is would be significantly higher than the minimum.

This will never happen of course. The social pressures for tipping are tremendous. Folks who do not tip are seen as mentally defective, cheapskates, or flat out assholes. But I submit to you that tipping ensures that workers do not get paid their true worth, and leaves their wages subject to the whims of the public. This is a situation that in almost any other profession we would not tolerate for a moment.


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An addition relating to origin of tip.

TIPS is not an acronym for To Insure Proper Service. The origin of the word dates back at least to the 1750s when used to mean a gratuity, and to the early 1600s when used as a verb. See http://www.m-w.com/home.htm and ask to define tip for more information.

Re: DogBoy's comments, waitstaff in Minnesota must be paid the minimum wage, though I think Minnesota is one of the few states in which this is true.

I agree that employers gyp the waitstaff at most restaurants, but if it were up to me to choose between being paid half of minimum wage (which is around $6 right now, I think) plus tips, or an hourly wage at or above the minimum wage, I will take the tips any day. I know people who go home on a Friday night with $200 cash. It would be nice if restaurants paid servers what they're worth, without having a gratuity, but there's no way in hell a restaurant would ever pay their servers $30 or $40 bucks an hour. (A standard Friday shift is usually around 5-8 hours for a waiter, in my experience.)

The people who more often than not get screwed by employers though, are waiter's assistants or bussers. These guys and gals are also paid minimum wage (I don't think they can be paid less in any state, but I may be wrong) and are expected to have servers tip their busser out of what they brought in that night. All too often, the servers are bitchy as hell by the end of a night (I know I was often, when I was waiting tables, though I had no busser.) and under-tip or don't tip out at all. So that can be anywhere from $1-4/hr that the busser is shorted because the server had a bad night, even though they may have done a good job bussing. Thankfully, most employers will come down hard and fast on servers who don't tip out. But some don't.

As sort of a side note, I realize this write-up is in response to Social Responsibility of Tipping Well, and I realize that you are frustrated with "[subsidizing] private business," and I feel the same way, but that's business and capitalism at it's roots. We pay for our luxuries and services. Che sarà sarà.


Re: jbird, I also will under-tip or not tip a server at all, though I am more forgiving than some people I know. I know what it's like to have a long night with ornery customers, or to be a new server, and I'm willing to forgive that. But sometimes, a server's performance is unexcusable. In that case, they get nothing. The rest of the time (assuming good service of course) I tip 15-20% or more.

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