Do You Tip Your Servers or Are You a Sociopath?

Years ago, I was in Germany on business and had a chance to visit an old friend from graduate school. As we were walking around, we visited a small cafe for a bite to eat. When I paid the bill, I left a few Deutschmarks for a tip. (This was pre-Euro days.)

She got rather irritated with me and said, "You Americans and your tipping. You can't leave that much or the servers will come to expect it."

I felt like I had just been told by the park rangers not to feed the bears or else they would learn to depend on handouts. She handed me back my money and left a few coins on the table.

"That's all you tip them?" I asked, surprised.

"Sure, why not? They already get paid fairly well. The tip is just a thank you, not an expected part of their salary."

This helped me understand why so many American servers hated waiting on European tourists. "They're such poor tippers," my server friends would say. "They demand everything and they don't even leave a whole dollar."

This gives Europeans an excuse for tipping poorly: No one told them that here in the United States and Canada, you tip servers 15 – 20 percent of your pre-tax bill. They weren't aware of the custom, because that's not how they do it at home.

So what's your excuse?

Some people, even though they supposedly know better, just won't tip anyone, because they don't want to. They disagree with tipping as a rule, or they don't like to give away their money, or they can't afford to part with it. Never mind that it has been an accepted part of the dining experience for many decades, there are people who withhold a tip because they're stingy and selfish.

I'll admit, tipping is a voluntary practice, and you can choose to tip people or not. But it's so ingrained in this country that if you don't do it, you just look miserly.

A recent article in Eater magazine looked "inside the minds of deliberately bad tippers" One tightwad they interviewed said, "I’m not going to be rude and say I don’t care, but I actually really don’t care. That’s not my concern. I don’t know you. You chose that profession."

Which is pretty heartless. It doesn't matter why they chose that profession, you don't get to judge them for their career choice and refuse to tip them because of it. Saying, "that's not my concern, you chose that profession" is like telling your kid, "I don't care about your pain, you chose to touch that stove."

Like it or not, this is of our social contract when it comes to a service economy. Call it a thank you, call it a reward, call it a fringe benefit, call it a boon. Whatever you call it, this is something you should do.

If a bellhop brings your bags up to your room, you tip them. If a delivery driver brings pizza to your house, you tip them. If you ride in a taxi, you tip the them.

And if you go to a restaurant where a server brings you drinks, takes your order, brings your food, and clears your plates, you tip them. This is how the entire North American restaurant industry operates, and if you can't accept that, you need to make other plans. Like ordering food from a clown's mouth, or going to places where they hand it to you through a drive-up window.

But maybe you don't want to do that. You feel you deserve a nice experience once in a while — just like your server feels they deserve to pay rent and buy groceries — so you decide to go to a nice restaurant.

Let's try something: If you don't plan on tipping your server, inform them beforehand.

Come on, don't be shy! You need to speak up and not lead them on. If you want to take a principled stand on the issue, let them know your intention before you even ask for a glass of water.

"Excuse me, before we begin tonight's transaction, I need to tell you, I don't believe in tipping. And although it's a long-accepted practice in this society, it's not one I plan to support. I understand this is how you earn your living, but I actually don't care about you as a person, so I will not leave you anything, except maybe a few coins."

You can put this into your own words, but the gist of it should be, "I know we tip in this country, but I'm not going to, because I don't care about you."

Then you can order your meal, secure in the knowledge that you and your server have reached an understanding. Be confident that their professionalism will still compel them to provide you with a basic level of service.

What's that? You don't want to do that? You're worried that your food is being prepared out of sight, behind closed doors, somewhere in the back?

I'm sure it's not filled with boogers at all. But you know what? I actually really don’t care. That's not my concern. I don't know you. You chose that attitude.

So bon app├ętit and be sure to try the oysters!

Photo credit: Visitor7 (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

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