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Tipping Should Die Because It’s Killing Our Souls

The following statement might not bode well for any potential arguments I make in the future about being an impulsive, freewheeling adventurer, but it is nonetheless true; the most reckless thing I do on a regular basis is handout arbitrary sums of money to total strangers who pretend, out of strict job requirements, to be my friend. This is a practice known as tipping.

A SUCCINCT CASE FOR TIPPING’S RECKLESSNESS IN THE EVENT YOU’D RATHER NOT READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE: The average person, over a 30 year adult period, will spend up to two years of their total earnings on tips. Reckless, in view of: 1) passively giving away significant sums of money in support of a system that is broken, discriminatory, and irrational only further exacerbates said system and muffles the voices of those it burdens most [the service workers themselves], and 2) the vast majority of us have limited financial resources and therefore should have a large degree of financial autonomy, [chinless obedience, rather than generosity, and surely not autonomy, being the lifeblood of Tipping Culture] and thus we probably shouldn’t be pissing it away on deep fried pickle gratuities.

The harms of Tipping Culture to tippers themselves are obvious [subjection, bankruptcy, death] but the harms to the tippees, less so. The current system in which most service industry workers rely on, tipping is an absolute necessity. It’s general knowledge that many restaurant servers, due to their unbelievably low wages [as low as $2.13/hour in some states the US], make a large portion of their income off the mandatory generosity of their customers. Servers are then required to “tip out”, meaning a percentage of their tips are then split with front/back of house coworkers, and what seems like a far too common con, the managers and owners themselves. [Again, this is simply context for the erratic sieve in which most service industry worker’s incomes filter though].

This system puts a lot of unspoken pressure on the tip itself; the crucial moment in any tipper/tippee relationship [more on this later]. But if a customer doesn’t tip, or tips a percentage smaller than that which the server is expected to ‘tip-out’, the server will likely complain that ‘it literally cost me money to serve that asshole’ [and will probably disguise a great number of bodily fluids in their food and drinks upon their next visit]. It is a fair gripe, because the unstable nature of their income is now guaranteed to be somewhat smaller, but the blame is applied to the wrong asshole. Horribly made arguments like this one, that somehow went viral, essentially argue that if you can’t afford to tip the expected amount, you shouldn’t be allowed in the door [the author writes, “As a server myself, it kills me to see the people around me being deprived of the money that they were supposed to earn. It kills me to see the three dollars you left on a forty dollar bill. It kills me that you cannot stand to put yourself in our shoes – as if you’re better than us. I wonder if you realize that you single-handedly ruined part of our nights”. No where in the article does the author consider that the money servers are being deprived of might have something to do with the antiquated system that allows this sort of thing to happen, instead blaming individual customers who might be poor or “lazy“]. Regardless of how backwards our system is, the customer has no responsibility, in any capacity, to ensure an employee is properly compensated for their work. The true asshole in this situation is the employer, who utilize a system which exploits and penalizes employees for circumstances often beyond their control. It’s a self serving hypocrisy from employers, viz. expecting generosity for their employees without contributing any themselves.

Over a century ago, progressive, anti-tipping groups felt that tipping was demeaning because it implicitly created a servile class that depended on generosity of rich, aristocratic customers rather than fair compensation. Not a lot of progress has since been made. The conscious understanding from most tippers that the tippee’s income relies so heavily on their generosity has created an environment where servility has become a basic minimum expectation. The server/tippee seems sincerely devoted to your quickly developing friendship, but it’s false, because above all, they want something from us. The relationship is a simulacrum of true human connection in order to follow workplace policies and disarm us enough to open our wallets a little wider. And since the ultimate point isn’t making a connection or even to pamper the guest, but to maximize potential generosity, the more pampering and simulacrum of benevolence the server shows towards you is actually evidence of their disaffection towards you.

The expectation from the tipper is a bit different, who essentially has full license to act as appraiser of everything relating to the tippee. Not just their job performance, but physical appearance and social manner. The idea of basing our pay scale on skin colour or physical attractiveness or ability to schmooze seems completely archaic – more so if we consider that our coworkers might make significantly more or less than us for doing the same job, based on their genetic makeup. Since it’s common knowledge that the server needs a potential tipper’s tips in order to suss out a living, the tipper assumes dominant position that works to reinforce classism and prejudice. [Because my friends regard me as a reluctant tipper, I have a recycled joke which every single one of them has heard me use hundreds of times, and is, quite truthfully, not funny at all, but never ceases to produce a laugh. If absolutely any of these components of the restaurant servility isn’t absolutely perfect, if the server says something awkward or spills a droplet of water or gets my order wrong, I will wait until the server is out of earshot, and then yell “no tip!”. Again, not only is this not funny, but it’s in bad taste because it’s an acknowledgement of the dehumanizing nature of restaurant service and the role of pompous dick-bag that nearly every restaurant client seems to unknowingly slide into while being “served”. ]

The effect being a sort of stilted friendliness with “cheery” facial expressions extracted out of weariness that we all intrinsically recognize was the Professional Smile. The Professional Smile is devoid of all genuine warmth, akin to posing for yearbook photos not once, but hundreds of times over the course of a day. It’s requisite among all service industry employees, and signifies only the smiler’s obligation to pretend to be pleased to see customers. And the hollowness of the Professional Smile radiates a sort of melancholy that is felt by both smiler and recipient – what I expect is a natural human byproduct to continued displays of insincere emotion. It messes with our heads and makes us confused should we encounter a genuine smile from a stranger. It’s a simulacrum of friendliness/humanliness and it is very, very damaging.

It’s no wonder that the restaurant industry is responsible for 37% of all sexual harassment claims – the single highest source of sexual harassment in the country. The tipping system encourages people, women for the most part, to demean oneself, and extract, tolerate, and philander as much from the tipper as possible in order to play out the required role. And beyond being reckless and predicated on a repugnant system, tipping is completely illogical in it’s application. There’s essentially no rationale behind who qualifies as Tipping Recipient Proper. We tip restaurant servers, bartenders, and maitre Ds, but not fast food employees. Hotel bell boys and room cleaners but not front desk agents. Taxi drivers but not bus drivers. Casino dealers but not bouncers or security. Hairdressers but not retail workers or salespeople [I’m fine with hairdressers though, who are tasked with trying to make us ugly humans less ugly, and in doing so, must get very intimate with all manner of scalp, follicles, and neck pimples. For that, you get a tip] The arbitrariness thickens when we look at the motivation behind our tips. Research shows we tip white servers more than black ones, and females more than males. Females are more likely to get a generous tip if you’re perceived as physically attractive. You’re also more likely to get a nice tip if you wear something in your hair, show-off your basic short-term memory, lightly touch the customer, or draw a smiley face on the bill. And servers themselves aren’t immune to casual discrimination either – black customers, who tip less on average in general, are provided inferior service than that of white customers.

Now, as a somewhat important aside, I’m sure it’s relevant to note that I generally do not like tipping, even though I’m a regular and begrudging participant of it [and perhaps, due to my far too common agonizing over the nature of tipping, feeling somewhat guilty about my distaste for it, I assume that those around me subconsciously can tell I’m a reluctant tipper, and I therefore feel the need to compensate by being a somewhat generous tipper, in order to paradoxically refute what I feel that people think about me, and also to toe the line in society’s conventions]. It’s nice to do it occasionally, particularly when it produces that four seconds of altruistic warmth, but the unspoken social contract that the server is entitled to a share of my wallet is ridiculous. That service industry worker should be fairly compensated from his or her employer. They’re hard working people and they have to watch you chew with your mouth open – they deserve better. Customers, with all our prejudice and imprudence, should not be making these complicated decisions about an individual’s financial compensation.

The world’s foremost tip researcher, Michael Lynn, who has written 51 papers on the subject, believes the practice should be outlawed, “It’s a net drain on social welfare and our happiness. I think more people tip out of social obligation than tip because they want to, so people are parting with money they would rather keep.” Other behavioural experts agree, like Ofer H. Azar: “Tipping can be problematic because it seems to create classes, that of the customers, and that of the service workers, who have to satisfy the customers and sort of ‘beg’ for the tips”.

So let’s fix it [or at least review it, get cranky about it, and continue to tip away]. Restaurants move to a non-tipping system so both customers and servers feel less pressure. Restaurants instead provide staff with a higher, living wage or salaries, and benefits. The tradeoff is higher menu prices, but without gratuities, the final bill works out to being about the same. And more importantly, it creates financial stability and eliminates despair from service industry workers […or most of it. It’s still a job, after all.] And this isn’t some pie in the sky fantasy. There’s plenty of evidence of restaurant owners moving to a no-tip system creating a more healthy environment for employees and customers. A restaurant owner in New York who moved to the no-tipping-allowed system said “your service staff, those who want to pursue that as an ongoing career, they have stability, they become part of a family. You have to be all in if you’re a salaried professional. It also attracts people who are more serious about being a part of that craft and being a part of that journey.” Just take a peek around the internet. Those moved to the no-tip system, by and large, love it.

And what really do we stand to lose by moving to a no-tip system? Are our experiences ever really heightened by the pseudo-beaming service we expect? The servers themselves have a lot to lose: financial instability, workplace racism/sexism/classism/harassment of all kinds, and probably thousands of despair-inducing Professional Smiles. The customers have a lot to lose too, including the support of a detrimental and irrational system. But, on a personal level, there’s one thing I would miss most. I would miss sneaking back in to a restaurant to pad the tip after eating out with my father, who believes that it’s still 1989 and ten percent is “good enough” – and considering the necessity of tipping, its ineffectiveness and social toxicity, coupled with the weird prospect of being caught and receiving an adult scolding from my father, I would then have to find a new way to be impulsively and senselessly reckless.