Now that we are getting back to some semblance of normal, we have all sorts of questions. Should we still wear masks even where it is no longer officially required? And what about restaurants? Some of us have not been inside one for months if not years. Everything still the same there? And what about tipping? Should we do more, less, or the same post-COVID?
Tipping started in medieval England where the gentry gave extra money to servants for exceptional service. The idea spread to the U.S., and after the Civil War gained even more ground as a way for the wealthy to reward freed slaves without having to pay them wages.
When I was growing up, “TIPS” stood for “to insure proper service” and the normal rate was 10%, possibly 15%. Today the accepted rate of tipping, at least in restaurants, seems to have grown to a range of 15% to 25%. Interestingly, the main reason for tipping from the customer’s standpoint has gone from a reward for good service to something more nuanced and complex. For some, as The Economist noted in a recent article, tipping is now an ingrained social norm. You just do it. For others it is to show gratitude or to avoid feeling guilty.
From the server’s standpoint The Economist found in a survey of over 1,000 waiters/waitresses, fully 50% thought providing good service was a large part of the size of the tip. Well, that’s good. At least one partner in this dance is still focused on service.
Tipping is not the same all over the world. In Europe, many restaurants add a service charge to the bill, replacing the tip. In restaurants without a service charge, tipping is still expected but less than the U.S., maybe 5% to 10%. In the Middle East, Africa, and India, where income disparity is large, tipping is very much the norm. But in Asia, tipping is not always practiced. In Japan, where dignity and respect are very important, tipping is a major faux pas. The receiver will feel insulted. Korea and China are generally in the same camp. Tipping is not expected.
For most of us, the biggest problem is knowing who we are expected to tip, and how much. We all know we should tip barbers, hairdressers, and newspaper deliverers (some of us still read newspapers!), but now tipping includes dog groomers, youth baseball coaches, and internet shippers (apparently FedEx prohibits tips, but UPS is okay with it).
And finally, according to the internet, the very best day and time for the highest restaurant tipping is Sunday morning from 10am to noon. Church attendance may be down, but Sunday gratitude lives on.