Tipping in the U.S. can be confusing! This is especially true if you come from a country where tipping is discouraged or where a set service charge is normal. Oh, who am I kidding? Tipping in the U.S. confuses us all!
Here are just a few examples of how crazy it is! I go to a restaurant that is buffet style (meaning that I get my own food from a counter). However, a waitress brings my drinks and cleans my table when I leave. Do I tip her?
Or, I go to a restaurant and receive mediocre service. When I was growing up, poor service meant no tip! Now, tips are almost mandated so I think to myself, “Do I tip the waiter 15% because that’s the standard? Do I tip 10% to let him know that the service wasn’t good? Or do I tip 20% because I know he’s dependent upon this income and I want to be generous?” Decisions, decisions.
Or, what about the tip jar that has shown up almost everywhere! You find them at coffeehouses, pet groomers, ice cream shops, and even fast food joints (although they’re often used as charitable donations there). Our tipping frenzy has gotten out of control!
I don’t know about you, but I walk away from many of these instances feeling: 1) guilty (because I “should” have given more); 2) self-righteous (because I gave more than “deserved”); or 3) downright cheated (because, after all, what am I paying the company for if it isn’t for the service?). No matter what I do, the whole tipping thing never feels right! So, why do I do it? Why do Americans leave tips?!
Sadly, tipping is currently an integral part of our economic system. In fact, over 3% of our workforce is dependent (yes, dependent) on tips. Service workers often make less than minimum wage because their employers expect them to receive tips. Legally, an employer can pay a worker just $2.13/hour if the worker accepts tips. Although many consider this unethical, tipping will remain an expected part of receiving certain services as long as the law allows employers to underpay their employees.
So, to answer the question, Americans tip because we know that many of the people providing services NEED us to tip. The confusion comes in the wide variety of services we now receive plus our ignorance about who is underpaid and who isn’t. For instance, does the employer of the person scooping my ice cream REALLY expect me to tip them for doing their job?! I truly hope not because I haven’t succumbed to the social pressure to tip this person yet.
Now that you know why to tip, here’s an infographic from MintLife that tells you what to tip for specific services. Welcome to the wacky world of tipping in the U.S.! See you in the coffee line.
Photo by He Who Would Be Lost.