Keep the change. Just keep everything.

Tipping irks me.

I admit, no dollar leaves my wallet without my full-throated resentment, but my hatred of tipping goes beyond that. It’s not a question of percentage or quality of service; I’m annoyed that a decision that’s supposedly left up to me comes with strings attached. Tip well or get some saliva in your soup. Tip too well, and you’re the chump who got mugged at the Olive Garden.

And yet, I’m a decent tipper. Never under 15%, and I’ve occasionally gone up to 25%. And then there was that calculation error that caused me to leave a 33% tip, and a shocked waiter probably. Perhaps it’s the pressure of the social contract living in the USA or that I just like to keep visiting my favorite restaurants. Or, who knows, I might be fighting some imaginary Indian-lousy-tipper stereotype. I remember tipping in India to be brutal: people rounded off 49s to 50 and 99s to 100. Tipping was just a convenience to avoid additional math. And then I came to New York City, where we tip cab drivers we’ll never see again for not getting us killed. We tip baggage handlers at the airport so our checked-in bags follow our itinerary. If I were to visit as many countries as my bags have, I’d be wearing a beret-turban-sombrero.

Even if the original idea of tipping was to provide us some control over how we reward our servers and perhaps as an incentive to them to treat us well, I doubt it serves that purpose. Even if our tips rose and fell with how well we are treated at various places of business, no two customers would agree on a definition of exceptional service. So, using tips to fix service is at best a dream.

“But Bharat, waiters are paid much less than minimum wage, and the government assumes they’re getting tipped while taxing them.”

It bothers me that waiters aren’t paid a living wage only to the extent that their rent is somehow my responsibility. I hate the idea of forcing restaurants to pay their servers more. But other types of business owners are under the governmental hammer for wages, and even health insurance. Yet, for some reason, making sure this poor bastard affords his annual physical is somehow my responsibility. I don’t mean to go all Mr. Pink on you, but tipping is  neither scientific nor fair. Female waitresses get tipped more than male ones, and being large-breasted and blonde makes those dollars flow more than all the free dessert in the world. So most customers aren’t rewarding the prompt service of the nice lady at Applebees; they’re just signaling with their wallet their appreciation for narrow waists.

And the stress, oh my god the stress. How much is enough? Am I being cheap? What if I’m overtipping? What if I’m setting a new baseline and the next average tip appears small? Frankly, I prefer restaurants that levy a constant service charge and exempt me from the mental calisthenics of balancing privileged guilt against a thick wallet on a full stomach. When a meal is done and I’m working up the social decency to resist loosening my belt in public, the last thing I need is to worry about is putting my waitress’ kids through college. With the service charge, I know beforehand that everything I see on the menu is going to cost a fixed percentage more, and I can decide whether I want it or not.

When it comes to tipping, I think at least some people make rules up as they go along. There’s this one-upmanship of out-tipping the other guy so you come out looking like the big shot. Tipping bartenders five bucks for pouring beer into a glass with minimal spillage is a little silly; sure, it’s a good way to ensure you never have to wait for a drink in a crowded bar maybe, but at an academic social?

But I guess someone should make up for those sickos who leave these:

It's a good thing these people believe in hell

It’s a good thing these people believe in hell

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6 thoughts on “Keep the change. Just keep everything.

  1. You must have seen the quality of table service in india. I hope some day you can check it out in europe as well. Neither have the culture of tipping that US/Canada has, nor do they have the same warm,prompt service. The stress of how much to give is certainly worth it. Plus there are very few places that you would go that regularly, that you would get spit-in-soup because last time you gave less tip to the same server. Most of the places would be one-time only or a few times a year at best, so even if you give less tip than expected there is little the server can do except curse brown people. So more often than not, in the expectation of reasonable tip, most patrons are assured good service than not.

    • I have to say that cold, bland service would turn a fun night-out into crap. If the expectation of a good tip, or at least fear of a bad one, guarantees us service, it’s probably worth it.

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