The power dynamics of tipping
There’s a perfect phrase to describe someone who tips low, or not at all: “garbage person.”
The sometimes-wise Sirius Black tells always-garbage Ron Weasley, “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” Tipping presents a lopsided power dynamic. You can learn a lot about a tipping person from watching how they interact with a tipped person.
The tipping system also opens up opportunities for us to flex our unconscious biases. Racism, sexism, ageism, and ableism decimate the earning potential of many competent servers.
Not to be appropriative, but: you’re woke, aren’t you? A big part of being woke is admitting that you have unconscious biases. You cannot will yourself to be blind to physical differences. Remove those biases by deciding to tip 20% before ever laying eyes on your server. Don’t even bring the quality of your service into the equation. Studies show we lack objectivity in comparing quality of service, and are more likely to judge based on unrelated qualities such as conventional attractiveness (read: “big titties“).
The punitive stiff
I work a salaried job. I have bad days—days where I am grouchy, disorganized, and distracted. You know what my company doesn’t do in response? Send me a smaller paycheck that month.
A tip is neither a carrot nor a stick. It is not an opportunity to reward or punish a serviceperson. A low or nonexistent tip is never an appropriate response to a perceived slight, especially if you failed to use your words first. If there’s anything worse than being putatively cheap, it’s being passive-aggressively putatively cheap.
No one owes you enthusiasm. And you cannot buy mind-reading (especially by retroactive penalty).
Bad tippers may not know they’re bad tippers. There are some understandable situations, like being from outside of the United States. Or being raised by jackals.
I was a bad tipper for many years! In addition to jackal parents, I was from a really rural part of the country where 10% was still the norm. When I moved to a big city with a higher cost of living, I tipped badly for years before an embarrassed friend scolded me. I felt defensive at first, but I’d been shown the error of my ways.
So if you know a bad tipper, try educating first. If they persist: garbage status confirmed. (Seriously, don’t read that link unless you have a blanket handy for the douche chills.)
Here’s some more on how to defend your non-salaried self from getting stiffed:
- Freelancer, Protect Thyself: The Importance of a Fair Contract
- Should Artists Ever Work for Free?
- You Need to Ask for a Fucking Raise
Moving away from tips
First, make it a habit to build a 20% tip into your budget when going out. Read and re-read the title of this article, and write it upon your heart. We Bitches will encourage you to be cheap at every turn, but it has to be at your own expense, not your server’s.
I live near a big city, and we have a few spots where forward-thinking owners have instituted a fixed living wage for their employees. Make a point to give these places your business. And tell your server to pass your compliments on the system along to their boss. (And tell the owner or manager at your favorite neighborhood spots that you would enthusiastically pay more for the same food if it meant the people serving it were paid a living wage. A critical mass of willing customers is needed to change the system.)
I’ve heard concerns that service at such places must be worse, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. One offered a detailed rundown of where each of their local ingredients was sourced, along with a personalized recommendation based on the weather, our drinks, and what we were each in the mood for. Another knew the flavor profiles of each of the oysters we had the option to buy, and could sort them by size, flavor, and origin.
Because those servers didn’t have to waste mental and emotional energy stressing over their livelihoods, they were able to give me more attentive and enthusiastic service. Their passion for their restaurants’ food was evident in every interaction. The idea that someone needs a few extra coins jingled in front of them to do their job well is demeaning. It betrays a general cultural contempt for the people who serve us.
If you won’t tip 20%, consider going to Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Costco, Food Lion, Stop & Shop, Walmart, Whole Foods, Aldi, or hell instead.