should you tip?

If you’re careful with your money, you probably face an occasional dilemma of how much to tip various people in service positions.  Tipping ranges from the $3 slipped to a doorman who hails a cab to a couple of hundred for some guys who move your stuff cross-country.

Before I was married, I used to have a “local” watering hole in my neighborhood in Manhattan.  I would drop by after work with friends and the bartender would have my usual drink set up before I even took a seat.  The waitresses would stop by to chat, and I knew them by name.  I would get the best seat in the house ahead of tourists waiting in line if I came in a group.  The manager let me stay after hours, and invited me to special events.  Did I tip?  You bet I did.

If you have a situation like this, big tipping is tough to avoid.  You get to know people and they provide you in return with great service on a constant basis.  I never left less than a 20% tip even on the rare occassions that I was dissatisfied.  I got so many free drinks that often I would just take the amount I was given gratis and just hand it right back over to the waitresses or bartender.

Contrast this with stopping at a diner on an interstate trip.  You get ho-hum service, perhaps, and ho-hum food.  Do you leave a 15% or 20% tip like you would at a “local”?  And if not, why?  Would it make a difference if you knew that the cook got a fresh batch of salad out for your salad – and would it make a difference if it was just coincidence that he got it for you?  And in a sense, why wouldn’t you leave far less?  You’re not going to return, right?  Personally I feel guilty, but really – it’s not like you’re coming back, is it?

Tipping is an odd case of getting a service, then paying for it.  If you hired a plumber to work on your house and said “you know what?  I’ll pay you what I think it’s worth when you’re done” he would probably knock you over on the way out the door.  Restaurant workers (and maid services in hotels, etc.) do the best they can to provide good service, not knowing if you’ll be the one-in-a-million person who leaves 10 $100 bills tucked under your check or the jerk who asks for 15 martinis and a steak done JUST SO before leaving a 3% tip.  Imagine working at your job that way – if every payday you got a minimal base salary plus a “tip” depending on how happy your boss was with your work.

It’s hard to balance tipping with being a frugal person. 
I don’t like tipping.  I wish everything was a flat fee.  I wish waiters and waitresses were paid minimum wage.  It’s easy if you’re a regular somewhere to be generous.  If you live in Manhattan and have a super or a doorman, it’s easy to realize that you need their help, and they’ll give it whether you pay or not, so you SHOULD reward them for their help.  It’s trickier when it’s the guy delivering the new couch.  You’ll never see him again.  He did his job.  But it’s hard work, and maybe – just maybe – he could have dinged a wall or tracked in mud, but he took a little care not to.

I don’t know the answer.  I generally tip generously at restaurants but not so generously when it’s “slipping cash” to someone, mainly because I’m embarrassed about it being too much (looking like a rube) or too little (looking cheap) so I often just pretend I “left my wallet upstairs – this is all I have.”  What I do know is that in general in life you’ll be a lot happier if you mentally price your tip BEFORE getting the service and then pay it that way after you get it.  Think to yourself “I’ll tip the waiter 15% unless he ignores our table or gets an order wrong or forgets to bring us water,” or “I’ll tip the housekeeping service $20 per day as long as the room is cleaned to a T,” or “I’ll give that guy $50 to move the couch in unless he dings the wall or messes up the fabric,” and so on.  Tipping is an uncomfortable activity for most, and even more uncomfortable for someone who relies on them for a living.

  • http://frugalcitygirl.wordpress.com/ Frugal City Girl

    As a moderately frequent traveller, the other part of tipping I struggle with is  how much to tip in different countries. In the UK it’s been hovering around 10% for a decade or so, which is easy to remember (and calculate), but when I go abroad to the US: is it 15%? 25%? When we travelled to New Zealand this year, where tips are apparently Not The Done Thing, it was actually a little stressful as I felt I was being rude every time.

    • http://www.bripblap.com Steve

      That’s a good question about the US.  Most of my life it was 15%, but about 10 years ago it crept up to 20%.  But recently I’ve noticed “suggested” 25% tips.  I’ll tell you what it’s doing, in my opinion – I used to leave more than 15% for good service, but as the “obligatory” tip has crept up to 25%, I’ve found I tend not to tip any extra, even for above average service, because tipping 30-40% of the cost of the meal seems way too much.

  • DaybreakJoe

    I generally try to keep in mind what the person providing the service is making (assuming I have any idea).  For waiters/waitresses, that’s easy.  After that, it gets a little hairy.  In those cases, if I get decent service, I’ll tip about 15%. If I get great service, I will bump that up. 

    I never look at tipping, thought, as a vehicle for getting something in return.  I tip as a way of saying thank you.  I’ll tip the same way whether I am in my neighborhood or clear across the country.  One thing I have heard is that “you can’t outgive the universe”.