Tipping Culture Needs To Die

I’ve held this opinion for a long time, but whenever I brought it up I’d be completely dogpiled with hate. Understandable, seeing as a lot of people only are able to scrape by through the tips they collect. By saying it needs to go away, they feel threatened that their primary source of income would dry up, and this is more or less me saying “you don’t deserve to make this money”. I’d be upset if someone was to suggest I get paid less too – but that’s not at all what I’m saying.

We have been conditioned to think this way in North America and it’s one big massive fucking grift by our corporate overlords so they can reap massive benefits we’ll never see as the working class. So, let’s talk about it, and why this needs to stop (but, likely never will).

The Origins Of Tipping (In North America, Anyways)

A lot of people like to think it’s “To Insure Promptness”. A nice sentiment, but it’s a complete lie. Nobody tips before they receive service, so that kind of kills that entire idea. However, you can bet your ass that if you’re at a bar and you don’t tip the bartender on your first round or two, you’ll be basically ignored for the rest of the night. “Oh, you don’t tip? I’ll serve EVERYONE else first, and you’ll be waiting 30 minutes if you’re lucky, you cheap bastard”.

Actually, the origins of tipping in North America is a by-products of deep rooted racism – just like all the best things in the world are, right? As slavery was abolished in the southern USA many of the freed slaves could only find work in service based industries. Naturally with the abolition of slavery, racism just vanished as one would expect. Surely the (almost exclusively) rich white business owners would pay their black slaves workers a fair wage, and not rely on the generosity of their (almost exclusively) rich white patrons to toss them some spare change. No, we would never want people in the service industry to beg for a couple coins akin to a homeless person on the sidewalk with a paper cup, would we? And, surely those patrons wouldn’t discriminate against that service industry worker based on the colour of their skin, right?

Well, if you believe that, you likely believe Hitler didn’t do anything wrong, and I’d imagine you’re the kind of person who would proudly get a swastika tattooed on your forehead and have a healthy collection of Klan hoods in your closet. Instead, the freed slaves were usually paid (on average) $20 a month (about $370/month today). Funny how in the USA service workers have a minimum wage of $2.13/hr, and on a 40 hour work week, that is about $340/month without tips. That’s worse than those “freed” slaves were being paid! I’ll just say it, US service industry workers are modern day slaves.

And, It’s Still Racist As All Hell Today

Endless studies have shown that black service workers are tipped far less than white ones. It’s completely ingrained in the idea that black people should beg, and if you beg, you’re inferior. Pretty on par with racism, I’d say. In 1902 a journalist named John Speed wrote “Negros take tips of course, one expects that of them – it is a token of their inferiority”. During that time (1903) black wait staff were paid about $20/month, meanwhile white wait staff were paid about $32.50.

And, while we do have laws in place that prevent that today from an employer level (and, let’s be real – there’s still deep rooted racism at the hiring stage), there’s certainly nothing saying that you have to tip someone equally based on their appearance. So, onwards with the discrimination!

Endless studies have shown that white wait staff are tipped disproportionately higher than those who are black. Are you a woman who wears a low cut shirt? Congratulations, you’ll be statistically getting higher tips than a woman who dresses more conservatively (but you’ll still both be subjected to constant sexual harassment). When it comes to men vs. women, one may think that women will get the bigger cut of the pie because patrons will want to use tips to “flirt”, but the reality is men still bring in more, and they don’t even need to flaunt their cleavage to do it. I wasn’t able to find too many studies on people who present as gender neutral/fluid, or those who identify as trans, but I can only imagine those numbers are probably as bleak as you’d expect.

It’s Also Confusing As Hell

OK. When should you be tipping, and who? It makes no damn sense to me. Wait staff seem like an easy “yes”, but if we’re tipping wait staff, why aren’t we tipping the person at McDonalds? You’re supposed to tip your valet, but why don’t you tip the person at the rental car company – after all, they’re doing the same thing, aren’t they – “bringing your car around”? Are you supposed to tip your masseuse – well, if they’re an RMT (licensed), the answer is no (and, many have policies of no tips), meanwhile if they’re not an RMT you’re expected to tip. But, if you tip them, why aren’t you tipping your physiotherapist, or chiropractor? You’re expected to tip your taxi driver, but you don’t tip the person who drives the bus, or subway – what’s the difference? For every example of someone you “should” tip, I’ll give you an equal that you aren’t expected to.

And, how much do I tip? Well, one might say “15% of the bill”, but is that calculated on the before, or after tax amount? Most people used to calculate a tip based on how much tax was applied, and tip that. POS terminals seemingly calculate the tip on the “total” amount, not the pre-tax amount, so that’s kind of another kick in the pants, isn’t it? So, if I’m supposed to tip 15%, what is 15% of “bringing my car around”? Valet parking is $10, so do I tip $1.50? What if valet parking is complimentary, do I not tip then?

What about my hair dresser? If I go to whatever discount place my haircut is $20.00, so a tip would be $3.00. However, if I go to a nicer place, maybe that haircut is $40.00, so now I’m tipping $6.00 for the exact same haircut. I suppose one could argue that the “nicer” place does a better job, right? Fine – I’ll give you a different example. Let’s say I go to Applebees for dinner. I order a coke and a basket of fries, but I also get 3 refills of my beverage (which are free), and my bill comes to $10.00. I guess I tip $1.50, right? But, what if I order the surf & turf and get the most expensive glass of wine on the menu. Now my bill is $50.00, so I’m expected to tip $7.50. How is that even remotely fair? Not only is the wait staff doing the exact same work, but in the cheaper example they’re actually doing MORE work for less tip!

Tip Creep. Welcome To The Thunderdome of Begging!

I keep using 15% as an example. Except, that’s not the “expectation” nowadays. Hell, I remember when 15% was considered a “good” tip. Now, it’s considered cheap. Go to any restaurant and when you’re handed the payment terminal the “pre-set” tip amounts almost always start at 18% and go up from there. What happened to 15%? More and more I see “18% – Fair”, “20% – OK”, “25% – Good”, “30% – Great!”, and as you read this the server is hovering over you watching you contemplate how much to give them. “Am I being too cheap?”, “Well, they did ignore me half the night”, “they got my order wrong”, all while feeling their searing stare burning into your soul. What if I’m on a date? Now I have the pressure of this person I’m trying to impress and I don’t want to look like George Costanza. I have to navigate the purposely confusing buttons to select “Other”, then “Custom amount”, then “Percentage”, then type in 15, all while the wait staff and my date stare at me. I pass the terminal back to the wait staff, they rip off the receipt, hand it to me, and walk away with a look of disgust without saying a word. It’d just be easier to hit that 18%, wouldn’t it?

But, it’s not just restaurants. It’s bloody everywhere. I went to McDonalds the other day (I feel shame just admitting that), and used the “self order” touchscreen because there was only 1 register for the entire restaurant and 3 people already lined up. Great, now I get to be the cashier! Shouldn’t I get a discount for that – after all – I’m saving them money in wages. Nah, instead I get PROMPTED TO TIP. Tip who?! Nobody even took my order! When I decline the tip, I then get a second screen “Why not round up?”. My bill was $6.35 or something, and it wanted me to “tip” $0.65. Not only did I have to decline tipping once, but then I had to do it again! And, let’s say I did tip… who does that money go to? Is it evenly distributed among the people currently working? Does it only go to the cashier, or does it also go to the person making my dry, flavourless Big-Mac that costs a lot more, and is a lot smaller than it used to be? What about the person who has to clean the explosive diarrea I leave in the toilet thanks to what that Big Mac did to my stomach? Do they get a cut of that tip – they damn well should.

I’m seeing prompts for tips on WEBSITES now. And, I can think of about 5 other places where I’m being prompted that I never saw it before. This is getting absolutely out of hand. I feel like I’m expected to be carrying around a gangsters roll of 5’s and just peel one off for everyone that I interact with each day at this point. Frankly, I’m completely sick of it.

The Counter Arguments

You can almost always expect the entire service industry is going to cry foul whenever this discussion comes up. I’ve worked in it. I was a bus-boy for Swiss Chalet in my late teens. While the servers got tipped, and were expected to “tip out” to the cooks, I know for a fact I never saw a dime. I was the guy who was collecting carts full of disgusting dishes, scraping off food scraps into industrial sized garbage bins, pre-washing those dishes, then pulling them out of the washer while they were discs of molten lava that burned my hands. I used jugs of god-only-knows-what chemicals to clean every surface in that place, and naturally I also had the job of scrubbing the who-flung-poo off the walls of the bathroom while I was on my hands and knees. It was by far the shittiest job at that place, I was paid minimum wage, and I saw nothing else. Definitely not a single penny of any tips.

“Oh, but the servers were paid less than you”. Ya, you’re right. They were – technically. I made $6.85/hour, meanwhile servers made about $5.00 if I remember correctly. However, they brought in easily triple that in tips per hour. But, now that argument is moot in Ontario, anyways. Servers are paid the same minimum wage just like everyone else. So, why should they be tipped, but the cooks, bus-staff, and dishwashers still get the shaft? Further, with the tips they were bringing in, they were making at least double, if not triple per hour over what I was. Make it make sense to me. Oh.. and, a lot of it was cash – meaning they didn’t pay taxes on that income. Don’t even begin to try and tell me that servers claim cash tips on their annual taxes, because that’s a flat out lie. Find me a server or bartender that actually claims every dollar they get in cash tips on their annual tax return as untaxed income, and I’ll find you someone who doesn’t pee in the shower or masturbate.

When I was doing Uber Eats I heavily relied on tips. In fact, I JUST did my taxes before writing this post and last year I made $3105 in fares, plus $1426 in tips. In 2021 I made $10,675 in fares, and $5541 in tips – in both cases tips accounted for 1/3 of my income. The difference is, I HAVE to pay tax on that. It’s reported to the CRA because it’s not cash. And, just on that $1426, I paid about $450 in tax. People who bring in cash tips can just pretend they never got it. Convenient. Again, tipping culture favours some, while others get screwed. It’s wonderful, isn’t it!

The Solution?

Well, I don’t eat out all that much anymore. There you go servers, you got what you wanted. The endless cries of “if you can’t afford 20%, you shouldn’t be eating out”. Fine, it’s what I did. Now you don’t get anything from me. But, that’s hardly the motivating factor. It’s just cheaper for me to eat at home, and frankly what I cook is considerably better than 90% of the food that’s served in restaurants anyways. I still splurge from time to time, but when I do, it’s a place that’s almost always independently run, and I tip 15% as a rule of thumb. If I can’t figure out how to tip 15% because of some complicated machine, I simply tell the server “I want to tip 15%”, and let them figure it out. It’s not my problem – and honestly, I don’t care what they think. I’m not going to succumb to some stupid social pressure or narratives being pushed upon the public by the ultra-wealthy business owners. If the service is outstanding, I’ll tip a bit more, but at the same time if the service is complete dogshit, I’ll tip less.

I suppose I could also reply “if you don’t like being paid shitty wages by employers who refuse to pay you a living wage, get another job”. Isn’t that the same thing as “if you don’t want to tip, stay home”? Maybe, but bickering back and forth with front-line workers who are paid a pittance for damn hard work, long shifts, and putting up with terrible customers isn’t solving anything. It’s just creating an environment of all the working class fighting amongst themselves while all these business owners laugh their way to the bank because we’re distracted by our infighting. The real solution is paying employees a living wage.

“If we did that, the food would cost double, or triple!”. No, it wouldn’t. There’s endless examples of this in Europe and elsewhere in the world where tipping is not only non-existent, it’s frowned upon. Those employees are paid a living wage, and they live comfortably. Menu prices are on par, if not even cheaper than they are here in North America. The difference is greed at the top.

Further, we have developed this culture of “eating out” for a lot of our meals. It’s disgusting if you ask me. There is absolutely no need for there to be a Popeyes, Subway, Chipotle, and Starbucks on every corner. What ever happened to packing a lunch, or buying something from the grocery store instead of popping into some shitty fast-food chain that only siphons off it’s profits and sends them overseas to billionaires while paying some poor schmuck $7.50/hour to assemble your sugar filled coffee or make a sandwich on bread that’s got the nutritional value of cake.

Anyways, that’s my take on it. I have no shame in not tipping in 95% of these situations where tips are absolutely not needed. It’s not my job to subsidize someone’s wages because some owner wants to earn his “pro” status at playing late-stage capitalism. I still tip at restaurants, but I do so reluctantly. Frankly I can’t think of many other places where I feel a tip is justified, but I can confidently say I have “tipped” some minimum wage workers in various industries for doing outstanding jobs, and will continue to do so when (a) I can afford it, (b) I feel it’s justified, and (c) I feel they should be compensated better for the job they did than what they’re likely getting paid. What do you think? Where should a tip be “expected”? What is your stance on tipping, and should we abolish it? If so, how do we do it?

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