The Art and Science of Tipping

I am writing this month’s cover story on the art and science of “tipping.”  As the tourist season heats-up at the lake, it seems like an opportune time to bring up tipping, its history and even its nuances. As many of us locals, second homeowners and visitors alike experience and enjoy our beautiful area, we may be too caught-up in the fun to think much about this facet of our stay.  That’s where this article comes in.  I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on tipping, if there is such a person, but again, it seems an appropriate topic as we enter the busy season at the lake. So, here goes.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines tipping as “the act of giving an amount of money to someone who has provided a service, especially in a hotel or restaurant.” Simple enough.  But to me, tipping, at least in the United States, is the result of an implicit “contract” between customer and server.  The server provides a service, hopefully well, and in return the customer is expected to provide a gratuity, or monetary tip, to reward that service.

Tipping started in 17th century England, where customers in taverns slipped some money to servers “to insure promptitude” (T.I.P.).  Wealthy Americans brought the custom back to the Unites States in the 1800s, though there was a backlash against tipping in the late 18th century for a number of reasons. In present day America, tipping is an accepted and expected part of dining and other service experiences.  Yet, to this day, in other parts of the world, tipping is not expected, and that is dependent on the service delivered.  For example, both here and abroad, service providers from hair stylists, to massage therapists, to bar tenders, chamber maids, taxi drivers, delivery persons and luggage handlers often receive (and expect) a tip. This short cover story cannot cover all of these situations so I recommend you follow the links below, do some additional research and perhaps most effectively, observe and ask other patrons of establishments you patronize.

While it is important to note that many (most) service providers depend on tips to make a living, it is ultimately up to you, the customer to determine how much of a tip you wish to give.  Note that I did not say if to tip, as I believe service or wait staff and bartenders deserve something for their efforts. I use a simple rule: I generally give 20 percent of the pretax bill at a restaurant, I will lower it to 15 percent for sub-par service, and very rarely lower the tip further if there is a real attitude-related problem.  I am careful to make sure any problems are truly tied to a failure on the part of the server and not the “house” or kitchen.  I have also given tips of 35% on occasion if I receive great, friendly service and I sense a special need on the part of the server.

For other service providers I try to meet or exceed standard practices, whether it be a few dollars for a bell-hop or valet, 15 percent for a taxi driver, or homemade cookies for the mail delivery person.

Financial adviser Dave Ramsay has some good, simple advice, including, “when in doubt, be generous.” His “How to Tip in all Situations” web page is an easy read and recommended to any reader. I also find TripAdvisor’s “Tipping and Etiquette” web page to be helpful, as it also contains links to some other notable sites, including AARP and Emily Post.

We have covered a little tipping history, my personal observations and insight from the “pros” here, hopefully enough to get you thinking about tipping in a variety of situations and for a variety of services.  Ultimately, tipping is situational and a somewhat personal decision as to the level of monetary value given to servers.  Knowing how hard many of our local service providers work, I do hope readers will as generous as possible. What may be an insignificant amount to some may help a deserving service provider “make the rent” or provide for themselves and their family in another way.  Happy tipping and I hope you all receive the great service you deserve.  Happy June!

Mike Tumbarello
June, 2018