Why I don’t like US Tipping rules

Hi RIP friends,

I’m in US, visiting Hooliland this week. The weather is awesome even though it’s January. Spending free time biking among pelicans and squirrels is simply amazing.

Among the (many) things I don’t like about US, there’s this one that I really, really hate: tips.

In US, you tip everyone. Your waiter at the restaurant, your taxi driver, your barista, even the delivery guy!

You don’t tip because you like the product. You’re supposed to tip because that’s how most of their salary is made. The tip is not unexpected. There are acceptable ranges for tips in various situations. A good reference manual is this one from waitbutwhy, one of the best blog on the internet, that these days produces a post per year… Here’s the link to the original post on tipping.

Despite tipping being not mandatory, your bill might automatically include it, sometimes under the name “gratuity“, from “gratis“. It’s fun, isn’t it?

In the best case, your bill suggests you how much you should tip. I guess this is because foreigners who are not used to this procedure risk to forget it.

Here in Silicon Valley you can see recommended tips in the range 18% – 22%. I’ve seen suggestions up to 25%.

If you’re American you’re probably used to it and consider that normal.

It’s the way things work, isn’t it?

Well, for me it’s always a shocking experience. The temptation to give my feedback and act against the rules is high, but I never do.

That’s because Hooli pays for your meals, am I right?

Of course not! It’s a matter of principle!

Let me be clear: I don’t want to appear mean, cheap or “the worst” (according to waitbutwhy). I just don’t agree with the system and my only weapons are my actions. But in the end I never do anything revolutionary and simply play by the rules and tip my ~20%.

Here I am to use my other weapon, my tongue (well, actually my fingers but tongue sounds more cool)!

My thoughts on tipping

Before starting: I’m focusing on restaurants tips here. Most of the same arguments work for other jobs as well but I won’t go deep there.

The positives:

1) I like meritocracy.

I like that workers who perform better and work harder get more money and recognitions. This could have been achieved by bonuses and promotions but I guess it’s hard for bosses to assess the quality of a waiter’s work. Customers feedback should be the final metric. As a customer, I’m happy to be able to provide a feedback for the service I receive. Tipping is a nice way to express my feedback. It encourages waiters to be efficient and kind. Hurrah!

Then why do you complain! tips economy is meritocratic! And incentives high service quality

The problem is that this system is not meritocratic at all, and here’s why.

The negatives:

1) The tipping range is very narrow

How can you maneuver within such a narrow range? Can there be a 4% difference between “asshole, eat this shitty sandwich and go the fuck away” and “Dr. RIP, we were waiting for you! I’ve reserved the best table for you in front of the sharks pool. Now please let me perform a belly dance show for you and then I’ll spend the entire time massaging your feet and telling Dave Chappelle quality jokes“?

How are waiters being incentived to increase their service quality by a 4% range?

2) They earn more if you spend more

Let’s be extreme: a shitty waiter that gets tipped 15% on a 100$ dinner earns more than a perfect waiter that gets tipped 25% on a 50$ dinner.

So, what’s their incentive? To make you spend more.

Why are they nice with you then? To get a higher tip percent? No, that’s inefficient. They’re nice to you to make you spend more.

“:D Can I bring you something else? 😀

uhm… no, we’re done

“:D ok, cool cooooool here’s the bill 😀 have a nice evening… please pay quickly 😀 so that I can serve other customers and maximize revenues 😀

3) 18-22% is a lot!

In Italy, Switzerland and in general in most of Europe tips are not expected and when we tip, we tip few Euros/Francs to round the bill. It’s ok, it’s a recognition of exceeding expectations, it doesn’t impact your plans and it’s not expected.

In US… Why the hell can’t they get a salary by their bosses? Why should I pay an extra fifth – plus sale tax, so ~30% extra – compared to the menu pice? What’s the point of having 9.99$ on the menu if the item will cost me 13$ more or less?

Which brings us to the next point…

4) I don’t know how much I’m going to pay for my meal

That’s extremely annoying.

And that’s a consequence (or the cause?) of lack of financial awareness in US. You don’t know how much you’re going to pay for your meal when ordering.

Who cares, we’ll just swipe the credit card!

When I was young, I used to have strict budget for dinner out. I still do, but I used to too (cit.).

It worked this way:

  • I have 20 Euro in my wallet.
  • I don’t have access to credit.
  • I must spend below 20 Euro.

Very simple, and educative. You have a budget, you need some basic math skills like summing up few numbers and see if you’re within your budget.

Responsibility, awareness, scarcity.

Here in US you need a PhD in Financial Mathematics to predict your final bill. But who cares! Let’s pay with plastic, right? Budget? What is it??

And what disturbs me the most is that when I have a dinner with others they seem to not know what’s happening!

I’ll take a shit-burger, for 9.99$ it’s very cheap!

No, it’s not! It doesn’t cost 9.99$. It’s 13$. Let’s call it 13, not 9.99. Let’s call with its name.

5) I hate fake nicety

Being gentle and kind is appreciated. Acting is not.

It’s obvious that being a waiter is a hell of a job. Here in US they work impossible hours, weekends, under continuous pressure and yet they smile at you so fakely that’s disturbing. Their 3 seconds walk between tables shows the face of the death where you can see how they put off the fake mask for a heartbeat.

I’m not complaining with them though, let’s be clear. I empathise with them, I feel their pain. I just don’t get why they’ve to worsen the situation by adding this extra layer of fakety and pressure.

I don’t like being asked every 5 minutes “is everything ok? Cool, I’m happy you’re happy” and other such bullshits!

Ok, then what?

Please don’t tell me “that’s how waiters get their salary!

Bullshit! Just ask for a salary, you’re fucking working there! You’re wearing a ridiculous costume that matches the shop’s color, not me.

Ah, don’t tell me they’re taxed based on “supposed tips” either.

Don’t play the guilty card with me. “if you don’t tip they pay taxes anyway…” it’s a bug in the system, fix the fucking system!

I want to tip freely if I like the service. I’m more willing to tip if I think what I ordered is worth more than its price. If I’m already paying “a lot” for something worth less, I won’t tip on top of that. And I’m pretty cheap when considering the monetary value of unnecessary things 🙂

And if you really need to have some structure, I demand tips bracket, like taxes. But decreasing in marginal percentage.

I want waiters who’re relaxed, well paid (salaried), genuine and definitely not sales agents.

What’s your thought on tipping?

Update (evening of January 25th)

Tonight I wanted to get a quick couple of slices of pizza from a local take away / pizza shop in San Francisco.

I went into this pizza shop, ordered 2 slices of pizza and a coke. The guy at the counter said “13.50, please”. I gave him my credit card, then he turned the display toward me and I saw these three big buttons for tips: 15%, 20%, 25%. I pressed 15%, slightly disgusted, and paid my 15.52$.

Then took my pizza and coke, sit down and had my quick dinner (pizza was amazing even for an Italian, though). When I finished, I cleaned up after myself. The guys behind the counter did nothing, NOTHING, except fulfill the order.

Why the hell are we supposed to tip in these circumstances?

I’m pretty sure there was a “no tip” option, but I didn’t see it. Just three big blue buttons saying 15%, 20%, 25%. Wtf, 25% srsly??.

Did my research afterward, and discovered the software they’re using is Square, which someone says “it’s guilting us into tipping basically everyone“. According to the images I’ve found on the net, there should have been the “no tip” option, but I didn’t see it.

Seriously though, You Want 20% for Handing Me a Muffin?

24 comments

  1. I am 100% with you. Look. I had many customers in my life. They asked for my service. I told them my price. If they agreed they gave me the job. I’ve done the job based on the specifications and I got paid. I don’t remember anyone giving me a tip. And I never expected. Why? Why should waiters, taxi drivers etc should have a strange parallel wage system. It’s stupid. If you take that job because of the tips, you ‘re doing sonething wrong I think. Look for some other profession.
    The system in the US is just sick. I don’t understand how nobody sees that there…
    Yes I worked in IT. But my first wage was less than waiters would earn! Still no tips!
    These Jobs like waiters, taxi drivers should be replaced asap by robots/Software. People should do something that adds value. Something that makes sense.

  2. I don’t think that you’re aware that the wait staff also has to pay 6 percent of the total bill to the bartender and busser so if you tip 15 percent they payout six percent so you actually tipped 9 percent

    1. No, I’m not aware of that. And I don’t need to be, like I don’t need to be aware that the pasta I buy at the grocery store has staples costs, manufacture costs, transportation costs, retail costs and so on. The grocery shop owner put a price on the pasta that is reasonable with underlying aggregate costs, expected revenues, and actual market value of the good. Then I decide whether to buy it or not.
      That’s how free market works.

  3. They get taxed on it. Lol…here is the tax. We have to tip other people. The bus boy, the bartender, the hostess, the food runner, the kitchen staff. If you don’t tip I have to tip for you. If my sales are $1000 I have to tip like I made 17% on that to all of those people. So if you and your friends come in and spend $200 and you don’t tip my tax is having to pay my team so you can be “the worst”. You just wasted my time for 2 hours ordering one thing at a time asking for ranch…then I return and you ask for ketchup… Then I return and you ask for salt…then I return and you ask for a beer, like beer is a thing…we have 30 flavors do you have a favorite one? Then ask for that…not beer…then I return and your buddy asks for a beer…really? Didn’t we just go through this? Pick a brand. Now its been 20 minutes of me getting one run…order as a group, not like you are the only person on the planet. Back and forth… Back and forth. You are not my only table guy…and then your going to stiff me because your European and its not normal? Again…lol. You do pay it in your country… Its just included. Like you said its on the menu. Shit burger for $13. But in your country they get paid a living wage. We do not, so understand what country you are in and do what they do. Don’t be a dick and make me pay to wait on you. Because at the end of the day…that is what you are doing

    1. Hi Astraldesign, I assume you’re a waitress.
      First of all I’m sorry if my words hurt you or offended you, but I want to clarify that I said that “I want waiters who’re relaxed, well paid (salaried), genuine and definitely not sales agents”. I really think waiters/waitress in Europe are more relaxed, friendly, genuine. They get a salary and sometimes extra tips. I know some who’re very good and can double their salary with tips, which is a meritocratic apotheosis.

      I’m also sorry if my actions hurt you or offended you, but let’s read what I wrote together, again: “The temptation to give my feedback and act against the rules is high, but I never do”. And “But in the end I never do anything revolutionary and simply play by the rules and tip my ~20%”. So I never skipped a tip.

      Having said that let’s dig into your comment.

      “We have to tip other people”. I’m sorry to hear this, but do you know what else works exactly like this? MultiLevelMarketing schemes and mafia. They’re not industries you want to be associated to, am I right? If I don’t tip you have to tip for me? No, I don’t think so. is there a law of some kind? Btw, is there a law that forces me to tip? And since you mentioned that tipping others is “how you get taxed”, now I’m curious about how you get ACTUALLY taxed! It’s not “all black”, is it?

      Then you mentioned the example of a very annoying party of friends who would waste your time by calling you 5 times for “a beer”. Ok, it’s annoying but it should not be your cost. If you were paid by the hour, like everyone else – EVERYONE ELSE – “wasting” 2 hours on a table of assholes would be ok. Do you who’s annoyed by slow customers? Sales people. You’re supporting my hypothesis than in the end you’re a salesperson. Actually, getting your cut on the sales and having to pay your up-line positions you in the MLM territory.

      I also assume that despite the shit-storm on the guys who wasted 2 hours of your time, you showed them your best smile, all the time. Acting. thank you again for supporting all my theories.

      Now, let me repeat it again: I’m not your enemy. I want to best for all the workers around the globe (but I’d respect you even if you’re a flat earther), but I think you should find a way to fight against the system and ask for dignity, which means “a salary”. Like every fucking one fucking else.

      Let me end with a thought experiment: why don’t you pay extra voluntary taxes? I’m pretty sure someone would benefit. In tipping terms: if you don’t pay extra taxes (voluntary) someone will have to pay with their own money for a service that would otherwise be covered. Are you “the worst” by not paying extra taxes?

  4. I find tipping utter ridiculous. But guess what, I am from Europe as well. I guess we will never understand American’s tipping system, and they will never understand our hesitation to tip. It’s not that we are “the worst”, it just doesn’t make any sense.

    Anyway, I’ve found that due to the influx of American tourists during the last few years in Western Europe, restaurants in particular are beginning to expect some kind of tip. I’m like “wtf? I’m not American”.

    They I hear people say “they earn very little, we have got to them help”. Yes, it is true they they earn very little, but why am I supposed to contribute to their salary? They work for a company, not for me. I already pay public workers salaries, I’ll be bankrupt if I have to pay for private workers salaries too.

    1. Tipping was originally created in the US as a way for employers to shortchange their employees. In most states employers are allowed to pay less than minimum wage (which already is not a living wage) to tipped employees. It wasn’t always this way in the United States, but the laws were changed and it became this way. It’s absolutely a terrible situation but not tipping only hurts the server it doesn’t change the system. Unfortunately our Conservative party has a very strict policy of fighting hard against any policy that is seen as potentially costing business owners money, regardless of if it hurts workers, so unfortunately it is very unlikely to change. Many Americans know that it’s a bad system, an immoral system; unfortunately, many more Americans think that our system is actually normal all over the world and this ignorance perpetuates the system. The best thing you can do to fight the system is the next time you go out to eat with Americans bring it up; tell them about how weird it is and how you don’t have that system back home. Servers do deserve a living wage, tipping is only the illusion of a meritocracy; this is not why tipping was ever created, it was just so employers could pay employees less and shift the burden on to customers.

  5. When you travel you need to accept things your hosts are doing and the way they doing it. In Europe there is monthly pay in Australia Bartenders are making 25$ per hour and nobody tips them. Here restaurant owners are paying minimum wage (5.25 per hour Fl) and rest is expected from guests. Thats how things are going here and if you want to eat out you shoud TIP. If you dont like it, EAT HOME! The worst thing is that you put blame on waiters not on the owner’s of restaurants!??Like they wouldnt like to work for 2500$ fixed salaries . Do you count slow rainy day out of season when they get just those 30$ for 6 hours?

    1. I’m not blaming waiters for anything but for accepting MLM-like contracts.
      Despite I hate it, I still tip because I empathize with the human behind the fake smile.

      But if you put it that way, literally “if you want to eat out you should TIP. If you don’t like it, EAT HOME!”, sorry but let me tell you that TIPS ARE NOT MANDATORY. So I can legally have my dinner, be kind with the waiters, pay my bill and say goodbye.

      Maybe if customers start acting this way things will finally change for the best for everyone.

  6. As an American I agree things would be a lot more convenient without tipping and if tax was included in the listed price. Many business have tried this and have always lost money or employees trying it. The only way it would happen is if regulations are made requiring everyone to do it at the same time.

    That said I have issues with several of your points.

    The tipping range is not that narrow. It sounds like you are going by that guide for what the range is. But the average American tips anywhere from 10-30%. A much bigger range. And if service is terrible many will leave a $1 tip as an f u to the server.
    While your math is correct, it’s highly unlikely someone is going to spend much more because the server was nice. Maybe an extra $5 for one more drink but that’s the limit. So a more realistic difference in spending shows that an extra tip is better. 25% of $50 is $12.50. 20% is $10. The same tip on the extra drink is 20% of $55, $11.

    3&4. I generally agree on the convenience here. But it seems like many Europeans feel like they are being robbed and paying more. That dinner would just be 30% higher priced, you would pay the same without tipping.

    I think this is more of a cultural difference in what good service is than fake nicety. If an American had to wait a while for a server in the event they need something they view it as bad service. You can say we are very impatient.

    Bonus – on your counter service this is a hot topic here lately. There definitely is a no tip option in the device. Many Americans do not tip in this situation. There is a lot of debate here on if people should.

    1. Exactly…like I said. Tax in my post is bullshit. I pay that. Always have…its not hard to see credit Card charges so yeah, I claim them…no one pays cash these days. I brought up tax as in paying other people, my coworkers. My tax is having to pay people I work with without getting paid (by you?… Europeans, Canadians, Australians, etc…). Common in the US. You…original writer (I’m happy with you because you say you tip 20%, but this article says fuck tips! So PEOPLE read this garbage and agree/listen). But really who the fuck reads comments?…your article is going to be amazing karma for you. Lol. Enjoy

      1. Astraldesign: it’s a nobrainer: servers should have a decent salary. Tips should be on top. Not paying your workers and expecting your customers to pay them is a shit system.

        1. Not a bad statement… but sadly this doesn’t happen. In new York and many other states they get 2.25/hr. (I’m from Idaho and we get 3.35 an hour) look it up. Not my choice…learn where you are and fucking tip. It’s that simple. Read more of my comments…I pay it on the bill in Europe…so wtf is wrong with it not being on the bill? Seriously? It’s on the bill in Europe but not in the US? So Europe is BS and we are shit? Lol Mr retired.

  7. Hi MrRip,

    as a German who lived in the US for five years I think the problem is on your side.
    You are coming from one system (Italy with some Swiss sprinkles) and you feel annoyed about another system that in the end is not less logical than yours.

    Simple rule:
    When you go out in the US you just add about 20% of the advertised price in your head. Done!
    Whats the problem? 😉

    In Europe you dont have to add that much because its directly included in the sales price.
    You are a math and excel genius. Is that really a topic for you?

    The US has a ton of advantages to nearly all European countries.
    People there can keep a lot more of their salaries. They have supercool tax free 401k accounts and in opposite to countries like Germany it doesnt take years, a multitude of licences and in general less ass licking to climb the corporate ladder or switch careers. More freedom!

    Plus a lot of people in the US accept failure as part of learning whereas in most of Europe failure is a death sentence for your career so people hide it and make all kind of excuses.
    By that they are robbing themselve of the chance to grow and improve their life.

    From my side I would take the US system any day with maybe the exception of the health insurance system. Europe for me feels like a frozen museum.

    Switzerland is probably the best country in Europe overall but when I go there as a German they thread me like being a beggar from a third world country.

    In the US you are allowed to be what you are as long as you make your own living and you respect other people. Nobody gives a damn if you come from Spain, India or Vietnam as long as you are adding value to their society and respect others.

    Without having wife, kids, parents and other things going on in Germany I would go back in a heartbeat.

    Take care!
    Maschinist

  8. Cost of a burger with tipping: $10, plus a $2 top.
    Cost of a burger without tipping: $12.

    Tipping is meant to supplement the person’s wage directly, rather than the money making an extra step through their employer.

    I understand the frustration, though. People can not tip because they’re stingy, don’t understand the tipping system, or they simply don’t like the way their server looks.

    They can even legally discriminate with tips in a way that would get an employer in trouble.

    So, in my above burger tip-or-no-tip example, with the “no tip” option, the employee is guaranteed the $2 / hamburger (through higher wages) whereas with the tip option, they might occasionally miss out on the two bucks.

    Or they might come out ahead, who knows.

    1. How does it work with sick leave? if you’re sick you don’t get a dollar in the tip model.
      How does it work with luck? If you get to serve the rich man from Babylon you can buy a Ferrari tonight with your tip, if you serve the cheapass you’re screwed.
      How does it work with taxes? Do they pay taxes on tips? At least someone is cheating on sales tax…

      I simply think it’s the worst system ever. I wish waiters would unionize and lobby to make this system disappear ASAP.

  9. I generally agree. What I’d love to see is inflated prices, with tax and tip included. Then show these on the receipt as line items. That transparency would make things easier on us as consumers and, I hope, help the industry end this asinine practice.

    With all respects to front of house staff for dealing with difficult people, I believe the back of house works harder. They deal with the stresses of a commercial kitchen—heat, timing, standing for hours, staying later—but don’t see a dime of difference in pay for a slow night or a ‘I want to quit’ night.

    Freakonomics had a great podcast episode on this, including the difficulties of a restaurant trying to buck the trend and removing tips.

    One thing I find interesting is the dining experience in America vs abroad. Here it’s the fake niceness with an underlying pressure to leave. And don’t forget to tip. Abroad, I’ve felt like my table is the only one for the night. Staff is relaxed, I don’t feel rushed—nor my conversation intruded—and yet they are nicer.

    1. According to some commenters on this post, the front liners also “tip” the back liners, which makes everything ultra crazy and ridiculous 😀

      “the fake niceness with an underlying pressure to leave”

      I wasn’t able to summarize it better, thanks 🙂

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