As someone who waited tables and tended bar for roughly a decade, I am a fierce defender of the service industry. In fact, in the rare instance my wife and I argue, it’s likely because I tipped 40 percent for perfectly average service.
I believe, and always have, that good service should be rewarded. But sadly the act of tipping is no longer a service contract. Rather, it has become a requirement for the most menial transactions.
We’ve all been there: You buy a $5 coffee only to have some blue-haired barista with a neck tattoo flip a screen that lets you select between a range of tipping options, usually 15, 20, and 25 percent. For what? Asking if I want cream and sugar?
These days, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a retail establishment without the dreaded screen or a tip jar by the register. A good friend recently informed me of the tip jar at his local liquor store!
It’s bad enough on its face, but it’s downright insulting when you consider that people everywhere are being squeezed by record inflation. Dining out is expensive enough as is, and egregious tipping expectations make it next to impossible for many, thus threatening the businesses that employ service industry staff.
Let’s face it: Tipping in this country is completely out of control. Should our current insanity continue, we will hit a breaking point and, I fear, go the way of optional-tipping Europe. Anyone who’s ever had a snooty Parisian waiter knows good and well we don’t want that.
Enough Is Enough
I didn’t arrive at this conclusion lightly. While I’ve long been annoyed by increasing expectations for gratuity, two recent experiences pushed me over the proverbial edge.
Just before Christmas, my wife and I went on a short road trip and scored reservations at a notable restaurant close to our destination. The menu looked great, and our server was polite and knowledgeable. I had a red wine with my appetizer and asked him to bring me a white of his choosing with my entree.
We never saw him again. Someone else delivered our food, and 30 minutes after we finished eating, I had to ask the hostess to grab our check. Our server emerged, apologetic but beaming. You see, he had completely forgotten about us because he was in the kitchen, too busy knitting a hat for Christmas. I wish I were kidding. Even worse, he was proud of himself!
Being expected to tip for bad service is one thing. But being expected to tip for no service is quite another.
Last week, my wife and I visited a deli that has received a good bit of local praise. We walked up to the counter and ordered, as one does at a Wendy’s, and the “server” handed me a number for our table and flipped over the infamous screen, which was defaulted to a 20 percent tip.
Not knowing what lie ahead, I naively accepted and signed, only to pour my own water, get my own refills, and bus my own table. I couldn’t help but think, “Shouldn’t they be giving me 20 percent?”
And 20 percent for what exactly? These workers generally make above minimum wage, and well above the paltry sum paid to actual waiters and bartenders.
I remember well the days of providing full service to an eight-table section because Tanner or Tyler or Tucker had partied too hard the previous night. Nearly every shift was chaos. Just imagine six hours of a table of seniors complaining about the temperature of the tea while an angry father frantically flagged you down because his child had spilled his soda, and a drunk divorcee demanded another martini — this time “with alcohol, please!”
You smiled and nodded through it all — said “yes, sir,” and “right away, ma’am” — and at the end of the night, after you’d tipped out the busboys and everyone else, 20 percent was a godsend (any hat knitters were promptly terminated).
These days it’s a miracle if you can get these kids to look you in the eye, let alone do their job. Everywhere I go I’m greeted by someone staring down at his phone rather than at me. Any conversation is usually little more than incoherent mumbling on his part.
I can only assume such aloofness is the result of a hyper-online existence that prevents younger generations from the most rudimentary social interactions. Whatever the case, it’s annoying as hell.
None of this, of course, is meant to imply that there aren’t great servers out there. Quite the contrary. But there’s little doubt that as a national trend, we are expected to tip more money more often, while the quality of service continues its steady decline. It’s an inverse correlation that punishes the consumer, and it’s one of the few societal trends the consumer has the power to undo.
We’ve Got Big Problems
Yes, I fully realize I sound like some Boomer-esque Andy Rooney impersonator and that there are more important things going on in the world. Times change, and perhaps I’m just an angry old man with a “get off my lawn” complex, but not all change is progress, and our current tipping madness transcends the service industry.
It’s merely a symptom of the larger affliction of entitlement. Americans increasingly expect something for nothing, an ethos entirely foreign to the work ethic that built the greatest country in the history of the world. From forgiving student loans to universal basic income to 20 percent gratuities for cups of coffee, it all comes from the same rotten core.
A recent article in New York Magazine, titled “The New Rules for Tipping,” informs us that it’s the new normal to tip for “bottled water” and “crackers” and at least 20 percent at a restaurant “whether you liked the service or not.”
Nope! Just as you shouldn’t enable addicted friends and relatives, I’ll no longer subsidize the lifestyles of people who do nothing more than ignore me or, if I’m lucky, turn a screen my way. I suggest you do the same.