A tipping point in the debate over gratuities

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that physicists have just identified the origins of the universe — I just wished they spent their energy solving more complex issues, such as tipping.

I’m still lost when it comes to knowing when, and how much, to tip. Twenty percent for the person who cuts your hair, right? But what if you have a coupon? Or what if they do a bad job, like when I go in and ask her to make me look like Channing Tatum, but walk out resembling Jim Carrey from “Dumb and Dumber”?

Thanks to a summer spent waiting tables at Lake Powell, I’m militant about punishing those who fail to tip well for good restaurant service. One morning, a notorious non-tipping regular was seated in my section. As expected he didn’t leave a tip, which was bad for me. Instead, he accidentally left his hat, which was bad for him.

The restaurant had a “Lost and Found,” but I considered that the domain of more generous customers. In other words, I threw his hat in the trash. I made sure it landed on a dollop of mustard for good measure. Normally, behavior like this would get one fired, but being 200 miles away from the nearest applicant pool during the busy season allows an employee some liberties with regards to customer service.

The man came back 10 minutes later asking about his hat. A nicer person than me would have cleaned it off. At least I made the effort to dig it out of the trash for him. Don’t say I lack grace.

What I do lack is a full appreciation for the ubiquitous tip jar. Pizza places have them for some reason. The delivery tip is understandable. After all, not only were you too lazy to cook, you demanded a stranger prepare a meal for you then drive it over to your house. (“And you better have it over here within 30 minutes, or I’m not paying for it!”) But why is there a tip jar for carry-out? If anything, I should be snagging a few bucks out of there for my gas.

You find these everywhere — the large, guilt-inducing glass jar with a “TIPS” sign. It’s always handwritten in cutesy, colorful lettering and followed by a smiley face and a “Thank you!!!” written by one of those people who fail to realize there’s an inverse relationship between a person’s intelligence and the number of exclamation marks used.

I’ve even seen a tip jar at the place where I get my oil changed. At least with a waitperson you notice if they refill your water and do a good job. How do you judge the oil change guy? (“Tony, I loved the way you tightened the plug on the oil pan.”)

According to a Yahoo.com story, the practice of tipping may have begun in the 15th century when a German silversmith informed a customer that his apprentice helped with the order and would appreciate some compensation.

“Why, certainly!” the customer must have happily replied. “We had an agreed-upon price, but that shouldn’t mean anything. Is there anyone else in your employ who would like more of my money? Did the receptionist help out? How about a custodian?”

So tipping started off sort of awkwardly. It still is. Especially in tip-dependent areas like Las Vegas. Have you dealt with the taxi valet? All he does is ask you where you’re headed. You tell him “Hard Rock.” He repeats this to the taxi driver and collects two bucks. It always comes out to a dollar a word. That’s why we never stay at the South Las Vegas Clarion Inn Casino Hotel Suites and Conference Center.

All of this makes me think we should start tipping newspaper columnists. It won’t be mandatory, but I highly suggest it if you ever want to see your hat again.

Reach Steve at beauregardsteve@ hotmail.com.


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