Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Unguests - Tipped For The Win

by Tzellofouska of Lucubration Blog
Psychologist, heavy metal enthusiast, keen whiskey drinker and the founder of Lucubration. 

There is this old tradition which has been developed through time into some sort of social contract, which I am not very comfortable with. “Tipping” or “service charge” or “service fee” or “gratuity” or whatever you want to call it;

It seems to originate from the 17th century England where people (usually of higher classes) used to tip or, better yet, bribe someone for the latter’s services. This trend was introduced into the United States during the civil war by American aristocrats, who wanted to show off their cultured nature, allegedly enhanced by travelling to Europe.

Considering the circumstances in which this unusual trend was developed, isn't it logical to abandon such customs in the 21st century? Why do we still contribute to this paradigm of social inequality? ...Someone would argue. But I’ll pose another argument. The Oxford dictionary defines service as “ the action of helping or doing work for someone”. I will not get into the tiring definitions of what occupations are included in this term but aren't we all service providers, one way or the other?

I am a researcher. My action is doing work for someone. That someone is my boss. Despite the fact that I provide my services to my boss, aren't my published papers also a service towards knowledge dissemination or even a service to organisations that fund my research? Sadly, my funders do not think so, or do not even think about it this way, thus no tips for me! A musician is providing a service in that the music she produces with her instrument entertains people and provides them with a good night out on an otherwise boring evening. Do we throw coins at her? Why is it that waiting tables as opposed to writing a book is considered a privilege for the costumer? Aren't they both paid for the work they produce? I would say that tips would be more helpful for the writer rather than the waiter!

With every occupation comes a job specification document. Within that document there is a description of what the requirements are for the person to be employed. That person is receiving money for their service be it their skill of engineering a robot or their skill of mixing a drink. The two set skills are distinct yet both lay the foundations for a service to be produced for which money will be exchanged in return. As a customer, I am expected to pay the price the employer sets for my receipt of their employees services. So egotistically speaking why am I expected to pay more for someone to do what they are paid to do in the first place? Are we meant to be feeling bad for the waiter, the barman, or whoever desires our tips because they are stuck in a shitty job? I am sorry but last time I checked, no job is shit, right? And by labeling jobs like this aren't we contributing to social inequality ourselves? Don’t we stigmatize occupations for their inherent disadvantages?

I don’t even want to discuss the “discretionary service charge” restaurants put on the final bill, which is most of the times outrageous. This is technically illegal and one is legally right if they request this charge to be taken off the bill. Recent reports indicated that most of this money goes to the employers’ pockets, who use it to expand their businesses. See, we all fall victims to this old tradition and we may even feel bad if we don’ tip where we consider it “appropriate”.  I admit it, abandoning this kind of tradition may not change the world that much, thus it is up to each person whether they want to follow it or not. Well, the good news is that old traditions are not rules and some of them are nowadays obsolete; be it tipping, wearing a white wedding dress, throwing sick newborn babies into bottomless pits, or believing that morality derives from religion.


  1. Its to make up for the low pay, physical strain and lack of other praise/prestige. and its not just waiters but shampooers and beauticians. The biggest tips I'd ever got were from Americans and it makes all the difference. When I can afford it and the waiter deserves it I always tip. But I agree, sneaking it onto the bill is wrong. And 9 times out of 10 when you leave one on a card machine it doesn't get to the waiter. I try to leave it in cash, preferably in their pocket...

    1. I agree that the need for tipping shouldn't exist, for the reasons Tzell explains above, but also because waiters shouldn't be getting the low wages they are getting now. Personally, I believe that any profession which forces you to deal with people's eccentric behavior and consumerist demands should be automated immediately. The technology is there, what prevents us from applying this technology is the structure of our economy, which is completely insane to begin with. So I think that abandoning the tipping habit is very premature and it will only make these people's lives a lot harder than what it already is. Tipping is still vital for a waiter and to take away the tipping without a significant change in the right direction wage-wise would be really cruel.

  2. Tipping works if it is directed to the person you want to tip... But more than half of the times it is not going that way! Plus, personally I feel very uncomfortable leaving tips for persons that do their job right. It's sad and unnecessary from a philosophical perspective. From a practical perspective, does it really make that great difference in people's lives? If you get a low pay it will still be low even after a £15 pot at the end of the day...