Manners & Money: Tipping

by Mike on March 8, 2010

Manners & Money is a mini-series about etiquette, social norms, manners, and how it effects our financial decisions. Have you ever spent more than you wanted in order to avoid “social awkwardness”. Are some of your frugal habits frowned upon by others in your social circle? Let’s discuss!

The topic for today is tipping.

The act of tipping is an expression of gratitude for the quality of service recived. It is given at the customer’s discretion, usually in the form of a monetary gift. At least, that is what it should be. The reality is in many service industries, tipping has transitioned from something that is graciously accepted to routinely expected. I read the breakdown for tipping in an etiquette catalog is 10-15% of the pre-tax bill:

10% – below standard service
15% – standard service
20% – exceptional service

Why have we choosen to reward mediocrity and sub-par service? You’ve probably heard the same arguments I have. When you don’t leave a baseline tip you are essentially “stiffing” the staff member because they are taxed on an assumed amount. In my humble opinion, it would be much easier to pay waitstaff a higher wage and enforce accurate and timely reporting of additional income through tips to the IRS. This way there is no longer an assumed baseline and customers can tip to express gratitude and it will actually be appreciated.

The other problem with tipping in its current form, is protocol dictates the amount of your tip should be based on the cost of your meal. This is why wait staff will try to upsale expensive drinks, appetizers and desserts…the more you spend, the more your baseline tip. I’ve witnessed the entire countenance of a staff member change when I ask for water to drink! Some restaurants also redistribute tips among the entire staff, so your tip towards an exceptional server may be redistributed to others that did not interact with you at all.

Personally, I feel the practice of tipping is “broken”. But it is something I do because the workers should not have to suffer. When in Buffalo, I adopted the habit of doubling the tax (8%) and rounding up. I still do that, and I have not put much thought into tipping until writing this article…but I would like to see it move back to a reward for exceptional service.

Waiters & Waitresses aren’t the only ones who receive tips. Here are some others:

  • Airport baggage handlers
  • Car service/limo drivers
  • Mechanic
  • Taxi drivers
  • Valet
  • Barbers, Hairdressers
  • Food delivery
  • Concierge
  • Maid

View the entire list with recommended tip suggestions at

I’d love to hear your thoughts? Do you tip out of obligation or gratification? Have you worked in the service industry?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peter March 10, 2010 at 3:40 pm

When my family and I visited Europe a year or so ago we quickly realized that tipping is not the norm in many countries in Europe. Also – since there is no tipping service in many places is only so-so, after all the servers have incentive to give good service. When we first arrived we tipped at a couple of places and got quizzical looks and surprised stares. Only after someone explained to us that it wasn’t the norm there, did we realize why we had been met with surprise.

But yes, I usually tip if the service is good. If it isn’t great I still usually tip, just not as much.
.-= Peter´s last blog ..Do I Need A Long Term Disability Income Insurance Policy? What Do I Need To Know? =-.

2 Ronnie March 10, 2010 at 3:06 pm

If I’m disappointed in my service, I make a note of it on the back of my receipt. And there have been some long-winded notes!! If it’s really bad I’ll talk to the manager while I’m there–thankfully that’s only happened once. But I will still tip. I try to assume that maybe my server is having the crappiest day and isn’t able to hide it in a cubicle like some of us are. Maybe one customer was so rude, or something happened at home, because it’s certainly happened to me. I get to shut my door, s/he doesn’t. So I try to chalk it up to them having a bad day and maybe me still tipping will make him or her feel better. And if I were in their position, I’d want someone to give me the benefit of the doubt too.

Now, one thing that’s not mentioned here, but where I really feel the system is broken, is the “tip jars” at some establishments. Dude, I am NOT tipping you for making my burrito while I stand there; you get paid more and the tip is like bonus money. That aggravates me highly.

3 PF Journey March 10, 2010 at 5:33 pm

I like the “benefit of the doubt” approach. You also bring up a good point about tip jars…seems those are sprouting up in the weirdest places!

4 Jason @ Redeeming Riches March 9, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Thanks for the post on this – I often think I should “punish” the server for not performing up to snuff, but one thing that haunts me when I do that is, “What if God treated me that way?”

I don’t know what the answer is to the broken tipping system, but I wholeheartedly believe that Christians should be the best tippers around!

Who knows – you might have an opportunity to share with the wait staff why you tip so generously (b/c God was so generous to us thru Jesus) if you frequent the same restaurants and get waited on by the same servers who get to know you a bit.
.-= Jason @ Redeeming Riches´s last blog ..10 Money-Saving Tips to Stash $10,000 – Tip #10 =-.

5 PF Journey March 9, 2010 at 5:05 pm


There is so much truth packed into that comment! Thank you for that! Sometimes its not about the things we can or cannot change but how we deal with the situation presented.

6 Jason @ Redeeming Riches March 9, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Kita, I think we also need to be counter-cultural. EVERYONE will stiff a waiter, but who is the goofball that actually tips well even when the server doesn’t deserve it?

I don’t want to overspiritualize tipping, but something that I’ve been challenged by lately is a sense of viewing my walk with Christ through a missional lens so that everything I do, even down to going out to eat, is viewed as an opportunity to be on mission! …I’ve got a long way to go!! 🙂
.-= Jason @ Redeeming Riches´s last blog ..10 Money-Saving Tips to Stash $10,000 – Tip #10 =-.

7 Forest March 9, 2010 at 3:07 am

I agree forced tipping is seriously flawed. However in England tipping isn’t the norm and people get a higher base wage…. But being a waiter or barman is much less enticing in the states as you earn far less….. So I guess tipping has advantages too.

Here in Egypt 10% is standard and you can add more if you feel like it but tipping is not mandatory.
.-= Forest´s last blog ..Now Insanity – Continuing The Workout At Home Trend =-.

8 PF Journey March 9, 2010 at 10:03 am


Thanks for the International perspective!
In Egypt, where it is not mandatory….is it frowned upon if you don’t tip? Do people tip for average service or is tipping something reserved for exceptional service?

9 Ken March 8, 2010 at 2:55 pm

I usually feel obligated in regards to tipping. I stay around 15%. I have never worked as a waiter. I have often been bothered that a bad cook can ruin a waitress’s reputation.

10 BibleDebt March 8, 2010 at 7:29 am

I agree that tipping is broken. Unfortunately, it is what it is today and service personnel are not paid well enough without the tip to make a decent living. Unless your service was terrible, let’s help compensate these individuals for the hard work they do.

Previous post:

Next post: