Tipping Point

Tonight this moth flew into our lives. My son Will spotted it in the kitchen but it didn’t look like the above picture. I took a photo, the one above, and then it flew down and landed on my chest, spread its wings and displayed its colors showing red and black bands on the rear wings. Will used Wikipedia and quickly found it. See his blog for the other, prettier view and more details about this moth.

In local news there was an interesting article in our local newspaper, The Valley News, about service employees (waiters & waitresses, etc) of Dartmouth Collage’s Hanover inn wanting to get their full compensation including tips when they were on disability, etc. Apparently it is hard to live on $3.60/hr disability. It got me to thinking. I’ve always found this system of mandatory tipping to be rather odd. So I wrote:

Dear Editor,

I was amused to read that Service Employees International Union workers at Dartmouth think they are owed tips by their employer when they were not working. Looking ‘tip’ up in the dictionary I find:

Tip -noun
1. a small present of money given directly to someone for performing a service or menial task; gratuity: He gave the waiter a dollar as a tip.
Valley News 20070728

It is also interesting to note from the etymology that that the word originated with thieves as in “‘give a small present of money to,’ 1610, ‘to give, hand, pass,’ originally thieves’ cant”

Is it time that perhaps we should eliminate tipping? It is a rather odd situation that some people are paid low wages by their employers and the customer is expected to pony up extra money to make sure the wait staff have enough to live on. Ceasing the practice of tipping would also solve this whole issue of are tips owed by the employer during vacation, leave, disability and unemployment time thus killing two birds with one stone.

Alternatively the tipping system could be expanded! Since the restaurants, and fine institutions like Dartmouth College, like paying employees on a “base plus tip wage” scale maybe we could also do the menu prices that way. If I really like the food I’ll ‘tip’ the restaurant to let them know. If not I’ll perhaps just tip the waitress for her superior service. Or not. I suspect that if employers were forced to operate on the same basis they are forcing on their employees they would quickly abandon the tip system and go with a simple wage.

Of course, if we eliminated tipping there would then be no recourse for the customer when poor service, or food, is rendered. That sword has two cutting edges.

in Vermont

Outdoors: 81°F/54°F Sunny
Farm House: 77°F/66°F
Tiny Cottage: 72°F/69°F Tank Wall top beam poured 3 buckets

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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5 Responses to Tipping Point

  1. karl says:

    having put myself through school as a waiter then bartender i appreciate the tip system. sure, many times i had my issues with the system but in general i think it works. if i had a lame job where tips were hard to come by then i’d move on to another job.

  2. jessie says:

    When I waited tables (all my teen and adult life until 1992), I was paid $2.08 per hour, plus tips. I averaged $12 per hour total. There is nothing like tipping to motivate a person to work hard and be polite, cheerful, and helpful.

    Since minimum wage itself is hardly a livable wage, I think we ought to add tipping to all minimum wage jobs. It would be nice to go into a store and have an employee acknowlege my existence and at least pretend to care whether or not I walked out in a huff without buying anything.

    In fact, it would be worth 15 percent to me. :-)

  3. I’m not against tipping. I’ve tended bar too, long ago in distant collage days. I find the system hypocritical with employees and employers playing both sides of the coin. They need to settle on the rules and the rules should be clear and consistent.

    As to minimum wage, I’ve always liked the proposal that all government employees, from the President on down, get paid minimum wage – and no, I would not tip our elected officials that are currently in place. Perhaps if they had to face the world at minimum wage they would understand things better. We could rank the government officials such that the more power they have the less they get paid – President, Congress, Judges get minimum wage of $3.65/hr. Janitors get $36.50/hr. Would this clean up government? Some would argue the Congress and President would then supplement their income with bribes, but is that really any different that what we have now? Maybe we could make Bush and Congress declare their tips or as the IRS does, tax them on the assumed bribes, er, I mean tips.

    On the flip side there is a very real problem with setting high minimum wages – it will reduce the number of available jobs and spur inflation. Do we want government interference there?

    And on the edge of the coin (don’t you love how every problem has two or more sides?!?) a better solution might be for the government not to tax any of the first $X0,000 that a person earns (pick your favorite number). Currently there is still taxation at low income levels.

  4. Quatrefoil says:

    Hi, Just found your blog and am enjoying reading through the archives. Here in Australia tipping is entirely voluntary. You do it (generally 10% or so) if and only if you’re particularly happy with the service, or you’ve been ‘difficult’ customers – i.e. a large group, special orders etc. It’s considered a gift, and no-one is taxed on what they make as tips. I think it works pretty well.

  5. Interesting, Quatrefoil. In the USA they not only tax service staff on tips, but they tax them on the theoretical tips they might have made even if they didn’t make them. The IRS (Internal Revenue Service = Dept of Taxes) requires tips to be declared as income and if not enough are declared to satisfy their bean counters then they’ll up the number to fit an average they feel is appropriate and then tax the employee on that number.

    This means your tax could end up being more than the total you earned. How generous of the waiters to provide free labor.

    It is a weird system with all sorts of kinks.

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