Joe Heim discusses the socially awkward topic of tipping, a stock story this time of year, in tomorrow’s Washington Post.
Gratuities 101 (M07)
Tipping is one of life’s great mysteries. Like love and religion, it can be a source of endless befuddlement and deep philosophical pondering. Oh, all right, it’s nothing like love or religion. But it can be confusing to know who, when and, most important, how much you should tip. After all, the line between gratuity and gratuitous is a fine one. As no less a figure than Benjamin Franklin once observed, “To overtip is to appear an ass: To undertip is to appear an even greater ass.”
Hoping not to appear an ass at all, we usually revert to socially accepted standards — ranging from 15 to 20 percent for waiters to a dollar or two per drink for bartenders (stiff your bartender and you’ll be amazed by how long it takes that second beer to appear). But some tipping situations aren’t quite as clear. Should you tip when you order takeout? Leave money for the maid who straightens up your room at your hotel? Slip two bucks to the doorman who hails a taxi for you? Drop your change in the guilt jar at the local Starbucks?
“Most people don’t like tipping, and they do it to avoid embarrassment,” says Michael Lynn, a professor at Cornell University’s hotel school. Having studied tipping habits for years and written numerous scholarly papers on the subject, he says the biggest reason people tip is not for great service, but for social approval. While Lynn has calculated that more than $26 billion a year is spent on gratuities in the United States alone, he also points out that various surveys show approximately one third of respondents in the United States aren’t aware of how much they should tip.
The number of people who “should” be tipped for doing jobs for which they are paid regular wages continues to expand, apparently. People who work behind the counter at coffee shops expect tips, whereas those who work behind the counter at fast food hamburger places don’t. Meanwhile, those who hand you your food at a Chinese takeout restaurant are apparently entitled a tip of 5 to 10 percent “because the person at the counter still has to prepare your order and remember to include everything you requested.”