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Tradition of tipping seems likely to continue

May 20, 2012
By ANITA HANABURGH , For The Leader Herald

The check came to $14.87. I handed the waiter a $20. As I finished my coffee, I waited for my change and I waited and I waited. Oh busboy, did he think I was going to tip him more than 34 percent? I thought about it. I am a generous tipper, but isn't 34 percent a bit too much. Well, maybe he did think he should get 34 percent. Maybe he should get 34 percent.

I was a party of one. (Ever think about that? Not much fun being a "party" of one? ) He had to come to the table a minimum of 6 times. He had to present the menu and chat sweetly, pour the water, take the drink order, get the drink, explain the food specials, explain the menu, refill the water, take the food order, put the order in to the kitchen, check on the food in the kitchen, check on me, get the food, serve the food, chat sweetly, check on my eating progress, ask if everything is alright, remove the food, offer coffee and dessert, get the coffee, refill the coffee, ask if I wanted anything else, write the check and deliver the check. All that for a mere 15 percent or $2.23 tip? I mean, really is $5.13 an excessive tip for all that running around? And he was a very pleasant young man.

Many times we find ourselves in situations where we don't know what to do about the tip.

Ever wonder about this strange custom? Not just the "how much" part, but why we do all this in the first place. For example, the restaurant could just charge more for the food and pass it along in the staffs paychecks which might be even better for all parties.

I have written about tipping before and often hear discussions where people ask, "Why do we tip?"

I don't know exactly why, but I do know tipping the wait staff at restaurants isn't going to change any time soon. I wonder why Americans question tipping but they keep right on doing it. According to the Internal Revenue Service, Americans paid out $14 billion in tips last year. Because most tips do not get reported, that is a serious undercount.

We pay gratuities to get good service. We tip "to insure proper service." According to Wikipedia, the word itself actually means "to give unexpectedly," but in most cases today, it could read "to give expectedly." Tipping in restaurants is expected. The waitstaff is paid a variable wage with the assumption they will receive tips. When someone is given a variable wage based on performance, it is assumed they will work harder to deliver the best personal service. However, studies show that most people "tip" 15 to 20 percent regardless of the quality of the service which is not to say the service is bad.

If you think about it, tipping today has become a poor substitute for feedback. Last week, at an outside caf in Georgia, the waitress was not exactly "with it." I waited for a bit too long to receive a tepid chicken and grits. (Grits! I'll serve that another day). As I contemplated tipping less, I wondered if she would know that it was because I was dissatisfied or will I just look stingy or cheap? Most of us care about the impressions we make and hesitate to "tip" dissatisfaction. On the other hand, we are frequently generous and not reluctant to "tip" our satisfaction.

Michael Lynn, associate professor of market and consumer behavior at the Cornell University School of Hotel Management, gives us one possible explanation of why we tip for service. He found that countries with the most extroverted and neurotic citizens (the United States leads in both categories) tipped the largest amounts. "Extroverts are outgoing, social people - and maybe tipping is an incentive for the server to pay them attention. Neurotics are prone to guilt and generalized anxiety - maybe they tip more because of feeling uncomfortable or guilty to have someone waiting on them!"

In a country where all are equal, is it possible that guilt and the need for attention keeps us tipping? I hope not. I think tipping is just a long time custom that works for both parties. If it ain't broken.

By the way, my pleasant young man did return with the change and I did leave it all. Guilt is a very well refined ingredient of my character.




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