My treatise on tipping

A reader recently asked me to comment on the process of tipping, hoping that I might be able to provide some insight on the subject. She must have noticed that I am rarely bereft of an opinion on any matter.

My basic philosophy on tipping is to always round up and always be willing to throw in an extra dollar or two if the service was satisfactory. The extra dollar will always mean significantly more to a server than it could ever mean to you, both in terms of straight monetary compensation but also (and more importantly) as an acknowledgement of a job well done.

When given the opportunity to compliment a person on their work performance in such an easy and cost effective way, take it.

This rule does not apply, however, to situations in which tipping is optional.  The tip jar at your local Dunkin’ Donuts or a Starbucks is a good example of this.


Tip jars of this kind are optional and should always be treated as such.  Traditional wait staff are paid considerably less than minimum wage because of the expectation of a tip following service. In order for these people to earn a living wage, tips must be given. A counter person making your coffee at the local Starbucks or a sandwich maker at your neighborhood Subway is earning at least minimum wage and likely higher, and therefore you should not feel the obligation to tip.

Also, these tip jars seem rather arbitrary in their deployment, and they strike me as unfair and unjustified attempts to capitalize on the tipping that takes place in full-scale restaurants.

The cashier at Target, for example, probably makes less money per hour than the average Starbucks employee, and yet both serve a similar function.  But you would never see a tip jar adjacent to a cash register at Target.

Similarly, counter employees at dry cleaners, video rental stores, gas stations and the like also earn the same kind of wage as your average Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks employee, yet they are also not asking for tips either.  For some reason, the presence of food seems to signal the opportunity for a tip jar, and this is simply not the case. Pouring a cup of coffee or handing me a scone is hardly equivalent to the work that wait staff do in full service restaurants, and it is not all that different than the service that a dry cleaner counter person offers.

In addition, tip jars do not typically afford the customer the opportunity to signal to the counter person that the job was well done. Dropping your change into a tip jar is hardly an indication of appreciation, and the money accumulated in the jar is often divided amongst several other employees, preventing you from acknowledging any single person for their service and sometimes forcing you to offer appreciation to the undeserving.

All that said, I am not opposed to dropping money into a tip jar, especially if you are a regular customer who is treated well on a daily basis. But this should be a choice that a person makes and never an obligation.

As I’ve written about in a previous post, my evil step-father taught me that when the service is especially poor, leaving a single penny is more insulting than leaving no tip at all.

Not surprising, this is terrible advice.

I am strongly opposed to not tipping a waiter or waitress regardless of the service, knowing that service is also dependent on many other factors beyond the control of the wait staff and keeping in mind that these people make less than minimum wage.

Tipping 10% rather than 20% seems like a more reasonable response to poor service.

Not tipping at all, or tipping a single penny, is simply unacceptable. If your service was so poor as to warrant the absence of a tip, you should have asked to speak to a manager long before it came time to calculate a tip.

Leaving without tipping is the coward’s way of handling the situation. It’s the passive-aggressive, indirect, almost anonymous means of expressing dissatisfaction, and it is typically done in lieu of a frank and honest discussion about the service rendered.

Passive-aggressive, indirect, and anonymous are three of my least favorite qualities in any approach to communication.

They are the coward’s way out.

I’m not surprised that it is the kind of thing that my evil stepfather would have advocated. Thankfully, my evil step father was fairly simple to decipher. I learned to do the opposite of what he said in almost all circumstances, and that policy has served me surprisingly well over the years.