Today, tips are on the minds of Foster Kamer (writing for Gourmet Live) and Francis Lam (writing for Salon). Kamer trots out the familiar argument that tipping is “often a racist, superficial practice and yet, like capital punishment, gun ownership, and of course, the abolition of slavery, America is one of the last industrialized nations in the world still desperately holding on to it.” He thinks “tipping needs to die,” partly because it presumably takes no more skill to serve a $20 dish than a $100 dish (and yet a waiter gets tipped more on the $100 dish), because black cabbies were tipped less in a study (a practice that presumably carries over to the restaurant world), and because the “absurd sociological pressures” of tipping have gotten to a point where you tip 15 percent or above no matter how good or bad the service is. Plus, by Kamer’s estimate, it’s probably costing the government at least $1.6 billion in unreported income.
Meanwhile, Francis Lam interviews Steve Dublanica, the Waiter Rant author who has published a new book about tipping, Thanks for the Tip. Dublanica says that when he was waiting, he was amazed to discover that “the quality of service has almost no effect on tipping,” and he cites a study that found that “the customer’s perception of service affects the tip only 2 percent of the time.” Instead, diners tend to tip because they don’t want to feel guilty, or feel bad for the waiter, or they want to be remembered (Dublanica was particularly accommodating with a customer who gave him $200 Christmas bonuses). Or, let’s remember, because Bob Marley is playing.
But here’s a question: Does anyone enjoy tipping? Sure, the practice doesn’t make much sense, but (just to play devil’s advocate here) isn’t there something vaguely satisfying about being generous to the person who serves your food?