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The Tipping Point

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Yesterday morning, my car refused to start, so I phoned AAA. Ten minutes later, an affable guy with a truck turned up to give my car a jump. As he worked on my battery, we chatted about the Phillies, Cory Booker and the weather. When my car was running again, I thanked him.

"Can I give you a little extra?" I asked, handing him a five.

His face lit up. "Thanks!" he said. "I appreciate it."

The jump was free. My membership dues covered it. He didn't expect a tip. But I got a kick out of giving him one.

I like to tip. I'm not rich. I work in a public library. I drive a 10-year-old car. I'm frugal by nature. But giving somebody a generous tip always makes me feel like a million bucks.

Maybe it's because I was a waitress for years. People who have waited on others often tip well. Although I know one ex-waitress who doesn't tip unless the service is exceptional. "I won't tip someone just for doing his job," she says.

If the service is poor, she doesn't leave a cent.

Everyone has their own rules about tipping. I know folks who barely have a dime themselves who leave generous tips, and at least one millionaire who never leaves more than ten percent, even when the service is outstanding. (His wife usually slips some extra cash onto the table when he isn't looking.)

I know a business traveler who generously tips everyone -- except the maid who cleans his hotel room. Why? "It's not as if I trash the room like a rock star," he says. "I never leave a mess. I don't yank the flat screen off the wall and throw it out the window. I don't even drop used towels on the floor. All she really has to do is change the sheets and replace the soap."

I always tip. In fact, I overtip. It's fun to give folks more money than they expect. It doesn't cost that much to make someone's day. I'm a happy person. Why not spread the joy around?

Even if the service is ordinary, I'll tip at least 20 percent. If the service is abysmal, I might only tip 15. As an ex-waitress who was "stiffed" a few times myself, I'm reluctant to leave the devastating "you're worthless" message that withholding a tip sends. Maybe there's a reason she forgot to bring my appetizer, served me a hamburger instead a veggie burger, then spilled hot coffee all over my handbag, I'll think to myself. Maybe she's going through an acrimonious divorce. Maybe she has a terminal illness.

I don't want to increase the poor woman's suffering by not leaving a tip.

I recently asked my new hairdresser for a blunt cut.

"Please, whatever you do, don't layer it," I asked.

Of course, she layered it. When she was done and I put my glasses back on and saw myself in the mirror, I was appalled.

Vowing never to return to her salon, I tipped her anyway.

It's not her fault she's an idiot.

What about the argument that denying her a tip would motivate her to improve? When I was a waitress, I saw absolutely no connection between tipping and quality of service. Some people excelled at waiting tables. Others were awful at it. Tipping didn't change that.

All I know is that nobody wanted to wait on the customers known to be bad tippers, so these folks always ended up with the newest, most incompetent servers. If they didn't appreciate good service, why waste it on them?

When in doubt, I tip. It may not be expected, but it's always appreciated. Nobody ever says "No thanks," and hands the money back. I tip waiters, haircutters, the gas station attendant who fills my tank and the muscular dudes who move my piano. I leave money on the nightstand for the maid who cleans my hotel room, even though I'm quite tidy. I always tip cab drivers, even when they drive too fast and I disagree with the political views that are blaring from their radios.

Try it yourself. If you afford it, why not tip generously? You'll be creating a little extra happiness, and this world needs all the happiness it can get.