Like a grease trap’s lingering odor, the tipping debate will never really go away, at least not until journalists stop writing about it and anarchy rages in the streets and diners are momentarily distracted from dwelling on percentages. The latest salvo comes from an article our intrepid colleague Foster Kamer penned for Gourmet Live: Kamer’s argument, simply, is that “tipping needs to die.”
Tipping in its current form is an assault on fairness for employers and employees as well as consumers’ rights. It reinforces an economically and socially dangerous status quo, while buttressing a functional aristocracy. Oh, yeah: it’s also 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.
Kamer examines tipping’s historical context — the term didn’t, contrary to popular belief, originate in 19th-century English pubs, but in criminal circles — as well as a recent study that found that black cab drivers are less well-tipped than white ones, and points out that under-reported tips may account for as much as $1.6 billion in lost tax revenue. Also, tipping reinforces an unfair system, one in which diners are exhorted to compensate for the employer’s failure to pay their waitstaff a fair wage.
Plus, if Francis Lam’s Salon interview with Waiter Rant‘s Steve Dublanica is to believed, tipping isn’t even a reward for good service. “…the quality of service has almost no effect on tipping,” Dublanica tells Lam; instead, people tip because it’s a social norm and they don’t want to look like cheapskates and/or feel guilty.
Waiters, meanwhile, engage in a weird, complicated psychological tango with diners wherein they attempt to gauge whether the customer wants to be treated like shit or with kindness. It sounds exhausting, even more so than arguing about the institution of tipping, but less so than, if memory serves, reading the whining rant of a food writer defending his right to tip only 15 percent.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 30, 2010