Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Tipping Point

Back when intelligence lived in the brain cells of human beings before being outsourced to machines, there was that moment at the restaurant when you had to calculate the 12% or 15% that was the norm for a respectable tip. Some people could do this in their head, others searched for a pen or pencil to scrawl it out on the napkin. Later, a rare few might bring a pocket calculator, but once cell phones became the norm and the calculator was at your fingertips, the mind could stay powered off while the fingers did the math. 


Now, the restaurant does it all for you, showing the exact amount on the bill for a 15% or 18% or 20% tip and lately (have you noticed?), those numbers keep rising—22%/ 25%/ in a recent cab ride, even 30%.  Keeping in mind that the prices of the meals (and cab rides) also keep rising exponentially (remember burritos or a sandwich were mostly $5 back in the good ole days, say 5 years ago?), the inflated tip plus the inflated bill means a casual lunch out might mean consulting your financial advisor. 


Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve never been a waiter, but I know they depend heavily on tips and are not to be blamed for this rise in contribution to their living wage. But I also know there are other ways to support them. Like insisting that restaurants actually pay them what they’re worth so that they don’t need to depend upon tips. Some places in San Francisco indeed are doing that and make it clear that the diner does not need to tip at all. This has long been in practice in Japan, where it is considered an insult to tip. And in Europe, a tip remains just a small gesture, rarely more than 10% and no guilt if it’s less. It’s a way of saying “I know the restaurant pays you fairly, but you were very helpful, so here’s a little something extra. Treat yourself to an ice cream after work.”


And so I object to even the presence of the 25% tip on the restaurant bill, whose function is to make that more and more the norm and make the 20% or God forbid 18% tipper struggle with guilt and shame. In a recent Youtube video, drive-by Good Samaritans were going to drive-through fast-food take-out places and tipping the young workers $100 or $200. Suggesting that if only we all did something like that, what a wonderful world it would be. 


But how about actually using that energy for lobbying for fair and livable minimum wage? Not putting the burden on consumers while the owners grow rich shortchanging their work staff? This is such a typical American response, like in my least favorite movie Mr. Holland’s Opuswhere a music teacher gets fired for lack of funds for the arts and the parents throw a bit surprise party where they hire an orchestra to play one of his compositions as a grand, loving farewell gesture. Well, hey, how about using those funds to keep his job or better yet, organize and raise hell with the school board insisting that your taxes support arts in schools, as State Curriculums have promised since around 1848?


And so my First-World new pet peeve—the inflation of the standard tip has passed the Tipping Point that I find acceptable. If my waiter actually answered my question about how this tofu was cooked so well, snuck me the recipe, gave me a little post-dinner schnapps on the house, told me three new jokes I hadn’t heard, I would be comfortable with the exceptional 25% tip. But I refuse to make it the new norm. While supporting any movement toward fair and livable wages for all. 

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