In the United States, we’ve built a tipping system that is designed to replace employer-provided wages with customer-provided tips. This is in opposition to how tipping was originally intended: as a merit-based reward system for service above and beyond the norm. Under this tipping reality, the amount of your tip isn’t a whimsy, but a necessity to servers.
So if you don’t tip 20%, your server isn’t getting paid even close to a living wage. And if you can’t afford to tip 20%… then you sure as hell can’t afford to dine out.
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.” Well said, dog stars!
Tipping presents a lopsided power dynamic in which the customer has total power over the waitstaff. So you can learn a lot about a tipping person from watching how they interact with a tipped person.
Unconscious bias in tipping
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“).
All labor deserves compensation
Fundamentally speaking, labor deserves to be paid. Do you work for free? Neither do I! So why expect waitstaff at restaurants to do so?
“But surely restaurants pay them something!” you cry, all hopeful and ignorant. “Surely they don’t need a whole 20%!”
In the United States, servers are compensated a tiny fraction of minimum wage—$2.13 an hour to be exact. Somehow, miraculously, this is legal because of the weird expectation that tipping will make up the rest of their payment to bring them at least to the minimum hourly wage.
In other words, if you don’t tip your server, they take home $2.13 an hour. That’s less than the cost of the latte they just steamed and poured for you.
The unfairness of it all!
This is, in our humble yet bitchy opinion, bullshit. Steamy, creamy bullshit.
For one thing, it’s unfair to servers to base their total compensation on
- whether and how many customers decide to patronize their restaurant in a given shift, and
- whether and how much those customers decide to tip.
Servers are trading the finite resource of their time for money. If they don’t receive money in return… then that time is forever wasted. They can’t get it back and spend it finding another way to earn money.
It’s also, I admit, unfair to customers to pass most of the expense of payroll from the employer to the customer. Math is the very last thing I want to do when I’m out enjoying a meal at a restaurant. I left my home to be waited upon! To have someone else do the labor of feeding and serving me! It’s a kick in the teeth to then be asked to wipe the cobwebs off my high school education until I remember how to calculate a percentage. And after I’ve downed half a bottle of wine? Rude.
Nothing goes according to plan
And yet this is the bizarre cultural system we’ve all settled upon for how to compensate servers. If everyone tips 20%—great! No harm, no foul. It’s a little annoying and complicated, but no one loses out.
But of course, nothing ever goes according to plan.
There’s this (understandable, given the historical intention of tipping) misunderstanding that tipping should be merit-based. I’ll be generous and guess that people who believe in merit-based tipping aren’t aware of the weird compensation laws in the United States that expect tipping to make up the majority of servers’ wages. Because if they are aware, and still choose to stiff their waitstaff…
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).
Like I said, 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… With a Fair Contract
- Should Artists Ever Work for Free?
- You Need to Ask for a Fucking Raise
- Raising the Minimum Wage Would Make All Our Lives Better
- Stop Undervaluing Your Freelance Work, You Darling Fool
How (and why) we move away from tipping
We Bitches will encourage you to be cheap at every turn, but it has to be at your own expense, not your server’s.
If you read the title of this article and thought “How dare you! I can’t afford to tip 20%! Poor people deserve nice things too!” then good news: we agree with you. But remember the power dynamics of tipping. You are not the “poor person” in this scenario—your server is.
If you’re being budget-conscious about your meals, you can easily choose to buy a prepared meal at the grocery store instead of dining at a restaurant. When waitstaff are stiffed on a tip, they literally have no recourse.
So make it a habit to build a 20% tip into your budget when going out. Read and reread the title of this article, and write it upon your heart.
There’s a better way
I live near a big city, and we have a few spots where forward-thinking restaurant owners have instituted a fixed living wage for their employees. Make a point of giving 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!
Speaking of how labor deserves compensation… toss a coin to your Bitches by joining our Patreon or making a one-time PayPal donation! We work hard on these articles, spending hours sourcing the most delectable gifs and serving them under a rich truth-bomb reduction with a garnish of sass and class. If you appreciate that level of care in your fine blogging, well then… pay us!
A version of this article was originally published August 15, 2016.