There was an article in the LA Times today about how the economy has affected tipping. Some people are tipping less and some people are ordering cheaper dishes, which in turn affects the tip the waiter receives.
While I'm well aware that many people in service industries work for low hourly rates and thus need tips to earn a decent wage, the true question should be why the hell have we evolved into a tip-earning economy?
First of all, I believe that tipping has gotten out of hand. When I grew up it was common to tip 15% in a restaurant with a bump to 17-20% for extra great service, but somehow in large metropolitan areas the expected "norm" has grown to 20% with a bump to 25% and sometimes even 30%.
It's getting ridiculous, in particular because a lot of service people don't get tips nor do they expect them. We tip cab drivers -- even those who own their own taxis -- but we don't tip our friendly bus driver, whom we might see every day. We tip a deliveryman, usually a member of the Teamster's Union -- even when we've paid $50 for the delivery charge -- but not the postman. We tip a hair stylist, who washes and sets our hair but not the dental hygienist who cleans our teeth. Nor do we tip the person who helps us choose our clothing at a boutique or advises women about cosmetics. And remember not all department store sales clerks are on commission, and in the lower ranks do they receive 20-30%?
And it even extends to the fast food industry, where the tip cup has become ubiquitous. Why should we give someone a buck who hands us a slice of pizza and a bottled soda or simply pours a cup of coffee? Yet we don't tip the butcher who slices our meat at the grocer, the supermarket checkers who bag our groceries or the Panda Express service people at the same supermarket who ask us what Chinese delicacies we savor. Nor for that matter do we tip cafeteria workers who fill our plates with food as we stroll down the line.
And what about the mechanics who fix our cars? We don't tip our cleaning ladies but are expected to tip hotel maids, most of whom just change the towels and straighten the bed sheets. We even tip the blackjack dealer, but does he or she return the favor when we leave the table broke?
The list goes on but rather than perpetuate a group of people who invariably feel stiffed -- even when someone gives them a 15% tip -- wouldn't it simply be better to just pay the workers a commensurate salary and do away with tipping entirely? This is the case in many European countries, where the service is "compris." In other words built into the price. Some Americans still don't get the hang out of it and insist on leaving a full-fledged tip as if they'd be burned in hell for neglecting to do so, even as the locals dining next to them either leave nothing or just small change as a tiny reward.
In some Asian countries it is considered a no-no to tip. When I was in Japan, a bellman returned my tip with an appreciative nod indicating his thanks for the gesture. It was actually illegal to do so in China. But what galls me is that the percentage expected in this country has climbed over the years. Frankly, until we bring service workers salaries up to their colleagues in first world countries, 15% is quite enough. That's almost one sixth extra on top of the cost, and barring poor service that is all that ought to be paid. However, one caveat I will add is that a tip should be based upon the full price of the food or service rendered irrespective of a discount coupon that might otherwise lower the bill.
Another grievance I'll put forth is when you go out with someone who always wants to divide the bill evenly. No matter what you consumed. No matter that he or she had lobster and glass after glass of wine while you ordered chicken and had a refillable glass of coke. I don't think it's necessary to go over each bill with a fine tooth comb and a calculator, but if it's clear that there is a sizable imbalance it should be the consumer of less who magnanimously offers to go halfsies on the fare and not the one who, by the way, also ordered the most expensive dessert while you shook your head to the waiter and inconsiderately suggests that you subsidize his/her meal shrugging, "Oh let's just split the check."
Follow Michael Russnow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kerrloy