Not so long ago, tipping someone for good service was the ‘nice’ thing to do. In the earlier part of the 1900s a ten percent tip was considered a good amount when the waitress did her job well. The delivery guy could get a nice tip, too, as long as he didn’t drop your groceries on your foot or take all day, allowing your milk to develop solid chunks. I understand that restaurant servers get paid a very low hourly wage and that they depend on tips to make a living. I understand that some people never tip even when a server goes way out of their way to be helpful and courteous. But something has happened in the custom of tipping. It’s become a controversy that people are a little afraid to talk about.
I guess it was my upbringing, but I learned that people should be rewarded for doing something good. Help someone cross the street, get praise. Pick up trash off the street, get a word of approval. Even returning a wallet should be applauded, but giving money for that deed is still something that should be an extra bonus decided on by the owner. Maybe the wallet only contained the last three dollars of someone on a fixed-income. Somehow, it has become expected to reward a good deed with money.
Don’t get me wrong, I love giving a monetary reward for a good turn. It’s kind and thoughtful and a great way to show appreciation. Servers in particular work hard and deal with difficult customers and situations and deserve to be compensated for their effort. On the other hand, I have been treated badly by wait staff with rude behavior and comments, and even eye rolling. Do they really deserve a tip?
It’s becoming quite a controversy. On one hand, there is the dictionary definition of gratuity — a free gift in return for service without claim or demand. I remember as a kid watching bellboys in the movies. They’d carry in the guest’s bags and stand there with their hand out. That seems to be on the fringe of being ‘without claim or demand.’ Then there were the pushy maître d’s who would clear their throat like they were choking until the restaurant patron handed over some cash. That came to be expected over time. But now, today, this ‘tip’ controversy has been elevated. If you don’t leave a tip of at least 20%, you will be shunned by others and maybe lectured on how the poor waitress will suffer for your cheapness. After all, she brought your food and your check. Even if she forgot to bring silverware and you had to grab some from another table, and she didn’t say a word while you switched plates because you both got the wrong dinner. You’re still barbaric and bad-mannered if you don’t give her the ‘expected’ twenty percent. But it gets even more burdensome. If there are more than four people in your party, they add on the 20% without asking. “Just pay it and like it, buddy”
I suppose they can justify their demand by the fact that they pay the waitress just $4.95 an hour. In some states they pay as little as $2.13. And it’s up to you to fix that situation. But it’s reached a new height. Just last week I went into a home center type store to get a box of nails. I found the nails myself. I carried them to the counter. I scanned them on the checkout station as an employee sat off to the side, carefully scrutinizing his cellphone.
As the total came up on the little screen, there was a message.
“How much would you like to tip? And the choices were 20%, 25%, and 30%! In a store where I did all the work myself! The dictionary definition sprang to mind. “Free gift for service without claim or demand.” I searched the little screen for “no tip.” I checked the box and I could’ve sworn that cellphone boy there gave me a dirty look.
After the transaction, I calculated that I could have paid nearly seven bucks for that five dollar box of nails. In my mind, I figure I saved a couple bucks and as I walked out I saw a kid help a lady put a bag of charcoal in her trunk I decided then and there to give that boy a tip. I handed him two dollar bills and told him he was nice for helping her. He took them and looked at me for a second like I had two heads and then turned to her and said, “Ok ma’am — that’ll be five bucks.” She dutifully handed him a five dollar bill and got in her car to leave. I give up.