What is the deal with tipping?
This is a question that continues to plague me. I understand that tipping evolved as a societal norm over many centuries, and that according to this article, a main reason to tip is "avoiding embarassment." Sounds like a basic case of social pressure to me.
But the way I see it, tipping has one purpose. You tip to motivate the staff. In a restaurant, where service is key, the waiter knows that if he is extra-polite and brings you free refills and tells you a joke and laughs at your joke, he will get a good tip. If, on the other hand, he forgets your ketchup and spills your water and disappears for twenty minutes, he will get a bad tip. Or no tip. It's all very straightforward.
But like I said, this is a setting where service is key. There are plenty of situations where service is unimportant, or bad, or nonexistent. And yet, tip jars are cropping up all over the place!
At a takeout counter, for example, is a tip appropriate? I was picking up dinner from California Pizza Kitchen the other night, and when I went to sign the receipt for my credit card, there was a line for the tip. Wait, on takeout? I stood paralyzed for at least ten seconds. I decided not to, then immediately felt guilty as I handed the pen back to the guy at the counter. I mean...maybe he deserved an extra two dollars. He was nice on the phone, I guess, and handed me my bags with a smile. But was that smile fake? Did he just want a tip? How can I ever be sure?
Then, there's the tip jar at Caribou Coffee. I don't know, dude. You're being chipper, and asking with a knowing smile if I want to leave room for cream, but I'm not sure that's worth a dollar either...although you are on your feet for 8-hour shifts and surely must deal with customers less accommodating than me. Maybe you do deserve a dollar! But should I be the one to give it to you? You just poured hot water for my tea! Surely my quarters are better spent on my parking meter!
As you can see, I feel more conflicted with each new tipping situation.
The best was Cold Stone's, my old favorite. The girl was half-asleep as she mashed oreos into my ice cream, and then handed me my bag without the slightest hint of eye contact. Right next to the register is the big tip jar. This jar annoys me on many levels. First, for its very presence. Your ice cream is already overpriced! Then, it says "For fun well done." Um, I had no fun. This was a very basic transaction - money for ice cream. And then, it's clear plastic, so you can see the 'other dollars' dropped in by 'nicer customers than you.' I don't know. It feels like they would put a couple dollars in just to make you feel bad, like now your fifty cents isn't good enough. At least here, I felt no cognitive dissonance as I walked away, change in my pocket.
The essential question here is, does tipping ensure good service? It seems like in restaurants, or airport curbs, or hair salons, it might. But in all these food service/retail environments, asking for tips feels a bit audacious. Some might say, "Ask and you shall receive." I say, "Ask and you might receive - but you WILL annoy your customers and you WON'T improve your service." So skip the tip jar, and focus on good service. I'll give you a tip when you've earned it.