Photo courtesy of Madison Pell

To tip or not to tip? That is the question, isn’t it? Maybe the food was really good, but the service wasn’t; maybe the food sucked, but the service didn’t. Either way, tipping has grown to be a hallmark in the American culture, one that has always been a controversial topic.

I have now worked in the customer service industry as a server for three years. I have pretty much seen it all. From the 25¢ tips left by that elderly couple who no longer know the realities and demands of the serving industry in these days, to the family who can drop $120 on food and drinks but can’t afford to tip the server who was there to clean up after their messy children. You have to deal with unpleasant customers who will cuss you out and with cranky customers who will be rude to you no matter how nice you are to them. You get cooks who, no matter how many times you ring the order in correctly, will still send your food out wrong and you get blamed for it. I think I can speak for all my fellow servers when I say that the customer service industry is frustrating, but it is a necessary industry at that.

If you look throughout history, you can see that the correct percentage of a bill that you should leave a server has slowly increased. The Wall Street Journal reports that the standard tip for servers was 10% in the 1950s before it climbed to 15% in the 1970s. Nowadays, a good tip is considered to be 18-20% of the overall bill. The Journal goes on to say that this is going up simply because the customer is afraid to make a bad impression. However, I don’t think this could be more inaccurate. In my experience, people tip based off of one of two things: either the experience they had with the server or how much they can afford to spend after the cost of the bill. There’s a saying that goes, “If you can’t afford to tip, then don’t go out.”

Serving is not just the only place you should be tipping. There are bartenders, Uber drivers, delivery people, valet people and hair stylists. While tipping is not mandatory, it is pretty much expected in American culture. Some of these careers do have a wage behind them, but for the vast majority of people that work for tips in America, tips make up a substantial part of their income. A lot of people think that servers make at least minimum wage ($7.25/hour) but we don’t; we make $2.13 an hour, and after taxes, that is barely even an income. It’s safe to say that tips are our wage.

This article is not meant to make it seem as though I hate my job because I really don’t. Although there are the daily struggles, I actually really enjoy where I work. It is a really good experience and you take away a lot of lessons and skills from working in the customer service industry. In my opinion, I think everyone should work in this industry at least at one point in their lives. This article’s purpose is to just bring attention to the dilemma of tipping in customer service.

Let me break this down for you: at the majority of American restaurants, servers are required to “tip-out” or “split” with their fellow co-workers, such as their bartenders or hosts. So if you order a drink from the bar, or maybe even two, they are required to give the bartender a percentage of each tip. At some places, assuming a tip was given when it may not have been, even if you barely touched the table, the servers are required to tip out the busser who cleaned up after you. So if you think about it, if you don’t leave a tip, they are basically paying for you to be served and to eat there.

Recently, however, a growing number of restaurants have been moving away from this norm, doing away with the tipping model and exploring new payment structures in order to, among other things, balance the pay between staff in the dining room and staff in the kitchen. Parts of the tipping system argue that tips help drive customer service and satisfaction, they are viewed as a reward for their good customer service. But if you think about it, setting a payment structure would more than likely mean higher menu and service prices. Is that worth it? What you tip is still up to you for now, but in the future I urge you to think hard next time about the tip you are going to leave for your server, valet, bartender, driver or whomever. Budget ahead of time what you are going to spend going out and make sure a good tip is included in that. If you need to pull out your phone calculator to do the math, then do so. If you’re sitting there thinking, “That much?!” I promise you the answer will be yes, that much.

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