To Tip or Not to Tip – that is the question.

Ever been in situations where you look furtively at people around you, paying close attention to their hands, in a not-so-subtle attempt to figure out if they have tipped? Or been in situations where you know you have to leave tips, but your inner voice wails, “Ohhh man, weren’t they just doing their job, should I leave tips for that?!?”. If so, don’t worry, you are not alone! Ever since a fellow blogger in a group I am in, posed a harmless question about tipping a guy, I couldn’t take my mind off it. Made me realize most of us don’t really like to tip..and hey, there’s nothing wrong with that!

Tipping is a confusing etiquette. Nobody really knows whether we tip to convey our gratitude, or to fulfill our moral obligation. Sometimes we tip to avoid coming off as miserly, other times to get better service when we return, and not to mention situations where we empathize with the person and leave them tips. Some even leave behind tips based on the appearance of a waiter/waitress or their race, which has nothing whatsoever related to the quality of service. Sad right?

So there is no clear origin to how and when tipping really started. But here’s a trivia for you, tipping was once considered demeaning and anti-democratic. In fact, in the 1910s many states in US had an anti-tipping movement, where they even tried to pass a bill to make tipping illegal, but it all failed! (Why God, why?)

And know what? Tipping is not customary to all countries. In Japan, for instance, it is considered “offensive” to tip, if you can believe that! It is considered as dishonoring the server. Tipping seems to suggests that just doing their job is not enough, and that servers don’t have the same dignity as others who do their job without being tipped. I will give you a minute to let that sink in…Oh also, my friend, Ramya (name not changed) who works in Brazil, shared with me that Brazilians get confused when they are offered tips..they just don’t understand it! Even if they were offered tips, they either look at it, laugh and return it innocently – or –  smile, say thanks and acknowledge the tips, regardless of the amount. Isn’t that refreshing?! [check this link to know about 12 countries where tipping isn’t mandatory]

Well..we are not in Japan..or Brazil. So all we can do is grumble and tip after every service, just because it is expected of us. But..hold on..what if we were given a ‘choice’ to not leave tips at those places where tipping has been customary? Would we still tip the person? Makes you wonder right? Well, if only I had the power to do so, I would immediately put a “No tipping” sign at all places, or at least at places where tipping really is a bit too much. Let the employers pay their employees well.

I don’t have that power elsewhere, but I do know I control my blog, so…I thought, why not analyze and vote to whom we can leave tips. And so, after careful dissection, I have put a verdict (which is mine and mine alone) at the end of each service. Do let me know if you think the same and definitely leave a word if you think differently from me! 🙂

1. Eyebrow Threader

Oh yes, I am going to start here. A trivial amount it may be, but an invisible tear rolls down my cheeks every time I spend $3 dollars tipping this person who thread my eyebrows. Especially when I just spent $12-$15 only for eyebrows, which would spring up like phoenix in two weeks. A vicious circle, right? And if I don’t leave tips, a part of me is afraid I will leave with lopsided eyebrows the next time I am there.

Also it is never easy remembering that we don’t leave tips for this service in India. So frankly why should we do it in US? That being said, given a choice, my vote would definitely be for  “No tipping for eyebrow threading”. Anyone with me here? Anyone at all?

2. Pizza/Food delivery guy

Who doesn’t like food on wheels! Come on, don’t you get all excited when food appears at your door hot and ready to eat, with zero effort of your own? Well, except the effort needed to get up and pay for the food, of course. While we sit and relax, this delivery person spends their time rushing through traffic and trying to get our food on time, on their own vehicle, risking their life (alright “life” is a bit too much, but driving always is a risk, you see). Yes, it’s their job, but just for the risk factor..I do feel a little humane when they have to climb all those stairs.

Let’s go ahead and retain the Tipping policy here. But eliminate the additional “delivery charge”. What do you think?

3. Restaurant waiter

One of my fond childhood memories of weekend shopping is that, right after that’s done, my father used to take us to Saravana Bhavan where food (then) was amazing. And as we waited for a table, I was always fascinated by all the work the busboys did. They whizzed by like a bee from one table to another, clearing dishes and wiping tables so fast and so clean with their small squeegees. I always hoped, and sometimes even turned back to look if the busboys got to pick up our tips after we left our table – but the waiters usually got to it first. Made me wonder whether the waiters shared those tips with the busboys…

Now I know that in “good” restaurants, if a table is attended by one or more people, like a waiter who takes orders and a busboy who only cleans that table, the tips are shared by them. That was just a little fyi, in case you were wondering like me.

But here’s what I don’t like – some restaurants add “mandatory” tips to the bill and make us pay that. It irks me when they do that. I mean, come on, what if I don’t like the service? And on most others, it always specifies the % that should be left as tips. To remind us to not pay less than that, you see. But what’s gets confusing is, what about the people behind the screens, who clean the dishes, or put them in that big dishwasher? Or the restroom cleaner in a restaurant? Aren’t they all doing their job well enough to make our restaurant experience a good one?

Why is that in many restaurants, employers decide waiters’ salary, only after taking into account they would earn a bit from their tips everyday! Isn’t that the main reason waiters always expect tips after a service? I would prefer the employers paying their workers the correct wage, like they do for chefs or managers, instead of leaving half their payment to us, thank you very much. So my vote  is “No Tipping” for this service. What do you say?

4. Buffet waiter

No, it’s not redundant on my list. Most people would even tip the waiter at an à la carte restaurant, but  would have real qualms when leaving tips for a buffet waiter. And understandably so, because this sucks big time. I mean, we actually know we are doing more work than the waiter when we go to a buffet! Think about it, first we take a trip to the different plan “our attack”. And then we go back to pick a plate, fill it to the brim with food that we might or might not eat, go for seconds, thirds, fourths, (oh, also making sure we don’t forget the hot-made-to-eat-now section), before finally closing off with dessert. Twice. And all this time, the waiters would stand by somewhere in the dark, but make an appearance all of a sudden to clear off our plates whenever we are done. And that’s exactly what we need for a satisfying buffet experience.

But you got to agree, more effort is on our part here! So if I had to vote, I would turn in a “No Tipping” verdict for this as well. I am assuming many would agree to this, but I could be wrong.

5. Valet guy

So all good hotels have their “complimentary” valet service. But here’s something I’ve experienced during my trips to India. Every time I try to get into my car which the valet has brought to the front, this other guy rushes past me so fast..and before I could even touch the door, he quickly opens it for me, summoning me to get in. So with a bewildered look on my face, I take my seat, and before I could raise my eyes to tell him I could close it myself, he would shut the door ever so softly, with the smile still present. Job well accomplished. Sigh.

Now that leaves me to my dilemma. Should I tip this person who is so eager to open and close my door? Oh, and let’s not to forget the person who brought the car to us in the first place. I end up tipping both…and also getting laughed at by my comrades.

It is basic etiquette to tip the valet. But the open-close-door guy? Er..remind me what is complimentary now. So if I have a choice here, I would make sure there is no open-close-door guy and allow the valet to be tipped after his service. Well, he’s running to and fro, so I do feel he deserves it. What’s your take on this?

6. Cylinder guy

I am sure everyone of us who lived in India, has experienced this problem more than once – paying an extra amount to the cylinder delivery guy on top of the bill. They do deserve some tips for dragging this heavy cylinder to our kitchen, and sometimes up the stairs and kitchen for few others. They do have to work in the hot sun and not all apartments in India have elevators. Even if it’s on the ground floor, lifting and dragging it across is manual labor. All agreed.

But here’s where it gets frustrating. These are the only guys I am aware of, who “demand” tips when they are not given. After every service a waiter, expects tips too..but he gets to find out whether he’s been left tips, “after” we have left the place. One cannot escape the cylinder guy so easily! We are right there, receiving the bill from their hand! So it’s either we tip them, or we get the incredible opportunity to enrich our vocabulary with poetic words, thanks to them. 

My vote? A “No Tipping” sign, stitched in big letters on their uniform. I also wish a standard delivery charge be added to our bill to avoid this scenario (which hopefully reaches the delivery guys). What do you think?

7. The bell-man/bellhop

Ever checked into a hotel where a person comes by and asks you whether you need help with the luggage?Hmmm…now, we did drag our suitcases from our home to the airport, and from there to our car, and then all the way from the parking lot to inside the hotel..but yes, all of a sudden, we need help bringing it from the beautifully decorated front desk to our hotel room. Something must be clearly wrong with us.

Many, very cleverly say, “I got it” to the bell-man, and have a smug look on their face. But others, who like to use every service in the hotel when on a vacation, nod a happy yes to the bell-man’s help and tip them at the end.

The bell-man does have a cart with wheels which he uses to drag the luggage over to each room. Not many avail his service though so I do wonder about his monthly wage. Given a choice, my vote would be to retain the Tipping here.

Priest in a temple

Well, well, well. You didn’t expect the priest profession here, did you? I know, I know, this is a sensitive area. It’s not part of the list (it’s not even numbered see?), so let’s ease up a bit. But I’ve always wondered about this and thought this post would be a good place to ask.  I love God, just like you do, and I also like to think out loud. And that’s what I am doing here. Feel free to correct me if my understanding of this custom(?) is incorrect.

So when we go to a temple, we always see a Hundiyal (Donation box). As far as I am aware of, whatever contributions we place in there, go to the temple. That is our donation to the temple. But in addition to offering money in that box, when the priest chants mantras and slokas and brings out the Aarti plate(or Theeparthanai), most of us would offer some money on the plate, which go to the priest. My question to you – aren’t we actually offering extra money to the priest for his service?

It is a divine profession, I agree. Whether this “extra” money on the plate is needed – I leave that verdict to you.

I think I should stop here. Oh there are few other places where we tip, because, it’s expected of us, but I had enough fun. It was great working my “Tipping / No Tipping” policy, where the power was in my hands for a few moments. I am not sure whether you agreed to my votes, but do let me know your thoughts on where else you think we need to avoid tipping.

If you ask me, we need a world without tipping – where everybody is paid well for doing their job and appreciated by offering kind, encouraging words..instead of tips. And who actually decides where to tip and to not tip? When you think about it, there are so many professions which are actually more laborious and aren’t tipped! We see many male, female workers toiling hard at a construction site, carrying bricks…who offers them tips? Or our “ironing-guys” in India? They stand and iron our 20 clothes, and bring it to us, right to our doorstep (can’t even dream about this in US!). We offer them payment for their service, not tips!

A question before I end this – do we really tip to reward good service – or – to make sure we receive a good service in the future? New research [1] states that there is correlation between tipping behaviors and corruption in a country. Looks like countries where tipping is more frequent, rate higher on the Corruption Perception Index. But hold your horses, not all countries that tipped well rated high in corruption. When they compared two countries, Canada and India, which rated similar in tipping frequency but different in corruption, they found out that corruption rate was far less in Canada because they have a clear distinction between tipping and bribery. Looks like Canadians view tipping as a reward for “past” service, and Indians see it as an “inducement” for future service[2].

So yes, a very thin line exists between tipping and bribery. One is allowed by law and the other isn’t. That said…shouldn’t we be starting an anti-tipping movement now?




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padhs2k Written by:

Another dream-chaser.


    • padhs2k
      July 24

      Thank you Rashi! And welcome to my blog 🙂

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