Leave no tip and risk being seen as stingy. Leave fat tips everywhere and create an unsustainable situation. And the confusing middle—if service sucks, is it bad to tip less?
Here’s a heuristic that’s useful for life and finance: When the system is inconsistent, create consistent rules for yourself.
Here are my personal rules after much trial and error:
- Tip more if service staff in my city/state relies on tips for minimum wage.
This is easy to find via the Department of Labor or googling your locale. California requires at least $14/hr to restaurant workers. My hometown of Los Angeles requires a minimum of $15/hr. If I visit the South, where workers have a much lower guaranteed minimum wage, I’ll tip more.
- Determine what you tip and do not tip for. I tip 15% as a standard and 20%+ if the experience is solid. I never tip for merchandise that just requires the cashier to hand it to me. It peeves me when I ask for a bottle of kombucha and the Square register is turned towards me: would you like to tip 15, 20 or 25%? Uh, no.
- Tip based on the pre-tax amount, not the post-tax total. Some restaurants are sneaky and suggest tips based on post-tax amounts, or they don’t provide an itemized bill so as to make it harder. You have the right to ask for one.
The racist history of tipping
Tipping practice has origins in an unjust past. After the 15th amendment was passed in the U.S., tipping became popular because restaurants didn’t want to pay Black workers a fair wage (fact check from USA Today).
It’s no surprise that the lowest minimum wages are paid in the South.
Add the confusion of who actually gets to keep the tip, and it’ll start to dawn on you that the burden of tipping should not be hoisted upon the individual.
Tipping is fucked because it shifts the responsibility of fair pay from the system to the individual consumer.
Just like recycling programs hoist environmental responsibility onto the individual rather than corporations that produce the most waste, tipping puts unnecessary burden on consumers rather than industry policies that create income inequality.
Whether you tip a little or a lot, I don’t think individuals should be judged for a deeper, systemic problem.
It’s not like other countries haven’t figured this out. Countries like Japan, Switzerland and Australia just choose to pay workers a livable minimum wage and tips aren’t expected. Why not try that out?