Reviews | America’s tipping culture undermines quality working conditions


If an American is visiting China, Japan, or South Korea, they’re likely to experience culture shock from the taxi ride from the airport: tipping isn’t customary — in fact, it’s rude.

In America, tipping is not only appreciated but obligatory. It has become institutionalized. Employers are not required to pay minimum wage to employees in positions that regularly receive tips. Uber considers “expected tip” when hiring drivers online. Minimum gratuities are required for large groups. A tip line will appear on each digital receipt or payment.

It may surprise some, but tipping hasn’t always been a lifeblood of the American service industry.

The origin of the practice’s popularity may actually be trace back to the era of reconstruction. First seen as classist and condescending, corporations have come to kiss tips to avoid paying wages to recently freed slaves, as many of them took jobs in service. Like most terrible things in America, it has to do with racism.

Some states have repudiated tipping. States legislated that accepting tips was a form of bribery, but ended up repealing those laws during Prohibition.

In Adam ruins everythingAdam Conover argues that the custom of tipping “cuts servers short, annoys customers, and worsens the dining experience.”

While all of this is true, it completely ignores other aspects of the service industry that also depend on tipping. People generally know how to tip a waiter at the end of a restaurant meal, but fewer know that they should tip bartenders, hairdressers, baristas and drivers.

Performing artists also demand tips and still deserve a decent income, but their tips are obviously different. Their tips come from passers-by and are truly appreciated, not forced. If the show takes place in a venue, they are added to the booking fee.

Most people think the purpose of tipping is to reflect quality of service, but a Cornell study indicated people tip more or less the same, regardless of the service.

The custom of tipping allows businesses to underpay their employees. The employer may simply blame the lack of income on miserly customers rather than their own greed.

It would be easier for everyone if business owners raised wages, raised prices, and banned tipping, but then they couldn’t capitalize on the psychological impact of chasing low prices. Intuitively, a person may be happier paying $20 for a product, $10 for shipping, and a $10 service charge than $40 for the product (shipping and service included).

Instead, tipping makes every outing worse. Tipping is a tricky end to every meal, involving doing the math, thinking about your own values, and sometimes feeling bad typing in “5% tip” while looking the barista in the eye.

In addition, tipping leads to sexual harassment. Some unruly customers withhold tips until they get a smile, name, or number – something I’ve witnessed as a bartender.

Tipping encourages prejudice. The Cornell study found tipping the disparities between white and black customers. Unfortunately, restaurant servers of all races then become less friendly and enthusiastic towards black customers due to a preconceived prejudice that they will tip less.

Tipping creates hostile work environments. In a recent title, a server was fired after a party left a tip of $4,400. Her superior asked her to share the tip with all the staff (including chefs and managers, who never receive a tip) and was fired for disclosing this information.

Moreover, abolishing the custom of tipping would be good for the coffers of the country. Tipping is a primarily cash-based institution, and although service employees are expected to properly report their tips in order to pay taxes on them, many fail to do so because they are initially underpaid. If wages were to simply increase and replace tips, there would be no way to circumvent taxes.

All this does not mean “do not tip”. A bad custom is no excuse for giving a bad tip when you expect it. Foreign tourists or religious customers who do not agree with working on Sundays do not get a pass to avoid tipping. In this absurd system, it is still paramount to tip those service industry employees who rely on tips to make ends meet. 15% to 20% off any service is “the norm” in the US.

Gig and service economies cannot rely on tips (i.e. donations) from altruistic customers to pay the bills. Tipping excuses low wages that circumvent minimum wage. It’s inhumane. States should revert to a time when tipping was prohibited and dispel the minimum wage exception. It’s time for American culture to once again adapt and embrace what many East Asian countries understood long ago: tipping is rude.

Andrew is an LAS senior.

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