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18.11.07

Tipping Is Stupid

A while ago Hafidha Sofia asked why we tip waitstaff a certain percentage of the price of the meal, since the amount of work they do is not proportional to the cost of the meal (a plate of spaghetti is just as heavy as a plate of prime steak). I've come to favor the second of the two theories I proposed in the comments -- percentage-based tipping was created by the restaurant owners as a way to create an incentive for waitstaff to encourage diners to spend more on dinner.

I always try to tip generously. But I would just as soon see tipping abolished (in every profession -- I'm sometimes a quite stingy tipper because I don't realize certain people are supposed to get a tip), a la the Australian system. The basic problem with tipping is that there's no deal worked out in advance. With anything else you pay for, you and the seller agree up front how much you'll pay and what you'll get in return. If you don't get what you pay for, your options (depending on the severity of the disappointment) include demanding a replacement, taking your business elsewhere in the future, and suing. When the service is paid for by tipping, however, the tip-ee has no guarantee going into the transaction what their compensation will be. They have some control in that good service will tend to be tipped better (though that has the side effect of encouraging insincere, ingratiating, subservient behavior). But the size of the tip depends just as much on the generosity of the tipper, which the tip-ee has no control over.

It probably wouldn't be too hard to eliminate tipping in the US, if there was the political will for it. It would simply require eliminating the special lower minimum wage for tipped professions. After an admittedly awkward adjustment phase, diners would decide that since the food is more expensive and the waitstaff make decent money without tips, there's no need to tip. The burden would shift to the restaurant to take care of its employees, rather than the waitstaff to suck up to the customers and accept whatever they deign to bestow.

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