Anti-Tipping Crusade

Anti-Tipping Crusade July 11, 2008

When I was in high-school, I was very much opposed to tipping (I’ve since mellowed on the point). In fact, I used to get into lengthy arguments with friends on the subject, usually around the time that the bill came. If only I had known just how progressive I was being:

Today we think of tipping as beyond the scope of legal regulation. But in researching my Yale article I was surprised to learn that in the early twentieth century, progressives in seven states passed anti-tipping statutes that, to varying degrees, outlawed tipping.

Critics referred to the practice as “un-American” and incompatible with democracy. Former Yale law professor (and U.S. president) William Howard Taft was the “patron saint of the anti-tip crusade,” and Ralph Waldo Emerson roundly condemned the practice:

I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, yet it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.

Tipping was attacked as bribery and as “the training school of graft.” In “The Itching Palm,” a 1916 manifesto against the practice, William Rufus Scott said that tipping is a form of “flunkyism” defined as “a willingness to be servile for a consideration.”

The entire post, which is about racial disparities in tipping, is well worth people’s time. Incidentally, I think my early opposition to tipping was mainly result of my inexperience at paying for meals. I would look at the prices on the menu, order, and then get upset that I ended up paying more than the menu price when all was said and done. It wasn’t long, however, before factoring tips into the price became second nature, at which point the whole thing ceased to bother me.

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  • Mark DeFrancisis

    Mininum wage for waiters and waitresses in PA is, I believe, now $2.85 hr. I’ve always considered it a matter of justice to tip at least 15 %. Of course, I slaved for a summer in food service and saw too many $1.25 tips from certain retired parties, after they sat around their table drinking coffee and water refills one after another for an hour + well past finishing their lite lunch.

  • Yes, I always think it is a necessity to give a fair tip when eating out, because it really is expected and one of the “costs” of eating out. Especially since this is how many who wait at tables make a living. It’s another example of how “capitalism” finds a way to be “just” to the business owners… but not anyone else.

  • Kurt

    Worst is the policy of Starbucks, in which the bosses shake down the front line employees for a share of their tips. In California, the courts have directed them to stop this illegal practice though Starbucks is appealing the case.

  • G Alkon

    Yes, I would be opposed to tipping to, if the alternative were that service workers could be guaranteed sufficient payment by some other method. In the current reality, however, it is really a simple obligation.

  • blackadderiv

    I’ve always considered it a matter of justice to tip at least 15 %.

    Why 15%?

  • Zak

    From a big picture perspective, I think tipping is stupid system, given the unreliability in income it creates for a waitstaff, not only because you’re dependent on the whim of those you serve, but also because you are reliant upon your supervisor to assign you shifts when there will be sufficient business that you have a reasonable number of customers tipping you. On an actual going to restaurants basis, I tip because of the injustice of the overall system, usually somewhere between 15-20%, with the low end of the scale for very poor waiters and the high end (or maybe a little higher) if the service was good or if the party I was with was unusually obnoxious. If waiters get 15% from all customers on a moderately busy shift, I think it should come close to approaching a decent wage in most areas.

  • Morning’s Minion

    In Europe, tipping is virtually non-existent. In a restaurant, you might round uip the bill to the nearest euro or pound. The reason is simple: in the US, people in work in many service industries do not make a living wage. So tipping is a second-best solution, but necessary in the current environment.

  • *Not* tipping is unjust, given the subminimum wage the waiters and waitresses are earning.

    And I experienced the effect of tipping in Europe. My buddies and I went to a restaurant in Cologne during our trip in 1989. Good meal and good waiter–I think we left 10-15 marks, entirely unaware of the European custom.

    We went to the same place the next day and the same waiter was there. He saw us and sprinted over to seat us, skipping us over the wait list. I’m convinced he would have elbowed his grandmother aside had she been in the way. 🙂

  • Like you, I used to really hate the need for tipping — because I was chronically short of money and it seemed like it was “extra”.

    From the perspective of someone who can now afford to tip decently, and has some understanding of the economics involved, I’m rather mixed (though leaning positive) on the issue.

    I agree that employers of tip-able employees often simply take advantage of the situation in order to pay their employees as little as possible. This is the downside, and I’m not a fan of that aspect.

    However, tipping is a very efficient way of allowing people to make more money by doing their job well. Essentially, the individual parties being waited on are much better able (if they are fair) able to tell if the waiter is doing a good job than the management is — since it’s with the party at each table that the waiter interacts. Thus, tipping allows a good waiter to make significantly more than the resteurant would probably consent to pay him or her if waiting were a strictly salary-based occupation. In that sense, it also incents waiters to do a good job in a way that a straight salary would not.

    The difficulty I think many of us instinctually have with it is that it puts the onus on us to treat our fellow humans well. It’s all very well for me to say that resteurants should pay their employees more in base salary, but I know that if I don’t tip well, I am personally denying my waiter a good wage. Effectively, tipping makes us employers for an hour or two, and puts us in the position of having to pay a just wage for the service we receive.

    For all our talk of mutual obligation and community, most of us would really rather have someone else take care of all the just wage paying, leaving us as individuals to decide if we want to shell out money for a fixed rate product or service. We’d rather not have the relationship and responsibility of deciding how much to pay.

  • While it is customary in many Europeans not to tip, a significant portion of employee wages is still variable. Many waitstaff in Europe are paid a percentage of their total receipts. The reason is no different than the reason salesman are commissioned, revenues are variable and seasonal, and therefore the employees help the business cash flow. That this system offers an incentive for selling one more unit doesn’t hurt either.

    Personally, I would rather have a tip taken from the gross rather than added to it. I have that opinion about fees as well. While tipping I do say as obligatory, I have learned a lot from wealthy about the graciousness of offering a generous gratuity. That would be above and beyond any tip.

  • David Nickol

    In New York City it is customary (or at least it is a rule of thumb that many follow) to give a tip that is double the amount of the sales tax (8.375%).

    Tips often don’t go entirely to waiters, but are pooled and divided any number of ways, with management sometimes taking a share. I just looked it up, and waiters in New York can be paid as little as $4.35 if they also get tips, in which case management is not allowed to take a percentage (but apparently it happens anyway).

  • blackadderiv


    Out of curiosity, what sort of salary (if any) do cab drivers make aside from tips?

  • Your typical cabbie today is an independent contractor. A lot of it depended on the cliental. Business users and tourists offered 5-15% tips. Voucher users tipped less than 1% of the time. Inner city users rarely tipped and sometimes argued over the last quarter the meter rolled over. A cabbie should be able to make about $20,000 yr. net. There is seasonality there as well with winter being the time where cabbies actually made money. In Milwaukee, one company controlled 90% of the cabs and the state ruled we couldn’t form a union, so the rent was set so that any fare increases would accrue to the owners and not the drivers.

  • JohnH

    I had an interesting conversation a month or so ago with an airport shuttle driver from Iran, who was telling me that, due to the weakness in the economy, not many Americans were traveling within the states–especially not to California. But there was an upswing in European tourists. This was leading to him having to consider taking a second job, since tips were pretty much non-existent, and the tips were what made the job worthwhile. He had to rent the shuttle, pay the tolls and gas out of pocket, and often ended up only taking one or two passengers per trip to the airport for a flat fee.

    (As an interesting aside, he told me that his family was ethnically Albanian, which he credited as the only reason he was able to emigrate to the US quickly, since ethnic Albanians are a persecuted minority in Iran. He first spent a year in Austria before coming to the US, where he said finding work was nearly impossible. According to his account, Austrians are “very, very racist” compared with people in the US. “If you do not look European, you shall never be considered European,” he told me.)

  • blackadderiv

    Several commenters have noted that waiters are subject to a lower minimum wage, and have suggested that the whole tipping system is somehow geared to the benefit of employers. I guess, though, is that most waiters, if given a choice between the current system and a system wherein there are no tips but the normal minimum wage laws apply to them, would opt for the current system.

  • Daniel H. Conway

    “The difficulty I think many of us instinctually have with it is that it puts the onus on us to treat our fellow humans well. It’s all very well for me to say that resteurants should pay their employees more in base salary, but I know that if I don’t tip well, I am personally denying my waiter a good wage. Effectively, tipping makes us employers for an hour or two, and puts us in the position of having to pay a just wage for the service we receive.”

    Very interesting.

    Here’s a proposition; now, in a way that hasn’t happened decades, the “out to eat” culture we have developed in the US (not present when I was a kid in the 70’s) is kind of a return to an era in which servants assist in keeping one’s house/preparing one’s food,, etc. In this sense, we do return to the “i’m the employer for a short while.”

    The out to eat culture, the “lawn service” culture, the “get a maid for a day and clean the house for the party” culture-something my tragically messy house never had, may have been a way in which we pick and chose servants. (More than likely the economic down-turn will modify this.)

    In large cities, individuals of modest means had servants doing varying things for varying times. In the deep of the Depression, my maternal grandmother (husband to a machinist), would have a maid. This helped in a house of an extended family with 3 adults (not necessarily all related-and again this was common) who were in steady jobs or were getting paid and 5 kids (all in a 2 story rowhouse). It was not an uncommon practice back then.

    In a sense, we do become employers for a while, and, as Mr. Price notes, an employer who treats and pays his workers well, gets good returns on his investment.

  • Zak

    When I was a waiter, if I had to choose between $6.50 (which I believe was approximately the minimum wage at the time in Wisconsin at the time I was working) an hour or the wage I made with tips (which fluctuated between $8.50 and $14 an hour, depending on how busy we were that week (tips were pooled weekly and divided by hours worked), then obviously I would choose the current system of tips. But in a system where a gratuity was only a dollar or two per meal (if you did a good job), but the minimum wage was the federally mandated $7, for restaurants to be competitive in attracting decent quality workers, they would still have to pay approximately what was paid now, but they wuld pay it as a wage, which yields more certainty from week to week about how much you’ll be making.

    If the question is whether it’s better to be a tip slave or wage slave (while making the same amount), I would answer the latter, because your income source is more stable. If you’re a buxom lass of $21 without many bills to pay, the former system might be better, since you’re more likely to get higher tips and you don’t need to ensure you have enough money when the bills are due. Of course, most of us would rather be neither wage nor tip slave.

  • Jimmy Mac

    Do not overlook the ubiquitous “service charge” that exists throughout Europe. You are indeed paying heftily for a good portion (if not all) of the server’s and others’ wages via that. A tip is a tip is a tip.

  • Brad

    Many waiters and waitresses in NYC restaurants don’t receive any compensation except tips.