In the United States, tipping was not prevalent until after the Civil War. Even then it was considered a holdover from Europe and was not overly popular. People would put out a few coins at the beginning of the meal.
The precise origin of tipping is uncertain. But it is commonly traced to Tudor England. By the 17th century, overnight guests staying in private homes would offer a sum of money known as vails, to the hosts’ servants. Not long after, customers began tipping in London coffee and tea houses and other commercial establishments.
Samuel Johnson was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755. One institution frequented by Samuel Johnson had a coin bowl printed with the words “To Insure Promptitude”. The word “tip” is thought to be an acronym for this phrase.
Tipping began as a practice of the aristocrats and it quickly spread among the upper classes of Europe. From the beginning, tipping has brought about feelings of anxiety and resentment. In the mid 1800’s, the Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle, after leaving the Bell Inn of Gloucester, complained, “The dirty scrub of a waiter grumbled about his allowance, which I reckoned liberal. I added sixpence to it, and [he] produced a bow which I was near rewarding with a kick.”
Following the Civil War, Americans began traveling to Europe in large numbers. They brought home with them the tipping phenomenon to show their sophistication. As tipping spread, book publisher William Scott wrote his 1916 anti-tipping creed, “The Itching Palm”. “Tipping, and the aristocratic idea is exemplified, is what we left Europe to escape,” Scott wrote. Another periodical of the same era condemned tipping for creating a class of workers who relied on “fawning for favors”.
In 1904, the Anti-Tipping Society of America was founded in Georgia. Its 100,000 members signed pledges not to tip for one year. Traveling salesman opposed the tipping practice, as did many labor unions. Washington state, in 1909, became the first of six states to pass an anti-tipping law.
But tipping persisted. The new laws were rarely enforced and when they were, they did not hold up in court. By 1926 every anti-tipping law had been repealed.
As many international travelers know, one doesn’t tip servers in many other countries around the world, where the servers are more likely to be paid a living wage. This has led some U.S. restaurants to adopt a similar practice.
The average tip has increased over the decades. The 10 % tip that was the average in the 1940’s has increased to a standard 20 %. Eighty percent of Americans say they prefer tipping to paying a service fee, primarily because they believe tipping provides an incentive for good service. But the research does not show this—less than 2% show that good service results in a good tip.
Economists have struggled to explain the phenomenon of tipping. Why do we tip at all, since the bill is presented at the end of a meal and cannot retroactively improve the service received? In practice, most people do tip because of social expectations, even when they’ve experienced less than stellar service.
The need to pay a tip, psychologically, is for the guilt encompassed in the unequal relationship we have between patron and waiter. We cannot ignore it. Ego also plays a part, especially when it comes to overtipping. It makes us feel good to help out someone by giving them a tip.
The single most important factor in determining the amount of a tip is the size of the final bill. Diners will generally give a similar percentage of tip no matter the quality of service or the setting. They do so largely because it is expected and people dislike social disapproval. It is somewhat embarrassing to have another individual wait on us, so we tend to want to give a tip to help ourselves feel better about this unequal relationship.
Most Americans prefer that waiters be paid higher wages instead of tips. This has already been shown to be true at fast food restaurants and private clubs, where tipping is not allowed. And some full service restaurants add on a full service charge for groups of six or more diners.
Since more people are contributing to the check, the responsibilities of the waiter is divided among them. In some cases, if diners take offense at the service charge, then the management may remove the charge. In most cases, the customers’ issue is not about the lack of service, but more about the loss of control they feel at not being able to pay a tip.
If you do not tip a waiter because of bad service, you might be penalizing them for something they had no control over, such as backed-up kitchen. Many restaurants pool tips, and servers give a share of their tips to busboys and bartenders, and sometimes even the dishwashers and hosts. Some corporate restaurants electronically track and report tips for tax purposes and employees may be taxed on the full amount of the night’s tips, even though they have to distribute a portion of it to other staff members.
The Motivational Effect
Recently, this author dined in a restaurant in Kansas City where, upon receiving the check for the meal, noted a new phrase printed on the final bill. “Staff fairly compensated”. This was a new thing. I inquired (gently) with my waiter and asked him if his was a salaried position. “Why, yes,” he said. “How did you know?” I pointed to the new phrase. He smiled. I signed the bill, then handed him a $5.00 bill. So I ended up tipping him anyway.
There are proposals around the country to increase the minimum wage. As more restaurants eliminate tipping and budget instead for salaries, the tipping issues will continue to surface. Tips don’t necessarily motivate waiters to perform better.
Tipping is too ingrained in the human psyche for us to do away with it completely. It helps us, as patrons feel better.
General Guidelines for Holiday Tipping
The holiday season is the traditional time to say, “thank you” and “I appreciate the work you do for me” to those who have provided service to you throughout the year. One of the best ways to express appreciation is through a hand written note, which needs to accompany the tip.
Whether and how much to tip varies widely, depending upon:
- The quality and frequency of the service
- Your relationship with the service provider
- Where you live (amounts are usually higher in larger cities)
- How long you have worked together
- Your budget
- Regional customs and social expectations
If you tip regularly at the time of service, then you may forgo or give a more modest holiday tip. Always include your child in gift decisions for teachers, day care providers, nannies and babysitters.
Every situation is different, but following are some general guidelines. Remember to let common sense, individual circumstances and the holiday spirit be your guide. What to give is always an individual decision.
Babysitter, regular: One evening’s pay, plus a small gift from your child
Child’s teacher: Check your school’s policy first. Give a gift, not cash. Consider gift certificates to a bookstore or restaurant or a gourmet food item.
Day Care Provider: $25-$70 each, and/or a small gift from your child for the providers who give direct care to your child(ren).
Nail/Hair Stylist: The cost of one regular salon visit.
Dog Walker: One week’s pay and/or a gift.
Fitness Trainer: Up to the cost of one session.
Housekeeper/cleaner: Up to one week’s pay and/or a gift
Letter carriers: U.S. Government regulations permit carriers to accept gifts worth up to $20 per occasion, not cash.
Live-in help (Nanny, Housekeeper, Cook, and Butler): One week’s to one month’s salary based on tenure and customs in your area, plus a personal gift.
Newspaper carrier: $10-$30.
Pet Groomer: If the same person grooms your pet all year, up to one session’s fee and/or a gift.
Yard and Garden Worker: $20-$50.
Skycap at airport: $1 per bag if you check-in curbside; $2 per bag if skycap takes bags to check-in counter.
Hotel Concierge: $5 for getting you reservations/tickets ($10-plus if tickets are hard to get). No tip required when you ask directions.
Hotel Bellhop: $1 per bag for taking luggage to your room.
Hotel Maid: $2-5 for tidying your room. (Leave $ on bed cover so maid will find it.)
Hotel Doorman: $1 per bag for help with luggage; $ per person for hailing a cab
Cruise: Varies. Ask cruise line for guidelines.
Remember: Share your goodness, far and wide, as much as you can, with as many people as you can, for as long as you can, with as much respect as you can.
Ready, Set…Time to Say Please and Thank You again.