Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Food, Culture 

Tipping is stupid

Why do people pay more for a meal than the agreed price? Is it because they are exalted by the superb service, or is it out of pity for the server that brings the food? It is socially very awkward to get away with not paying gratuity, and I believe that's the real reason people do it. It is a form of bullying that certain industries use to get more out of the customer, and oddly people just accept it as normal.

It started in England and was already a common custom in the 17th century. It is a mystery why anyone would want to implement this weird tradition. Perhaps it originated as extra pay when the service was extraordinary, and then over time the establishments got used to it and expected it for normal service as well.

It is easy to understand why it has a strong hold in the US, where the level of bullshit in society is remarkable. When you buy goods or services in the US, it is almost impossible to know the total price. No price includes tax. Then on top of that expect all kinds of creative ideas with extra charges, gratuity just being one of them. Perhaps the next step is to not show prices at all, and the bill comes as a total surprise every time. 

Why is tipping limited mostly to bars and restaurants? It makes no sense. For some years the rationale behind this was that the servers could not make a living without tipping, as if they were the only low wage profession. Now new legislation is in place that force the employers to give the servers minimum wage in case the tips don't add up to it.  So one would think tipping would be gone, but it is more common than ever.

If we shall be totally honest about it, tipping is a form of begging. It is applying social pressure so you feel sorry for someone, and to make you feel cheap if you don't donate money to them. When did you ever see a beggar being welcome to collect at the tables of a restaurant? That beggar would be thrown out head first because it would be seen as harassment. Instead, the restaurants have a more elaborate system in place, namely the employees themselves who do the exact same thing. I am supposed to look at them and feel sorry for them, and give a little extra to support them in their struggle. Where is the pride in a profession that relies on pity for such a great portion of the income?

The server might be trying his best to give good service, in hope for a good tip, taking extra care of me. Shouldn't he get something for that? Well, what about me? Does he know who I am, and does he even care? Maybe I am struggling to make ends meet too. And I might be trying my best to be a nice customer by not making special orders, being polite to everyone, not raising my voice, and wearing clean clothes. Why don't I get a discount on the prices? That would only be fair if the server expects a tip.

How about all other minimum wage jobs that no one tips? Factory workers, hospital staff, cleaning staff, supermarket checkouts, etc. They do their work without complaining, and usually in a much more depressing environment. Servers are cry babies who exploit people's generosity.

The ultimate way to show appreciation is not by tipping, it is to come back again and again; to frequent the establishment and use their services. What does the owner prefer: a good tipper that never comes back, or a regular customer who never tips? I think we all know the answer here, yet, if you stop tipping you will be treated like the scum of the earth, having the servers spit in your soup.

Tipping, exclusion of taxes in prices, mail-in rebates, service charges and the likes, there is no end to how creative you can be as a business owner. These tricks are played on consumers to hide the true cost of an item. I once was in a restaurant in Los Angeles and I made a point about this to the lady at the counter: "But it says here the meal is $7.95, so why do I have to pay more?" "There is tax on top of that", she replied. "I prefer to pay the taxes on my own, and only give you $7.95 right now", I countered. She looked dumbfounded at me and said "You have to pay the tax here". "If I have no option, then why don't you include the tax in the price tag?", I asked. "Well, I am including it now", she said, and the rest of the discussion got heated. 

People are so used to this level of bullshit they think it can be no other way. But why not just show the price of the goods and services up front? What could be more honest than that? It works in other countries. Restaurants should add the tax and generally increase the prices to cover for gratuity, then print a new menu, and stop accepting tips out of pride. They could put signs out front saying "We are proud to pay our staff real salaries - and we don't accept charity (tips)". I mean, when you think about it, what does it say about a business when it doesn't want to pay its employees a livable salary? Why even use their services?

A few experiments have been done with restaurants that don't accept gratuity, and they have all failed. Americans want to tip for some reason. What is the psychological explanation for this? I think it is a combination a few factors, out of which generosity is the least part. The major part is fear and pride: wanting to show accompanying friends and other customers that you are a generous person, in case anyone doubts it, and that you have a higher standing in society than the server. It is more of a public announcement, than true compassion. In reality you can not get away with not tipping in the US. If you try to leave without giving it, you will be seen as a traitor, and verbal abuse will follow.

Next time you visit a restaurant why not say the following to the server, right when you sit down at the table: "I never give a tip out of principle. It is nothing personal against you. Will this put me in an awkward situation in this restaurant?" If there are any objections then just leave, if not, then have a great meal and ask to put up the below sign in their window.

Imagine that you are in a hardware store and the clerk brings you a box of nails, and when you don't pay him a tip, he asks you "Didn't I provide a good service for you today, bringing you this box of nails? Wasn't I courteous and helpful in selecting the right nail size?" We all expect him to do this for free; that is the job of being a clerk. But somehow when it comes to restaurant servers, they can say the same thing without any shame, like they have a right to put their hand in your pocket.

I avoid any kind of place where I am pressured to give a tip. I rather eat fast food than eat at a regular restaurant that forces tips. And it has nothing to do with the cost, and all do to with how stupid I feel when I'm forced to pay more than the agreed price.

Luckily tipping is not practiced much in Thailand. Local restaurants don't expect tips, and some even get offended by it. More upscale places do expect tips, but wont get upset if you leave none. But that will not last for long I am sorry to say, because most foreigners who live here love to tip, and soon the restaurants here will be expecting it too. It is strange that the more developed a country gets, the more bullshit it also implements.

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