I’ve always been confused about tipping. A dollar? 20%? Nothing? A five? Who knows. Entire libraries of books have been devoted to this very topic, and yet, even after reading all of them, I still have trouble getting it right.
I know I’m not the only one. One summer when I was in college, I hostessed at an elegant restaurant located on a lovely strip of beach in California. It was the type of place where men were expected to don a jacket and tie, and ladies felt compelled to wear lipstick, brand new stilettos, and outfits that most likely equated to a month’s rent for me. The dining room typically ran a wait of about two hours if you didn’t have the foresight to book a reservation eight weeks in advance.
Since I was the hostess, I was obviously the gatekeeper. If you tipped me $100, that pesky two hour wait evaporated into mere seconds while I quickly shuffled some papers around to miraculously find your “misplaced” reservation. I had your table for you, and that table was front and center on the window with the best view of surfers riding those movie-caliber waves.
Once, someone tried to tip me a dollar. One dollar. I glanced at the faded bill (which appeared to have gone through the dryer on the highest setting), looked at the gentleman, and politely gave the sad dollar back, saying, “Oh, thank you, sir, but we’re not allowed to accept tips.” Instead, he and his date waited patiently in the bar for the full two hours, and judging by his drunken demeanor when I finally awarded them their table, he had probably drunk $100 worth of alcohol while he waited. Perhaps that money would’ve been better spent on my tip.
I’m not saying that $100 was an appropriate tip for an 18-year-old hostess. It was excessive. I probably would’ve found him a very nice table for the bargain basement price of $50, maybe even $20. But $5? No. $10? Hope you enjoy sitting next to the restroom or busing station.
It’s easy enough to figure out the tip for the waitress when you’re at a restaurant and the bill comes to $50: good service merits 20%. But what if it’s a casual café where you order at the counter and then the girl brings it to you? In that case, 20% seems too high (and would I just leave the tip on the table? and if so, then isn’t a different person than the girl who took my order getting the money?).
What about hairdressers who charge $200? Is 20% okay? Is it too high? What if the person who does your hair is the owner of the shop? I’ve read that in that case, you should not tip. But I would feel embarrassed not to tip for fear of offending him.
And Starbucks? Should I put a dollar in the tip jar for the clerk when my drink cost $3.85? We had an interaction that was approximately 30 seconds long, and he's not even the one making my extra-hot grande triple latte with no foam.
I used to work at a paint-your-own pottery place. I would work a child's birthday party and instruct 24 rambunctious five-year-olds on how to paint a ceramic giraffe or unicorn. Then, I would paint the kids' initials on the pieces and glaze them while the rowdy wannabe Picassos bounced impatiently around the fragile shop. Next, I would help the parents serve pizza and cake, and distribute goody bags. Finally, I would clean everything up. These birthday parties usually lasted two hours and cost $300. And my normal tip for entertaining and instructing these little people I would never see again? Zero.
That's right, the Starbucks cashier gets a dollar (or two!) for a time commitment of 30 seconds (Hello, may I take your order?) while I amuse two dozen kindergartners for two long hours for no tip, not even a piece of overly-sweet cake.
Apparently I am not the only one confused about tipping.
Thank goodness I don’t live in New York, the capital of Tipping Wrong. Every time I go there, I get a complex within minutes of stepping off the plane. Everyone seems to have their hand out, and that hand is expecting crisp green dollars in double-digit denominations. The taxi driver who maneuvered you uptown through heavy traffic. The bell boy who carried your one small suitcase (but that you felt weird about saying No, I can carry it myself). The front desk clerk who just upgraded you to a suite with no extra charge. The concierge who scored you last-minute tickets to the theater. Everyone is waiting, and they are waiting for your tip, your gratitude, your mouth to open and the words pour out, “Thank you,” while you slip your hand quickly in your pocket and produce multiple pictures of a smiling Andrew Jackson.
You, yourself, however, are not smiling. You are worried you tipped too much. The bell boy practically does a back handspring when you hand him a ten, and you realize a five would’ve sufficed. The angry glare the doorman gives you tells you that maybe you should have upgraded that one dollar bill to a five when he hailed you a cab.
One day I woke up and realized I couldn’t handle it anymore. I am a bad tipper, I am an overly-generous tipper, I am a non-tipper. My life is one big swirl of dollar bills and they are all the wrong size.
I found an easy way out, a solution so I never have to tip again, ever: I got married. Now, The Husband is in charge of tipping while I gather up our two sons and all their accoutrements and head to the car, turning to The Husband and saying loudly (in earshot of our beleaguered waiter), “Remember to tip well! They gave us great service!” That way, even if The Husband tips poorly—which I don’t think he would do—the waiter will say, “Well, at least his wife was nice. She told him to tip well.”
("Money Or Vexation?")