The Abstract Art of Tipping


There’s a nice little pub around the corner from my house. While I rarely sit down and have a drink there, it is the perfect place to pick up off-sale beer before a house party. I’ll walk in to the retail side of the pub and pick out a six of something and make my way to the cash register. Right beside the register is a menacing little tip jar. This makes me nervous, and I’ll tell you why.

I don’t necessarily think the person sitting behind the register deserves a tip. I mean, I opened the fridge, I chose the beer, and I carried it to the counter. What part of that transaction requires extra payment. Whenever I see a tip jar though, I feel the societal pressure to contribute. I fear it makes me look like a cheapskate if I don’t “support counter intelligence”. Maybe I’m the only one that isn’t tipping? I think of it this way though: Would I tip the clerk in a clothing store for ringing up my purchases? No, I wouldn’t.

I certainly would tip a bartender in the bar, but there’s a difference between providing me a service (a service which I will probably be requesting again in the immediate future), and doing your job. I think that it’s a little disrespectful to even place a tip jar on the counter. There are certain places where you should not have to worry about gratuities. Fast food restaurants, clothing & retail stores, and convenience stores have no business asking for top-ups.

There are other areas where I’m confused if I should tip or not…

Take out food:

Obviously you tip when you go to a sit-down restaurant. But what’s the consensus for picking up take out food. When you sit down, are you tipping the waiter, or are you tipping the entire staff? I remember when I worked as a busboy, and there was a tip pool all the waiters had to cash out to at the end of a shift. Everyone else would get a percent, the hosts, the chefs, even the dishwashers. If I don’t tip for take out, am I stiffing all those support workers? Normally, I don’t tip when I go pick up the food, but I still get that feeling of awkwardness when “Enter Tip Amount: $ %” appears on the Interac screen.

Hotel Maids:

This one skipped my attention for most of my life. My parents always paid for the hotel when we went traveling. Recently though, someone I was traveling with left some money on the counter for the cleaning staff. I was a little taken back. I didn’t know that this was an area where a tip was required. This wasn’t a fancy hotel or anything. I know that you’re supposed to tip the bellhop or the valet, but the cleaning staff too?

Foreign Countries:

Now that I’ve started to venture outside of North America, it’s come to my attention that tipping practices are not the same in other countries as they are here. It’s the travelers responsibility to know where and how much to tip. For instance, in Australia tipping is not the norm. Minimum wage there is protected and is considerably higher than it is in Canada & the US. If you’re about to take a trip, search online: Trip Advisor has up to date tipping etiquette pages on most countries.

Most of the time, when I don’t tip it’s because I’m ignorant of the fact that I should be tipping. Hopefully I don’t commit tipping a faux pas too many times a day. I’m still not tipping that beer clerk though.

Side note:
For all you iPhone / iPod touch users, check out the free application TipStar in the App store. It allows you to quickly calculate your tip based on different saved percentages. It will even split up the bill for you if you’re dining with a group.

  • Adam

    I totally believe in tipping the house keeper in hotels…..there are some nasty people out there and they make total disasters out of their room…not saying that you do…but they are cleaning up after you, taking out your garbage, and cleaning your dirty towels etc….and in some peoples instances…their spluged sheets….so yes the house keeper deserves a little gratuity.

  • Brett

    To be honest with you, I’ve also been a bit confused by the concept of tipping anyone in the first place. Waiters/waitresses are already being paid an hourly wage, right? I don’t get an extra 15% added onto my hourly wage at my job, so I’ve always wondered why some people seem to think they deserve at least that extra 15%. I’m not saying being a server is an easy job, it can be brutal – especially if you have a picky table. That being said, most servers are not generally going above and beyond what is expected of them, so I don’t feel the need to give them an especially large tip, and they still get upset if I decide to tip them anything under 15%.

    You’re totally not alone on this issue. I really feel like it would be best if businesses that feel like they deserve tips for their services should just include gratuity on the bill. That way I don’t have to calculate the tip with my phone calculator, but I can still tip the proper amount.

  • sara

    I completely agree and i think that the next time you go into the “off sale pub” ask them what exactly the tips are for. You shouldnt feel embarrassed for not tipping..they are the ones that should be embarrassed for having the nerve to actually ask for one and you should call them on it or politely ask the manager about it.

  • James

    (In response to Brett)

    Servers don’t make minimum wage, usually half of that(Except in California and Oregon).Tips make up the rest. Not only are you tipping the server but the busser, bartender, and sometimes host/hostess and even kitchen staff. 15% is what is necessary to break even as a server. Meaning that 5% of that tip is most likely going to the support staff and the server is left with 10%. If you tip under 15%(which is within your rights of course, especially if the service is awful) the server is essentially paying to serve you.

    I hope that helps.

  • Michael

    Working for many many years as a server bankrolled my party years – – tipping originated in Olde Englande, and was given to the server before the meal, tips stood for “to insure proper service” (not that I was actually serving THAT far back!!!). That said, although the hourly wage for a server is quite low, a tip is for service provided (hence the name server) and should reflect the service you get, not be automatic. Once when dining in a high-end restaurant after having been served by a rude, insufferable, and inadequate waiter, I ended the meal after payment by calling him over, explaining that he hadn’t earned his tip, and proceeded to set the $50 aflame in an ashtray to bring the point home. As far as carry-out, unfortunately some restaurants have the policy of requiring servers to tip out back-up employees based on their total dollar sales, which would include the carry-out dollars you spend if the server rings it up. But, I always provided some bit of service in processing that carry-out order, which generally earned a few bucks over the price of the meal.

  • Brenda Robins

    Find everyones comments interesting ….recently I was on a sailing trip in Turkey with a friend of mine (Kiwi), her son was along with us and we were discussing tipping. As a former waitress, rest mgr and hotel mgr with experience in quite a few countries I find that there are people who really have no idea of the concept of tipping. I’m Canadian born, made a great living during my teenage years and college/uni years and supported myself during these time on TIPS. I have lived in New Zealand for about 12 years and they have no idea what tipping is or what it about. During our discussion her son about 23 yrs referred to me as a “whore” for accepting tips…can you believe [email protected]#)$()This is a young man who thinks that everyone (including his mother and government) owe him a living. Sitting in a restaurant in the most magnificent place with excellent food and service and he said this, I almost died……as I was paying for his dinner. I said to him that perhaps he was being just a bit harsh…his response was that you get paid to work and should not be tipped for doing your job……Let not forget this person has really never had to support himself. Needless to say we (my husband and I jumped ship the next day…my husband is a chef)
    We believe that if you get service you tip accordingly but if the service sucks then you don’t tip…….The person who burned the $50 bill good for you…..I will always continue to tip if I receive good service EVEN IN NEW ZEALAND, who care what they think you KIWIS…..As the guy said in his post I quote ” to insure proper service” TIPS…..Maids, bellman,porters, etc if they are helpful and attentive…..They are deserving of TIPS…

  • Rereading this article, after living in Amsterdam for the past year has sort of changed my opinions. I don’ t think that the “waiter’s get paid less than minimum wage” is a valid defense for requiring to tip. If they’re not getting paid enough, that is the RESTAURANT’S fault. not the customer. Many other places get by profitably without making their customers pay their staff (besides what they`re already doing with the price of the item). Stiffed waiter`s should be mad at the place they are working at, or local law if they feel like they are `paying to serve you`.

    People in the service industry should be tipped if they do a good job, and shouldn`t if they don`t. No amount of social pressure is going to make me feel differently.

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