Tipping has always been a source of controversy, and the beginning of many a discussion among people with strong opinions on both sides. Whether to leave a gratuity, how much to leave and why to leave a tip can even make or damage reputations overnight. Stories of extreme generosity (and accusations of extreme stinginess) regularly make the rounds on social media.
You may remember the social-media firestorm of 2013, when New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees got takeout from a California restaurant and left a $3 tip on the $74 order. The internet exploded after someone posted a picture of the receipt online. Many used the opportunity to call Brees a cheapskate, while others rushed to his defense. The restaurant owner apologized for his employee’s behavior and pointed out that it was generous of Brees to leave a tip at all, since most people don’t tip on takeout orders anyway. Furthermore, to call Brees cheap is laughable; he’s raised millions for various causes, and is regularly cited among the NFL’s most generous players.
The incident, though, touched a nerve and rekindled a national debate about tipping. At the center of the controversy is the need to support the hardworking people who serve us meals, cut our hair, carry our bags and help us in a thousand ways. Many people in service professions are notoriously underpaid. And, according to a new study by Creditcards.com, apparently some of us are bigger tippers than others.
The survey, released this week, reports that the best tipper (statistically, anyway) is likely to be a male from the Northeastern U.S., a Republican baby boomer who adds his tip onto his credit or debit card instead of paying cash. He would leave a 20 percent tip at a restaurant. Conversely, the study claims that Southerners (ouch) are the most tightfisted regionally when it comes to leaving that tip for the server. Of course, these claims are likely to inflame political, regional, ethnic and gender tensions, because most of us consider ourselves to be pretty fair and hold our own counsel when it comes to the decision to tip.
For the study, Creditcards.com polled 1,002 adults. The survey found four out of five Americans claim they always tip at restaurants, averaging 18 percent. The statistics indicate people with higher incomes tend to leave better tips. Among other findings:
- About two-thirds of us tip our hairstylist or barber, while 12 percent say they never do.
- Nearly a third of people leave a tip for coffee-shop baristas, but slightly more people say they never tip them.
- More than a quarter of people surveyed say they always tip the housekeeping staff at a hotel, but more (31 percent) said they never do.
- Nearly 60 percent of men say they tip more than the historic customary 15 percent, while just under half of women say they do.
- Younger restaurant patrons tend to tip less, older ones more.
Tipping psychology and practices have been studied endlessly, with various results. Some studies allege America’s tipping system is outdated, does little to improve service and might even be causing harm and furthering discrimination. Others say it actually helps improve service (albeit not as much as one might think). Some establishments have policies to stop their employees from accepting tips at all, while others have added a non-negotiable “service fee” to all checks in lieu of a gratuity, or started adding an automatic tip to bills for large groups.
Knowing whom to tip, under what circumstances to leave a gratuity and how much is a moving target, and often results in anxiety. Will the pizza delivery guy consider you a skinflint if you handed him 67 cents in sofa change after he stood in the rain with your extra-large pepperoni while you looked for your checkbook? Most likely. Would it make a difference if that pizza were a few minutes after the promised delivery time, or if he didn’t make eye contact as he handed you the box? All of these things and more affect the decision to tip.
But many people I know lean toward being generous. If you’ve ever waited tables, delivered pizza or cut hair, you may remember what it felt like to have done everything right, yet still get stiffed on the tip. Most people in service professions are not in control of the entire experience, and, like all of us, they have their good days and bad ones. On the other hand, a rotten attitude can result in poor service; most people would tend to be less generous in that case. With all these variables, it’s likely that tipping will remain controversial well into the future.
To read the entire study, visit http://bit.ly/2sVwcfv. And if you’re looking for some advice on whom to tip, and under what circumstances, some good tipping guides have been published; a couple of good ones are from AARP at http://bit.ly/2sX6bw2 and TripAdvisor at http://bit.ly/1XDtG63.