After conducting an entirely anecdotal and non-methodical study, I have concluded that tipping is a complicated affair. Even the term "tipping," which came into English usage in the 1700s, is a bit mysterious. Its origin as the acronym TIPS, signifying "To Insure Prompt Service," is a popular myth that is not supported by historical evidence. One could surmise that a tip given at the beginning of a service relationship might not guarantee satisfaction, as money would change hands before any favor was rendered. In contrast, though, there is the witness of old-time movies wherein a dapper gentleman discreetly slips a folded bill into the breast pocket of the maitre d', often calling him "my good man," thereby assuring the best table and the highest attention to detail.
The typical tip, rendered after a service, is 15 percent of the bill. But it's hard to know sometimes whom to tip: waiters and waitresses, baristas and juicers, barbers and hair stylists, valets and bellhops all expect their due. "Frankly, I find the whole thing confusing," says my cousin. "We go to Souplantation, where we serve ourselves, and my boyfriend always leaves a couple of bucks on the table. I'm not sure why we're leaving money. No one served us. We go to places where we actually do all our own cooking and I'm confused again. We cooked our own meal, so are we leaving a 15 percent tip for the guy who brought us the raw food?"
My husband is a magnanimous tipper, and in surveying friends and family, I find that he is in good company, because I know some really nice people. "When we eat out, I double the tax and then round up to the nearest dollar. Waiters and waitresses don't get paid much and rely on those tips for their living, so we are generous. Servers are generally friendly and do their best to please," says a good-hearted friend.
"I usually tip 20 percent at a restaurant. If the service is not so good, less, if the service is great or the waitress is really trying, I go more than 20 percent," says another friend.
Another thoughtful friend tips "depending on any/all of the following: the emotion of the occasion; if spirits are involved; the atmosphere of the venue; the sincerity of the server; how well my hair color or style turned out; the amount of time the service person had to labor at the task, and how happy or pleased we are with the food or service rendered."
"To this day, I find those people I know who have not waited tables do not tip very well," says a friend. "I have waited many a table, so I am kind to all wait staff. I know the job, and it's pretty crap. But the money CAN be good . . . I expected the 15 percent with my friendly, fast service. When I got less I'd complain to co-workers and when I got more, I felt less annoyed that after four years of college and a bachelor's degree, I was still waiting tables. It was my pat on the back."
The tip jar at the coffee house beckons for my change ever since my barista daughters told me that they relied on their weekly tips for grocery money. If I have cash, I now put a little something in the jar. "I use the tip jar, but like on 'Seinfeld,' I want the people to see me put the money in and get credit for it!" jokes my sister. Confesses my aunt, "I don't always put something in the jars on counters. I guess I feel the owners should pay enough without requiring a tip. Besides, all I'm getting is usually just a cup of coffee!" Says another honest friend, "My tipping habits are based on service, quality, and I hate to say, my financial situation at the time."
Several people mentioned that it's not fair to blame the server for the quality of a restaurant's food. "If the service is really bad we leave a small tip, but still some. If the meal is not great it is not the fault of the server, so they still get a normal tip," summed up one friend.
The tippers with the highest standards are often people who have worked in the service industry. "I don't believe rudeness should be rewarded no matter how hard your job is," says my daughter, a former restaurant worker. "I have worked that job. I had bad days when I was there too. I don't deny that there are bad customers and bad tippers . . . But when a server rolls his eyes at me when I ask for ketchup, I don't believe that behavior should be rewarded."
"All three of our now-adult children have worked in wait-staff/service positions, and my daughter feels very strongly that if your service is bad, or the service person is rude, that you shouldn't leave a tip," says a friend. "I feel more strongly that to be generous, always, is the gratitude, gift, or lesson I leave."
"I try to tip really well for two main reasons: I'm difficult as hell, and I make tips, so I feel like it's good 'tip karma'," says another of my daughters, a current restaurant worker. Tip karma: I like it. It may be the best philosophy for a simple heart in complex times.
These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org