Two articles on tipping

Joel Widzer thinks tipping should be quid pro quo for service.

Tyler Cowen points out that this isn’t how tipping generally functions.

Apparently there is generally “little relationship between quality of waiter service and size of tip,” tips go up in sunny weather, and waitresses (but not waiters) can increase their tips by drawing a smiley face on the check.

Joel’s advice makes intuitive sense to me, but clearly doesn’t mesh with existing norms and customs.

In fact, why should Joel’s advice work at all — making it clear to a service person that they’ll be rewarded with a tip? What’s the enforcement mechanism? Once good service has been rendered, why does the strategic tipper need to follow through at all, unless there’s an expectation of iterative interactions?

When tipping comes after service, why do we tip at all, especially when visiting a restaurant on vacation that we’re likely never to enter again? And what drives our tendency to tip independent of service received?

I find that I tip 15-20% at restaurants regardless of service, though closer to 15% when service is poor and closer to 20% when service is above-average. Probably a bigger driver of tip as a percentage of overall bill is the absolute size of the check. I feel bad leaving a buck or two.

I admit that tipping is a phenomenon I don’t understand very well. Why not just build tips into the total price of a service? Perhaps it’s a form of price discrimination. If service and tips don’t correlate, it may just be a way of extracting additional funds from those with a greater willingness to pay.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Fully agreed. You may consider preferring Japanese restaurants which specifically state “no tipping” and where you can expect your waiter/ress to be paid a decent wage without tips.

  2. In Australia, tipping is not really the norm. People will sometimes leave loose change, or round up to the nearest $5/$10 if the service is good, otherwise we just don’t tip. 15-20% seems to be the expected tip in the US, in which case, why not raise the prices by that much and pay the staff more? (I know, it’s not that easy, but tipping can seem strange to a visitor from a “non-tipping” society.)

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