TIPS for TRAVELLERS - CONTINUING TALES of an AUSTRALIAN in the UNITED STATES (second one today)
(This follows on from the post immediately below.)
The American art of tipping is as difficult for the outsider to master as is the Japanese practice of bowing or even the Tibetan art of throat singing (or the Australian use of the word bastard
). We rarely tip in Australia (maybe only at restaurants) and so you have to, in the first instance, overcome the urge not feel that you are simply be ripped off: paying someone more than the advertised price for doing pretty much what you wanted them to do, like cut your hair.
Blogger Peter Martin
has an economist's take
Pure economic theory would suggest that we should not. We try to get the best possible price for things. So why pay more, and why do it after the service has been rendered? Especially if you are not likely to ever go to that town or restaurant again?
He then points at some research done at Cornell University (here
) which he summarises thusly:
The Research at Cornell University suggests that we do it in large measure to ensure good service. Tipping is a sort of shadow market which fulfils a role legal contracts cannot. These days there is such a contract for employment. I will work more than the strict number of hours required, and in return you will pay me more than you are legally required to, and keep me on in a downturn.
We also do it for status. Ray Williams of HIH did it a lot. Men do it much more than women.
We are more likely to tip when other people are watching (say, in a big group).
And women are significantly more likely to do it when their waiter is a man, especially a man of eligible age.
For men, apparently, there is no such effect.
The studies also suggest that we leave larger tips when it is sunny and when we are given a small gift, like a chocolate, as part of the service.
Although they make interesting reading, both Cornell Studies cited are seriously flawed, IMHO. They purport to be based to some extent on comparative data, but they are written by people who have grown up in culture where tipping is the norm and I think this colours their interpretations. By making this presumption, they also over-estimate the extent to which tipping is voluntary, writing in one of the abstracts:
Every year consumers voluntarily give away billions of dollars to service workers in
the form of tips. The voluntary nature of tipping raises interesting questions about why
people tip and what factors influence their tipping decisions.
In fairness, and somewhat confusingly, they later acknowledge that, "Academics and consumers alike have expressed the belief that people tip because it is
expected and because violating those expectations risks social disapproval," but this doesn't seem to have shifted them from their basic starting point of tipping as voluntary.
To my way of thinking, then, this means the study is based on a false premise. It is very clear that there is an expectation that you will tip (though perhaps the expectations is felt more strongly by the uninitiated foreigner?). For instance, you will find in almost any travel guide to the US, a section similar to this
, which sets out in some detail (and consistent with other guides) the expected tipping regime:
Waiters or waitresses get at least 15%. If you are served at a counter or bar tip 10% but at least 50 cents. Remember, in American restaurants, service is almost never included in the final bill. If an amount is added on, it is usually the amount of sales tax you owe on the bill.
Delivery people--for take out food or groceries--should be tipped a dollar or two.
Taxi drivers get 15%. Auto rental agency employees do not expect tips. At a car wash put a dollar or so into the tip cup for the employees. Tip valet parking attendants at least a dollar or two. Gasoline pump attendants do not expect tips, but if they give you good service or wash your windshields, they will appreciate 50 cents or so.
Porters, skycaps and bellhops get $1.00 for the first bag or two, 50 cents each additional bag.
Hairdressers and barbers are tipped at least 15%. If a separate person washes your hair, tip a dollar or two. Shoe shine people should get 50 cents to a dollar.
Coat check. If you check your coat tip $1.00 if you are not charged for the service.
At hotels, you may tip the maid a dollar or so a day if you stay more than one night. Tip room service waiters 15%. If the hotel concierge goes out of his or her way to help you, you may tip from $10 to $20.
Valet parking attendants expect a dollar or two.
Even the way this advice is phrased (Taxi drivers get
15%; barbers are
tipped at least...) gives you an idea of the extent to which tipping is expected
rather than voluntary (I mean, I know its voluntary in the sense that there is no law to make you tip, but I am saying that the expectation of tipping is so strong that it can't really be considered voluntary in a practical sense). This is important because, take the voluntary aspect out of tipping and you immediately undermine any notions that tipping is done for quality of service or many of the other affective reasons (to feel good, for social solidarity etc) the Cornell studies give. People do it because they are expected to. To subsume this under the heading of "social approval" and use it as a measure of social solidarity as the studies do is, I think, misleading.
Additionally, the Cornell studies tend to play down another factor that the guide books make central:
It is important to realize that for many professions, particularly waiters and waitresses, taxi drivers, porters and bellhops, tip income is half or more of the worker's total income. These people are paid very low salaries and depend on tip income. If in doubt, tip a little more than usual, especially if service was good or the person was friendly. It will always be appreciated.
Not that the Cornell studies are unaware of this factor, but they do relegate it somewhat, making it just one factor amongst many.
To my way of thinking, however, this is central. I'd suggest the reason we don't tip in Australia is because we have traditionally understood that we don't need to: people have been paid a "living wage" and we have had a reasonably generous welfare system. If you like, responsibility for a person's wage is taken out of our hands and put into the hands of the employer and to a lesser extent, the government. It actually becomes a classic case of how certain social policies (laws governing wages and conditions) enhance individual freedom and a sense of belonging and equality.
Although the tendency is to presume that by allowing the individual customer to choose whether and how much to tip we are somehow strengthening individuality, I think we can just easily argue that by taking the decision about tipping out of the hands of the individuals involved in the transaction we are in fact increasing the employees
sense of individuality by not forcing them into ingratiating behaviour in order to secure the money they need to live on.
The employee is not dependant upon the whims and personal preferences of any given customer but merely upon a system of laws that say you will be paid a fair wage with reasonable conditions. Thus customer and worker are much better able to confront each other as equals than in a relationship, encouraged by tipping, where perhaps a large portion or in fact, their entire wage, is dependent upon satisfying some random persons individual desires.
In this regard, it is worth noting that some business, in Britain and the US, purposely decrease wages in the expectation that tips will make up the difference. In fact, as this interesting article
reports, some businesses (particularly big hotels) actually charge
people to work in them. That is, you would pay a hotel to work as a bellboy in the expectation that you can make a living out of tips. I know you can look at this as all very entrepreneurial, encouraging individuals to work hard and give good service in return for money, but to my mind it is the opposite. It puts back into the customer/worker relationship, not just increased uncertainty and all the miserable things that go with that, but an almost master-slave relationship where my livelihood is directly dependent upon the patronage and whims of those I have to deal with. If this isn't a recipe for arse-licking of a high order, I don't know what is. And I can't see at all how this enhances either freedom or individuality.
In fact, one of the Cornell studies looks at the notion of individualism and defines it as "the independence of individuals from organisations." They conclude that "the number of tipped professions decreased with individualism." But if my comparison between Australia and the US has any merit, the reverse could well be true. On this definition of individuality, Australia, with a more comprehensive welfare system and more strictly enforced minimum wage and conditions regime, is less individualistic than the United States. However, Australia has far fewer "tipped professions" than the US, thus contradicting the assertions of the Cornell study.
It's an interesting point because it tends to also contradict the easy equation the right makes between "small government" and individual freedom. Actually, on this example, the interventionist a government (through wage regulation) provides an environment that enhances individual freedom. Which reinforces some of the stuff I was saying in this post
under the heading of left libertarianism.
Somebody once wrote that you could measure how civilised a country was by looking at how much security there was around the works of art in its major galleries; how safe you felt in hitchhiking its streets; and how much glass there was between you and a bank teller. To this list I would add the level of tipping: the more civilised the country, the less likely you are to be expected to tip. As Australia continues down the path of "flexible workplaces" and "labour market deregulation" (and other euphemisms for shifting power from workers to employers) I wonder if the expectation of tipping will increase? I'd suggest there is already evidence of it.
Maybe it should become a new economic indicator.