Tipping is a terrible idea. So why do we still do it?


Adam Cecil

Adam Cecil

Former Staff Writer

Adam Cecil is a former staff writer for Policygenius, a digital insurance brokerage trying to make sense of insurance for consumers. He is a podcast producer, writer, and video maker based in Brooklyn, NY.

Published September 8, 2015|2 min read

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Every time I go to a restaurant, I pull out my phone and do some quick math to figure out the tip. Ah, yes, the tip — your chance to dip your toes in the water of employing a workforce! While you don’t actually get to be their boss (despite what some customers think), you do get to control their salary, which is … certainly something.According to a lot of people, it’s actually pretty terrible — so terrible that they hope it’s banned. Here’s a video from "Adam Ruins Everything" that explains why tipping is actually kind of a bad idea (NSFW language):

Adam isn’t the only person who feels this way. In fact, people have been writing about it for years; the New Yorker article that Adam uses as the base for his video was written in 2005 (and, actually, people have been complaining about tipping since the 1880s).The biggest reason to be against tipping is that it’s just not fair to the server. It is an exploitive business practice that we’ve normalized and encouraged. "Can you imagine if we paid doctors based on whether or not we were satisfied with medication?" is a common rhetorical. But a more appropriate question is this: If we tip servers, why don’t we tip the cooks who actually make our meals? While we’re at it, why don’t we tip the owner, for managing the business?

As Ian Svenonius put it for Jacobin, "A tipped job is typically one that is tied to a very quantifiable service done for a particular person or group. It is often linked to the idea of a ‘luxury’ service as well (an espresso could be made at home, so you must tip if you are buying it while out). In this sense, it is maintained by the consumer as a guilt fee." We could’ve made a meal at home — shouldn’t we be paying a guilt fee to the entire restaurant?The weirdest part about tipping is that is just so ingrained in our culture. It’s actually really hard to ban tipping – in restaurants that have tried it, customers actually hide tip money underneath glasses and plates. The tipping myth is that we use it to express gratitude for excellent service; the reality is that it’s a social obligation, as much as mowing your lawn or teaching your kids good manners.The end of tipping culture is eventual. As the fight to raise minimum wage wins battles across the country, the obligation to tip will slowly be eradicated. The big question is whether people will still hide those twenties underneath water glasses.What do you think? Would you still tip if it’s not necessary? Leave us a comment below.

Image: Boon Low