As of late, I've been become preoccupied with when and how much to tip. This might have something to do with living in Richmond, VA where a significant portion of the population is the starving artist type who lives off tips. I've also read several posts by service industry workers expressing that if I don't dole out after out I order a muffin at the counter, then they can't afford to live in their 10' x 10' studio that they share with a roommate and a cat over a storefront.
There seems to be an expectation to tip everywhere. No one wants to be seen as cheap. (My mom criticizes that I always calculate my tip so that the total sums to the nearest whole dollar. She argues that my tip itself should be in whole dollars lest I look stingy. I bristle because oftentimes the server is getting above 20 percent with my computation; I do study math.)
Back in December, I went on a road trip where I probably spent more on tips than gas. And I wasn't bitter about it; my waitress was super bubbly. But then you realize you could have bought another pair of J.Crew jeans instead and you wonder: Do I over-tip?
I'm all for tipping when food is being delivered to my table, my water is being refilled, and someone is juggling multiple patrons - but not when you are essentially an order taker. We don't tip the ticket taker at the movies. There's an abundance of these high class fast food joints where we stand in a line and tell the cashier what we want before we stand off to the side and claim our food with our own two hands, fill our own plastic cup with soda, and maybe even fight off the crowds for a table. But you punched in my order? Here's $2!
Of course, I could just not give them $2. But they hand you the receipt and hover above you as you sign off: They may pretend they're attending to the next customer, but they can see as you jot down down the tip or press 15%, 20%, or 0%. You deserve maybe 5% (if I'm feeling charitable), you do know that, right?
I know the service industry is a thankless abyss: I was a food runner at a comedy club for six days (I put in my one day's notice on the fifth day). And I empathize that some people cannot secure jobs above this bracket - but that doesn't mean you deserve five bucks for asking whether I want a copy of my receipt!
Coffee shops are the worst for this unnecessary tipping. Consider Starbucks: I pay for my iced coffee with my gold card on my phone (duh, I'm a gold card member - through 2017). It never gives me the option to tip (though my friends say their Starbucks app prompts them). Nevertheless, on the counter is a tip box begging for George's and Abraham's.
But why am I tipping? When you turned in your application to work for the Green Siren, did you not expect to ring up and pour coffee? And Starbucks employees make above minimum wage (Google it) - but should I inflate that to $10/hour for blending a Frappucino? Yes, I'll throw you a dollar if I ask for my simple syrup to be reduced and can you make the base of my latte half coconut milk, half nonfat and then microfoam on top? But to fill a cup with ice, water, and espresso - does no one see the absurdity? Yet, why do I feel guilty when I'm not dropping change? (Maybe I'm Catholic. Bad joke?)
Personally, I believe we should abolish the gratuity system. If our servers are going to starve to death if I don't toss them some spare change with a flick of a pen, then we should make it a standard part of the tab. Europeans do this; it's why I love them so.
This all led to last week when I ordered an omelet at a breakfast place. My intention was to grab and go, so I dared to put $0 for the tip. But then I found myself sitting there waiting for my omelet to cook. I instantly suspected the waitress was spitting in my eggs. Finally, she brought out my order - and I handed her a dollar. I hoped she felt as guilty for the saliva in my eggs as I felt for not tipping.