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Why is the U.S. so tip crazy?  There's been debate over tipping and some restaurants implementing no-tipping policies to both success and failure.  Is tipping a necessary thing in America? Read more to find out.

Delivering sandwiches all across town was one of the many jobs I had while in college. I worked at Schlotzsky’s (lotz better, right?) and made the amazing hourly wage of $7.75. Frequently, the job required doing delivery orders. Since my position fell in a middle ground between server and retail salesperson, I had a lot of awkward situations with customers who did and didn’t tip.

Maybe my delivery person job wasn’t considered a “tipped profession”. Servers, bartenders, and other common hospitality professions are the most recognized tipped professions. Tattoo artists, nail and hair salons, and valet drivers are some others.

My job delivering sandwiches usually entailed interacting with customers who didn’t give me a tip. Most of the clientele were businesses who I was delivering sandwich and cookie platters to for a group of people. After handing the stuff over, the head person would just give a gentle nod, forced smile and thank me.

While hanging out at a hostel in Thailand a few months ago, the topic of restaurant dining came up. A woman from England, who had learned I was American, immediately blurted out several questions. The top one was:

“Why is the U.S. so crazy about tips?”

She followed up with a story about a trip to Australia she had taken. She was at the restaurant with several other people from various countries, including a girl from the U.S.. When it came time for the bill, everyone paid their share without much thought and started to get ready to leave. Tipping isn’t a common practice in Australian restaurants.

The girl from the U.S. had a shocked expression on her face. She angrily asked why everyone at the table wasn’t leaving a tip. When the server came to collect the bill, she smacked down several bills and stated the tip was from her, while glaring at the rest of the table.

Fun story, isn’t it? Granted, this is only one tale about an American clutching onto their norms. It does make me wonder, why is the U.S. tip crazed?

While I did make a crappy wage at my sandwich delivery job, I did make slightly above the federal minimum wage. Many servers don’t. The hourly wage for servers in Texas (where I live) is $2.13 per hour.

Often times I didn’t get a tip when making deliveries because customers already had to pay a $10 delivery charge on most of the delivery orders.  I had to use my own car for orders and didn’t get any sort of per mile payment. Whether I did a delivery for a $35 check or for a $280 check, I still got the same $10 amount for delivering orders. Judging by the lack of tips I got, delivery customers (and my boss)  thought this was satisfactory.

An earlier job I had involved being a server/floor attendant at a BBQ restaurant. Since customers got in line and ordered the food from a counter themselves, the management believed the floor attendants didn’t need tips, so they banned it.

The job required me refilling cracker boxes, the soda machine, cleaning up tables, and getting customers anything else they needed. Basically a waiter minus the ordering part. Yet I was never allowed to get any sort of tips.

Why is the U.S. so tip crazed with certain amounts? If you read any article on tipping/no tipping, arguments over the “correct” amount are bound to break out in the comments. Is 15% gratuity enough? Is 20% the standard? Maybe the change in percentages has to do with wait staff pay being stagnant for for over 20 years.

Why not just pay servers and other “tipping professions” a living wage? (I’m sure my broke college self would have liked that 🙂 ). While restaurant establishments have experimented with no tipping policies, the actual outcomes haven’t been stellar.

I’m mixed when it comes to tipping. On one hand, I hate the idea of tipping. There are things that a servers tip is dependent on (food quality, wait time, even A/C temperature) that are out of their control. Tipping is discriminatory a lot of times.

On the other hand, tipping can be a way to ensure a server provides good service and have a more scalable income.

At the end of the day, as I travel and meet more people, the big thought is why the U.S. is so tip crazed. I mean, if much of Europe and other places can get by without being so tip crazed, why can’t the U.S.?


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Colin // RebelwithaPlan

Colin Ashby is the writer behind Rebel with a Plan, a website dedicated to people who choose to rebel against the norm of living in debt and feeling financially unenlightened. He believes everyone has an eccentric quality to embrace and that lattes are sometimes a necessity (despite what the personal finance community tells you).

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