Book Review: Keep The Change – A Book About Tipping

If you want to start a lively conversation online, just bring up the topic of tipping. Keep The Change is basically a book that interviews the actual workers in the service industry to find how they view gratuities. The author is Steve Dublanica, which you may know from the Waiter Rant blog, and the tagline is “A Clueless Tipper’s Quest to Become the Guru of the Gratuity”.

The book starts with the history and origins of tipping. Why do we tip at all? To Insure Prompt Service? If you give the tips beforehand or regularly it can help, but that’s most likely not where the term comes from. Is it to reward good service after the fact? Again, probably not.

It turns out that the quality of service by the waitperson has almost no effect on what size tip s/he receives. Good service, awful service, whatever. In fact, researchers found the statistical correlation between service quality and tip to be merely 0.2. That’s about the same correlation as between service quality and how sunny it is outside. The author explores the many real reasons why people tip, and many of them have to do with psychological issues of avoiding shame, providing generosity, seeking approval, or showing off. Sometimes it’s plain bribery.

The rest of the book is organized into the different service industries. Waiters and waitresses. Bartenders. Coffee shop baristas. Beauty salons. Strip clubs. Casinos. Hotels (doormen, maids, bellhops, concierge). Cars (parking, mechanics, car wash). I love these kind of behind-the-scenes books that reveal their hidden attitudes and experiences.

I won’t divulge all the details, but my one-line takeaway from this book was “Everyone wants at least 15%”. We all know waiters. But a bartender wants 15-20% of the drink price total as well. Baristas from Starbucks to the super-fancy foam art places also want 15-20% of the drink price. Masseuses and haircuts? 15-20%. Note that this is what they deem appropriate, not what everyone actually gives.

Surprised? I’m betting this book will contain at least one new discovery for everyone. Hotel maids would like 2-3 dollars each day separately (a different person cleans the room each day). I used to just tip when I checked out because otherwise they may think I’m just leaving cash around. To avoid confusion, use a marked envelope. Tricky!

Another underlying theme seems to be how greedy business owners are simply shifting the role of paying their employees onto the customers. In fact, that’s quite possibly how tipping got started on sleeper train porters in 1894! And the customers pay up, promoting more “tip creep”. For most of the people interviewed, tips now end up making up 10-40% of their total income.

I’d rather everyone be paid a fair wage and everything to be rolled into the upfront price, but I appreciate this book because if I know the expected gratuity then I can include that in my own mental pricing. If I do use the service, I want to tip properly. But if the tip makes things too expensive, then I simply won’t use the service. For example, I might be okay with paying for a $100 massage but not a $120 one. If you hate not knowing expected customs as much as I do, I recommend this book.


  1. I also wished that waiters and other service industry employees were simply paid a fair wage and food prices were raised. I’ve had several experiences where the service was less than stellar but I tipped fairly generously anyway because I know how little they’re guaranteed to make. That also helps to reduce the correlation between tipping and service.

  2. This looks like an interesting book. I agree with you about everyone receiving a fair wage. Having relied on tips as the bulk of my income, I notice many businesses that encourage tips to make up for the poor wages they pay.

    On the other hand, I don’t believe tips equate to better service. Many people tip more for better service, but overall I don’t think service is bought. I work with businesses in Japan and the service everywhere you go there is incredible. The surprising point is that it is offensive to tip in Japan. I was so amazed by the service that I wrote a book about my experiences in Japan.

  3. josefismael says:

    I always approached it as a way to offset the wage difference between service workers and other hourly positions, but what’s interesting is that different states have different laws regarding this. For instance, WI sets their minimum wage at a different level ($2.35 I think) for “tipped employees” than it does for other hourly workers ($7 something). MN does not make this distinction, but I imagine the difference is left to the employer to decide.

    Yet somehow I still give big tips to pretty bartenders regardless of what state I’m in.

  4. ParatrooperJJ says:

    I’m not a big believer in tipping to get people to do their jobs. I’ll tip waiters and waitresses because they can be paid below minimum wage, but hotel maids???

  5. Alexandria says:

    I was shocked to learn a friend in another state was earning $2/hour to waitress. $2/hr + tips, of course. Whereas in California I could earn at minumum $8/hr (minimum wage) plus tips. I was just thinking, dang, what an appealing second job. Not that I’d want to support my family on that, but by simply being in another state, a night waitress job sounds appealing here, but sounds VERY unappealing in other states.

  6. Tip the Starbucks Barista? Really? How about Dunkin’ Donuts, or McDonalds?

  7. When I used to work as a blackjack dealer tips made up a big percentage of my income. At one casino I worked at we were paid our tips in cash daily. On payday some people owed so much for taxes, 401k contributions, insurance deductions that instead of receiving a check they had to pay the casino.

  8. @Andy – True at casinos, we tend to tip the dealer with chips. Like when we play Roulette.

    @Alexandria – my father in law in Mississippi pays his waitress $2 to $3 an hour plus tips. Wages for a waitress absolutely vary by state and employer.

    Nice book review, will pick a copy up. Thx!

  9. Baughman says:

    What irks me about tips (and about any purchase, for that matter) is the taxation involved. Assuming that the tip is reported as income, as it should be, a $1 tip before tax is worth $0.85 after tax. Is $1 to me worth more than $0.85 to the recipient? I believe so. For the un-froogle among us, this is probably not the case.

  10. burned-out medic says:

    tipping is out of control.

  11. I lived most of my life in New Zealand where there is no tipping, and have spent the last 4 years in California where I much prefer the tipping system. In New Zealand the service is generally awful, waiting staff have little motivation to put in effort or even smile for that matter. With no tipping they dont need to turn the tables quickly so any meal can run hours. Although there would be many factors in the price of a meal, restaurant food in NZ is far higher than here.

    To comment regarding minimum wage above, friends in the service industry have told me that the minimum wage is a protection, so if they earn less than that in tips the owner makes up the difference, otherwise its just the tips. The owner may officially pay them minimum wage for tax purposes but give the rest of it to them in cash. However, I believe in california business owners are not obliged to give staff the tips they earned (need a 2nd comment here as i know the rules are complex). Also, some places share the tipping at the end of the night between all staff, so just because your waiter gave you great service doesn’t mean they’re going to receive your generous tip.

  12. What Hamish said above may apply to New Zealand, a “Western” country, but doesn’t apply to many Asian countries (Jon mentioned Japan). In many East Asian countries no tipping is even expected, and yet few waiters and waitresses “have little motivation to put in effort or even smile” (Hamish said about NZ). Some upscale restaurants charge an additional 10% service charge, and I think that’s a far better arrangement than tipping. In the US, I’m okay with paying waiters and waitresses, but I’m especially annoyed by taxi drivers who _demand_ tips (some of them are actually self-employed — they get to keep all the money I pay for the ride rather than having to turn it in to an employer, as the waiters/waitresses do).

  13. Hi – To add on to Hamish’s observations, I travel a lot overseas and there is generally poor service where there isn’t a reliance on tips. If you are tipping well (or known to tip well) you’re drinks come often and sometimes comped. I could have been sold a lot more if the staff was more motivated to check on you.

    You have to be careful in some countries not to put the tip on your credit card or the server never sees it. Even if you charge the meal / drinks, leave the tip in cash to be sure it gets to the staff.

  14. Stafford says:

    ‘To Insure Prompt Service’ is gramatically incorrect. ‘Ensure’ is the correct word.

  15. I wonder if the tip recipients themselves tip the amounts they expect?

    Not cleaning off the tables quickly (they do the same thing in the Netherlands) does allow the custormer to sit and enjoy their meal. Here I often feel rushed when the waiter whips away my barely empty plate and puts the check on the table ‘for when you’re ready’. It’s ideal when you’re in a rush, but I miss my long evenings dining out with friends.
    That said, the service and staff friendliness is indeed way better in the US than in the Netherlands.

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