The 5 September issue of the New Yorker has an informative piece by James Surowiecki on tipping. Apparently it didn’t become widespread in the US of A until after the Civil War and some states were so appalled by it they even banned the practice. Who knew?

There’s just one problem with the piece, he claims that Australia and Japan are countries where they don’t have tipping. Now, I don’t know about Japan, but it ain’t true about Australia. Tipping isn’t as widespread back home as it is here (thank God!), but tipping wait staff in restaurants is standard. Though unlike the USA, you don’t have to tip if the service sucks; and unlike New York City, 20 per cent is an epic tip, not de rigeur.

I hate tipping. I never know how much I’m supposed to give or to who. Taxidrivers? Yes. The lovely woman who delivers the mail? No. Huh? It’s so random! I hate the stress of going to the hairdresser and not knowing how much it’s really supposed to cost. I just wish people would charge me up front and leave out the guessing game. I hate the moment of handing over the tip. I feel like I’m trying to bribe someone. The whole thing is too bloody stressful. I wish people were simply paid decently and weren’t dependent on customers to make a living.

Thus endeth the rant.


  1. Roger on #

    I hear you, old girl. Quite deplorable.

    Don’t suppose you might consider giving us back our capital letters, would you? ‘Tis starting to rankle.

  2. parker on #

    justine: i’m with you all the way with the tipping in the us of a – it’s bewildering, particularly for those of us (from oz) who are accustomed only to tipping good or above average service. there’s tipping and there’s tax – and suddenly youdon’t actually have enough money for your purchase – so then there’s humiliation.

    roger: what is it about the lack of capital that rankles? embrace the lower case

  3. quasar on #

    The first few days I spent in Amsterdam I made some cab drivers really really happy by tipping them. It never occurred to me not to tip, particularly as I was fairly happy with their service. I don’t really begrudge them the money since they did do a good job, but it was interesting to see how shocked my European friends were when they saw me tipping.

    What I really hate, though, is the idea that tipping is required not something to be earned by someone. It seems like the service in restaurants here (Boston area) just gets progressively worse as the standard tip amount gets higher and higher. I’ve started adjusting what I leave much more than I used to; I start off with a good but not great tip and add/subtract (usually subtract) from there based on service. I’ve started walking out without leaving a tip when the service is particularly bad and I’ve spoken to managers or called customer service lines (for chains) more than once in the past few months when I’ve had particular problems I found unacceptable. It’s my money and I’m feeling less and less inclined to reward people for mediocre or downright awful service. I also leave a very nice tip and say something positive to the manager or hostess on those all-too-rare occasions when I get very good service; it does run both ways.

  4. David Moles on #

    Don’t know how it is in Australia, but here tipping in restaurants is so expected that it’s built into the tax structure and the minimum wage laws — restaurants don’t have to pay waiters minimum wage, because they’re expected to make it up in tips, and waiters have to pay taxes on notional tips whether they actually get any or not.

    (Don’t ask me about taxi drivers or bellhops, though. Or about the time I blew my group’s cover in a London theater bar because at the time I didn’t know the English don’t tip bartenders.)

    “This American Life” did an episode last year on niceness and meanness, and one of the segments was on tipping. What they found was that folks like quasar are rare, and nearly everyone (except maybe in the case of insanely bad service) pretty much has a set (if sometimes subconscious) flat tipping policy and sticks with it regardless of service. About the only situation they found in which people tip more than their normal rate is when a regular notices one of the staff seeming to have a particularly bad day.

  5. Chris Barzak on #

    You don’t tip in Japan unless you’re a foreigner who doesn’t know better. So says my Japanese boss. 😉

  6. janet on #

    I hate all the things about tipping that Justine does, but it doesn’t make me feel that I’m trying to bribe someone (if it was a bribe, they’d get the tip before providing the service, not after). I’m so used to tipping in restaurants that I don’t think about it much, and since it’s expected and I know how to do it and I can just leave it on the table. But when I’m in the position of actually putting the tip into someone’s hand, I feel like I’m somehow asserting some sort of class privilege; I worry that it will seem demeaning, like I’m paying not just for service but for subservience. Does that make sense?

  7. Didi on #

    I used to tend bar, so I’m very comfortable with tips in restaurants and bars. And I usually overtip, because I know many people undertip. If the service was rotten, I leave a regular tip. 10 percent used to be the norm here. Now, in Tel Aviv, it’s 15 percent.

    Cabs and such confuse me. In Israel, one doesn’t tip cab drivers, so when I’m out of the country, I’m always unsure whether I should tip or not. It’s very awkward.

    But I never see it as a bribe, and I never see it as a class privilege. It’s the money you give a person in the service industry that goes directly to that person, without any of it going to the bosses or the government. I actually like that aspect of it.

  8. David Moles on #

    Tipping waiters and bartenders and taxi drivers doesn’t feel like a class thing to me, but tipping bellhops does.

    I liked the bit in the Surowiecki piece about tips being more about the gift economy — that resonated with me, even if (viz. Quasar) a lot of people still see it as a strictly market transaction.

Comments are closed.