When It Comes to Tipping, I’m Reaching My Tipping Point

The tradition of tipping service providers has been around for at least four centuries. Evidence suggests it first began in Europe during the 17th century, when aristocrats would give people in lower classes extra money for their services. In the United States, the practice of leaving tips began shortly after the Civil War, often in the form of added remuneration paid to freed slaves working in difficult conditions.

It is speculated the word “TIP” may come from the phrase “To Insure Promptness” – and not, as I had long theorized, “Totally Inexcusable Piracy.”

Okay, enough with the history lesson. While I appreciate the noble origins of this practice, it’s starting to feel like it’s getting out of hand. Is it just me or does it seem like everybody is expecting to receive a tip these days? I have no problem tipping waiters, taxi drivers, and the occasional bellman who errantly brings my luggage to the wrong hotel room.

I routinely give my stylist at the hair salon a 20% tip – which is generous, given how little hair I have left anymore. I’m a believer in the importance of tipping, especially for low-wage earners. I waited tables for three years during college. Without tips, I never would have been able to pay for my education and would probably have dropped out to become a Walmart greeter.

Tipping is as American as apple pie … and as confusing as calculus. When I was young, 10% was a normal tip. At some point, this changed to 15%. But lately, it seems servers get offended if you leave anything less than 20%. Some restaurants even tack on an automatic 20% tip surcharge. What are the rules for when you should tip, and how much? I have no clue anymore.

Not long ago, I was at a restaurant. When the server brought the credit card machine to the table, the readout gave me three options for the tip: 20%, 25%, and OTHER. I wonder what would have happened had I selected OTHER and entered 15%. I’m guessing my receipt printout might have read, “Wow, you are one cheap bastard!”

Last week I went to a fast food restaurant. I ordered my meal and paid for it at one of those new self-service kiosks. When I pressed the button to pay by credit card, it prompted me for how much of a tip I’d like to include. How about NONE? Yeah, that seems like the right amount for my having to punch in my own order on a computer touch screen, then wait 12 minutes at the counter for my order to arrive.

Recently, I’ve been invited to provide a gratuity for things I was never expected to tip for in the past. In the last month, I’ve been prompted to cough up a $weetener at a fast food drive-thru window, a shop that changes my car’s oil, the airport check-in counter, and even my physical therapist’s office.    

There’s even a name for this phenomenon: Tipflation. There’s also another word for it: Tip shaming (okay, technically two words). I’m starting to feel like I’m hemorrhaging cash faster than a broken ATM. In many cases, I’m not even dealing with a human being at all, leaving me to wonder who is really on the receiving end of my generosity.

Is there anything we’re not expected to tip for anymore? I half expect to find a tip jar on my dentist’s reception desk the next time I go in for my semi-annual cleaning: “Don’t forget to tip your dental hygienist for a great job.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for showing gratitude for good service, but where do we draw the line? I’m pretty sure it’s just a matter of time before I buy a pair of sneakers on Amazon.com, and as I check out, it will suggest I enter a gratuity of 20% to 30%. I’m sure Jeff Bezos could use the extra money.

On a future vacation, at the end of my flight, in order to be allowed to exit the plane, will l be required to insert my credit card next to the screen in the seatback in front of me, to indicate the gratuity percentage I’d like to use to thank the pilot and crew for getting me safely to my destination?

The future is looking increasingly unsettling. I can picture a time not too far from now when I may receive an email from our veterinarian reminding me of our cat Zippy’s upcoming appointment. And the email explains that it’s customary to include a 20% tip to ensure proper medical care. So, if I opt not to pay a 20% tip, might Zippy have “an unfortunate accident?” I can barely afford my own healthcare, let alone tipping my cat’s vet.

You may accuse me of being hyperbolic. Perhaps. But it’s only going to get worse. I’m waiting for the day when we’ll all be expected to tip the greeter at Costco for letting us enter the store. Or the electric utility if we’d like them to restore our power sooner rather than later. Or our cat sitter for taking care of our cats while we’re away. (No, wait. I actually do tip her for that. She does a great job.)

My point is, I think we’re rapidly approaching the point when we’ll be expected to tip for just about everything – even when there’s no human being involved in the transaction at all.

On a completely unrelated note, if you’ve enjoyed reading this article, please show your appreciation by leaving me a small tip. The recommended gratuity is $50, but if you’re on a limited budget, I guess $25 will do. I also accept Venmo. Please give generously, won’t you? It’s hard to pay for my upcoming European vacation on a humor writer’s salary. Just saying.

For more of Tim Jones’ humor go HERE

Check out Tim Jones’ new YouTube channel, View from the Bleachers.

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