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The Tipping Point- How Much Should You Tip?

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Tipping was once reserved for places like restaurants, and 15% was considered sufficient.  Now everyone wants a tip, and 15% is a relic.  Has it gone too far? How much should you tip?

I calculated what I spent on tips for a one week period between the end of January and the start of February.  The total?  $150!  In one lousy week.  Here is my breakdown:

  • Movers $100
  • Nail Salon $11
  • Facialist $20
  • Three Seamless Deliveries $9
  • Furniture Delivery (just one small dresser) $10

This Was Unusual

Granted, this was not a typical week.  I don’t move every week, and I don’t usually order Seamless three times a month, never mind three times in the same week.

It was because my kitchenware was packed the day before the move. On the day of the move, I didn’t feel like cooking because I had unpacked and organized my entire apartment in about six hours and didn’t have the energy left to cook.  The third was ordering dinner to thank my best friend who came over to hook up my computer.

But damn, it got me thinking about how the whole ritual of tipping has gotten out of control.  My movers even had a section in the contract I signed all about tipping.  You don’t have to tip them of course, but you feel like a jerk if you don’t.

And that seems to be what is driving this whole thing.  You feel like a jerk if you don’t comply.  And it’s getting worse.

To Insure Prompt Service

Where and when did tipping start?  There are references dating back as far as the 1500’s in Europe.  Tipping really took hold in the States after the Civil War.  It was met with fervent opposition.  It was considered a patronizing vestige of the Old World and not something suited to a country like America where everyone was supposed to be equal.

In his 1916 book, The Itching Palm, William R. Scott described the custom as the price, “one American is willing to pay to induce another American to acknowledge inferiority.”  That mindset did not catch on in America, but it is standard in some places.

In some Asian countries, if you tip a server, they will chase you down to return the tip.  It’s seen as an insult because you think the server is underpaid and requires your charity when in fact, in many countries, servers are paid a living wage.

In Europe, no one but American tourists tip 20%, both because most restaurants include tipping in the price and because those servers too are paid a living wage and being a server is a respected career.

It’s not seen as something to do while putting yourself through school or while waiting for something better to come along. It’s standard to round up to the nearest Euro on a credit card or just to leave the small coins from your change if you pay cash.

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You Get A Tip, You Get A Tip, Everybody Gets A Tip!

I can understand restaurant tipping.  The minimum wage for a server is $2.13 an hour.  The poverty rate for servers is double the national average, 15%. I don’t like it because I don’t think it should be the customer’s responsibility to subsidize restaurant owners by paying the majority of their staff’s wage.

But that’s the system we have for now, and I always tip 20% for anything but the direst of service.  I’ve only stiffed a server twice in my entire life because the service was so egregious.

I tip 20% even though I’m not hard to wait on.  I’ve never sent food back; I don’t “run” a server which means asking for extra ketchup when they inquire about my meal and then asking for a refill on my drink when the bring the ketchup, on and on until they want to murder you.

But now everyone wants a tip, and they aren’t making $2.13 an hour.  Now, the woman that does my nails isn’t exactly rolling in cash, but she isn’t making $2.13 an hour either, but she gets 20%.

And I Mean Everyone

My facialist owns the spa and traditionally, you don’t tip the owner of a business you patronize.  But I tip her 20% too.  Why?  I’m not even really sure.

I live in a condo which has 15 staff members.  By the time I tip them at Christmas, I have spent way more than I spend on my own family and friends.  Maybe I should get a bigger family and more friends, so things seem more balanced out.

When I stay in a hotel, I leave $5 a day for the cleaner.  I don’t trash hotel rooms though.  I even make my bed and hang my towels because I don’t like looking at the mess for even a few minutes before going out for the day.  So at most, they are getting their wage and my $5 for maybe topping up the loo roll.


That stands for point of service, not piece of shit.  Lots of places are now using iPads and such for touch screen, point of service payments.  And they have helpful pre-calculated tips!  Ranging from 25-75%!  So when you pay $4 for your Flat White (the new big thing in coffee migrating here from Australia, you heard it here first!), you can include a very generous $3 tip!

That’s 75% for those who are math challenged like me.  A 75% tip for someone making at least minimum wage for making a coffee.  They don’t even have to bring it to your table.  75% for just making the coffee and handing it to you.  Not bad for sixty seconds work.

New York City taxis are now able to take credit cards as payment.  This is a relatively recent development, and I can’t image why it took so long.  Who in hell carries cash anymore?  Well, taking a cab is one less place you have to spend cash.

And when you swipe your card, you are presented with tipping options ranging from 20-30%.  And you can’t really take a cab anywhere in NYC for less than $10; it costs money even before you start moving.

You can at all of these POS terminals choose no tip or calculate the tip.  So you could tip in cash if you select the no tip option or if you have balls of steel, take that literally and not tip. If you take the calculate option, you have to do the math yourself.  If you are a math moron like I am or maybe just in a rush, chances are you’ll just choose one of the already calculated options.

This whole mess might be one of the reasons Uber is so popular.  It’s not always cheaper than a cab but there is no tipping with Uber, and I can see how that is attractive to some people.

What’s the Answer?

So what can we do?  I don’t know.  It was my hope you all might have some words of wisdom to share in the comments.  It feels terrible to deny people in the service industry, who deal with jerks all day long a little extra cash.

But it ceases to be a little extra when you are paying a 75% surcharge for a lousy cup of coffee.


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Candice Elliott - Senior Editor Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

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