Tipping culture grows uncomfortable, greedy


Ericka Prince frequents a snow cone stand in Irving with her husband and children. The ice-cold strawberry, lime, and rainbow treats, however, do little to cool off the heated exchange she has with the cashier who asks if she wants to include a tip. Not sure of whether it’s customary to do so, she sought advice from others around the stand.

“I don’t feel like I need to tip for a snow cone, but often I do because it’s awkward,” Ericka said.

Ericka and her husband, Philip, join a growing number of people frustrated at what they feel are abusive tipping practices.

“We make sure we’re doing what the norm is in society,” Philip said. “We tip our masseuse, we tip our beautician, we tip our hair dressers, and we tip our servers here. If I had to pick from this point forward, I would say I do not want tipping to exist.”

Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life,” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas that specializes in corporate etiquette training, said what is happening now among a lot of businesses is “tip-shaming”.

“What happens is people feel uncomfortable,” Gosstman said. “They say, ‘I don’t want to tip nothing, because then I feel uncomfortable.’ Then what they do is tip too much and walk away uncomfortable or unhappy.”

The annual tradition of tipping doormen, mail carriers, maids, nannies, and others originated in the 1700s when young newspaper delivery boys got in the habit of asking subscribers for gratuities on Christmas or New Year’s Day. The practice was later adopted by other local service people. In recent years, companies have begun taking advantage of the practice, including a decision by Marriott International to start placing tip envelopes in its hotel rooms. This practice of aggressively prompting customers for tips, Gottsman said, only ends up hurting businesses and customers.

“You end up losing customers that way, because they don’t want to go back and have that uncomfortable feeling,” she said.

Jo Ann Goin, founder of Glory House Catering Receptions Bistro on Main Street, agrees tipping practices have gotten out of hand.

“Most of us tip somebody, because we think we’re supposed to and then we adjust the amount of that based on how impressed we were,” Goin said. “But it’s getting abused because growing up it was only restaurants and now everywhere we go, we’re wondering if we’re expected to be tipping or not.”

Goin, who has been working at restaurants since she was in high school, said that unless circumstances are horrible, you should always tip a minimum of 20 percent.

“If a server is totally in the weeds, which is a term of being so far behind you can’t catch up because you’re so busy and you have too many tables, that’s one thing. The restaurant’s short staffed and you’re overwhelmed, that’s not their fault. But if they’re lazy and don’t care, that’s something else.”

Gottsman said the standard practice is actually closer to 15 to 20 percent and there is never a situation to tip under 10 percent.

“It’s difficult to say the food wasn’t good because that’s a kitchen issue and that’s not your server’s issue,” Gottsman said. “Let’s say you have a bad experience, you should leave 10 percent and talk to the general manager because oftentimes in restaurants, servers split their tips with others.”

Some residents believe that anything over 10 percent is excessive.

“I give 10 percent,” said a customer at Di Rosani’s, an Italian restaurant on Main Street. “I can’t figure out why I would give anybody more than what I give Jesus.” In one particularly bad instance of service, the same customer left a tip in a glass of ice water.

Philip and Ericka feel 15 to 20 percent is an acceptable range, but the problem with a set percentage is it implies the more expensive the product or meal, the better the service.

“We had a $100 meal, and I gave this person $15,” Philip said. “They didn’t do any more for me than the place down the street where I got a $30 meal did, and I only gave him 15 percent of $30.”

Philip grew up with a family that owned a restaurant and worked there as a waiter until he graduated college. Now, he owns a business and does not accept tips.

“It’s in my nature to provide good customer service, a tip doesn’t change the way I provide service for that person,” Philip said. “Managing other people, if you haven’t had the pleasure, is very stressful and labor intensive, and it’s hard work. The last thing I want to do is be judging somebody’s work when I’m not at work.”

The average tip rate seems to be rising. According to a PayScale study, the median tip is at 19.5 percent and a 20 percent tip, once considered generous, is now about average.

“The way it stands now, if you don’t tip, the person on the other end doesn’t necessarily take that and say they didn’t do a good job, they take it and say, ‘Oh this person’s a bad tipper,’” Philip said. His solution is a scale of one to ten on each table with a suggested percentage associated with the scale. That way, the server has a visible measure of their performance.

“That would reflect responsibility back on the service provider,” he said. “Now it becomes about the server as opposed to me the tipper.”

Shifting the emphasis to the server, Goin said, can have an impact beyond a restaurant.

“I remember giving a girl a $100 tip for a $30 lunch, because I just felt like I wanted to bless this girl,” Goin said. “If I was in college and somebody tipped me $100, I would have remembered that for the rest of my life.”

About the Author

Joe Snell
Joe Snell studied film and business law at the University of Southern California. He has worked for a number of film and television companies including 21st Century Fox, Starz Entertainment, Creative Artists Agency, and Brillstein Entertainment Partners.