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.
By Jonathan Ping | Frugal Living | 6/14/11, 5:00am