Moving to Freedom, .Org

May I offer you a tip?

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You’ll appreciate it, I bet. Maybe you expect it. You’ve been a great reader, after all. Attentive. And it doesn’t hurt that you’re so good looking.

I shall tip you the customary 15% of the bill.

Oh, no… please… you’re welcome. I just hope it encourages you to keep up the good work.

Was it necessary to tip you, though? You came here looking for words to read, and I gave you the words. Nothing more is required by the transaction. But I want to show you my appreciation. You cared about the words. I should tip 20%, since I truly value your effort, and you really did a great job—

A younger version of myself wasn’t that excited about the idea of tipping at restaurants. I resented paying for the intangible “good service” on top of the expensive menu items. Shouldn’t the service be included in the price of the food?

But I worked at a bowling alley in those days, and hung out with servers, and they taught me their ways. I gradually internalized the importance of tipping. Now it’s a habit. I even like it. It makes me feel magnanimous. I may abhor suits and other demonstrations of good breeding, but I’m not a complete barbarian. See? I know how to tip.

Yet the nature of the exchange is so often challenging. You get perfunctory service, and you wonder, do they not care about the tip? Do they take it for granted? Do I look like a cheapskate non-tipping dolt, and they’re not even going to bother?

I realize they may be having a bad day, or have too many tables through no fault of their own, or maybe the kitchen is a complete mess, and there’s any number of good reasons I had to wait more than a minute for my second beer, and I should just get over myself, and think of somebody else for once in my life, and stop being such a demanding jerkwad, but…

Do I really have to pay extra for all that?

I want to put in a credible tipping performance. I’m always rooting for the waiter or waitress, so everyone can be happy with this little game. But what are we to do about poor service? Tip poorly in turn, or not at all? That’s hard for me to do in the absence of outright insolence or complete abandonment. I’m afraid they’ll think I’m just a cheap bastard. I’m desperate for their approval, I guess. And there’s also the danger of starting a vicious circle for future visits to the restaurant. In the end, I’ll probably “send a message” by leaving a 12-13% tip. I’m sure they’ll know exactly what that’s all about.

Do we just need better ways of signaling earlier in the meal our willingness to tip, and our commitment to punish bad service? Which brings us to a scene from Third Rock From The Sun that Wikipedia summarizes thusly:

Mary is horrified when she learns that Dick has been pocketing all the tip money she has left at restaurants, but Dick is baffled by the concept of tipping, and attempts to re-invent it by placing a stack of one dollar bills on the table and informing the waitress that when she pleases him, the pile will grow, and when she displeases him, it will shrink. Mary, however, informs him that this idea is demeaning.

I loved that scene. I’ve never tried this technique, but it has a wonderful ruthless efficiency about it. I’m sure it wouldn’t be at all dehumanizing and awful. We live in a capitalist society. Let’s make it clear what the stakes are. It might even be worth the risk of getting stabbed with a fork.

And then there are other tipping situations that I still resent, which includes most other tipping situations.

How about the newspaper delivery person? We still receive the Sunday paper — mainly as a source of packing material and a dropcloth for carving pumpkins. There is a place on the online payment form for a tip. I don’t get it. Am I tipping them because they put the newspaper in the receptacle under the mailbox and they didn’t drop it in a puddle on the ground?

Then there are the shuttle buses at the airport, like the ones that take you from the terminal to a car rental place. Am I tipping because they didn’t get us into a fatal accident? Maybe when I’m older and more frail it will be worth a couple of bucks for the hoisting of the luggage up and down, but right now I’m happy to do that myself.

Why tip someone for a job I’m capable of doing myself? I can deliver food. I can drive a taxi. I can, and do, cut my own hair. I did, however, tip my urologist. Because I am unable to pulverize my own kidney stones.”

—Dwight Schrute, The Office

I’m happy to tip my haircut lady. In addition to providing a consistent haircut, she’s accommodating about last minute appointment time changes. In general, it’s a good practice to tip — and tip generously — people that wield sharp, pointy objects around your head. Or anywhere around your body, although it occurs to me that I didn’t tip the woman who shaved my nether region before my vasectomy.

Chipotle has a tip jar at the end of the counter. Is the tip warranted because they heaped more ingredients into the bowl or the burrito? I can accept that reasoning — although I don’t tip for it — but how about self-serve frozen yogurt bars? I got my own cup and put my own frozen yogurt and ingredients into it. Now I’m placing it on the scale next to the register. Oh, I see there is a tip jar. I should tip for this? Maybe, if I knew it meant they’d clean more often the handles and scoops that everyone is touching.

Hotel room maids? It seems to me I read an argument for tipping here that made sense, but at the moment it seems iffy. We once stayed in a nice place where they made animals out of the towels for our daughter, and that seemed like a value-added, tippable situation. Given the scarce time allowed for cleaning hotel rooms, you might hope that a tip will get you a more thorough cleaning, but again, how does this help when you customarily tip at the end of your stay?

(And as an aside, you just can’t think too much about germs and chemicals and bodily fluids when you stay at a hotel.)

I’ve never encountered a restroom attendant. Since there’s a good chance this would unnerve me enough to render me incapable of peeing, I probably would not tip in that situation, either.