Gratuitous Absurdity: How 'Tips' Have Gone All Wrong

Definition of GRATUITY*

something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service; especially : tip

I’d like to bring your attention to the words ‘voluntarily’ and ‘beyond obligation’ in the definition of ‘gratuity’ more commonly known as a TIP. Thinking back to when I was a kid my dad would always leave a dollar or two when we’d go to restaurants and that seemed to be the norm. Wage rules changed and so did the ‘standard’ for tipping restaurant serving staff. You were considered cheap if you didn’t leave at least 10%, then 15%, and just recently I heard someone on the news advocating leaving 20% everywhere a tip is ‘required’.

Wait one stinking second! When did something to be given voluntarily out of the goodness of my heart as a reward for good service become MANDATORY. I have absolutely no trouble leaving 20% to the friendly, prompt, attentive and well organized server that makes your visit a pleasure. You mean to tell me no matter how crappy the service I HAVE TO leave 15% whether I like it or not! What a crock!

This reminds me of the story out of PA a couple years ago about a two college kids and their friends who refused to pay the “mandatory” 18% gratuity that was tacked onto the bill because they had a party of 8. Why did they refuse? According to them, the service was awful. They had to get their own silverware and napkins, waited an ungodly amount of time for their food and had to go to the bar to ask for refills on their drinks because the waitress had gone out for a smoke and forgotten about everyone. Upset, they paid their food and drink bill but were promptly arrested and handcuffed (over $16.35 mind you) because management saw this refusal to pay the “gratuity” as theft. OK, I would probably have spoken to management first before taking it upon myself to not pay part of the bill, “mandatory gratuity” (bit of an oxymoron) or not. So we’ll chalk up their lack of proper action as a testament to their immaturity and lack of experience BUT when the service just plain sucks I don’t think anyone should be required to leave a tip they feel is unfair or unearned no matter what the size of their group. Theft charges were later dropped, but still what a mess over something that should have been voluntary as a reward for good service.
The places you find tip jars or are expected to leave a tip nowadays have just gotten out of hand. The barber, hairdresser, coat check room, valet, bell boys, rest room attendants (really, we need someone to turn on the water for us and hand us a paper towel!?!), chamber maids, coffee shops, candy stores, gift wrapping kiosks – pretty much it’s come down to anyone who can hand you something has their hand out for a tip. I really hate tip jars because frankly I don’t think it’s fair to the ones who actually deserve the tip to have to share it with the slackers.
In most other places in the world the concept of a tip is unknown. When DH and I were in Barcelona several years ago I had to hand the money personally to the chamber maid and tell her to take it because she had done a good job keeping our room clean. She looked at me like I was crazy and I could tell she felt very uncomfortable taking it. On the same trip we had the Supper Nazi as our waitress, she was curt almost to the point of being rude, slow and not at all attentive. Her demeanor served as great dinner conversation and a lot of laughs that evening with our Turkish companions, but we were very happy that a tip was not an expectation. In customary fashion we left a little pocket change and walked away happy we were not impressed upon to leave more.
Don’t get me wrong, I realize that being a waiter/waitress can sometimes be a thankless job and there are times when you are abused by rude, difficult patrons. To those of you who put up with the crap and can still give service with a smile and on the good days go above and beyond the call of duty to make a patron’s visit a pleasure – you deserve every penny and then some.

Here’s an idea for your bosses – pay your employees a decent wage and don’t make them depend on “cheapskates like us” to make a living. Make the act of getting a tip more like a reward for a job well done. When the tip is an expectation what incentive does a person have to do well.

*”gratuity”, Merriam-Webster,

1 comment for “Gratuitous Absurdity: How 'Tips' Have Gone All Wrong

  1. April 14, 2013 at 4:41 am

    It sounds like it would be cool.. but I would be conrecned about staying on top of the prices for everything like you had mentioned. You don’t want to spend $100 for2 eggs rolls & a taco!!

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