Tipping Point

man at counter providing electronic tipTipping has always been a hot topic nearly of the same caliber as discussing religion or politics at the dinner table. 

Begging Dogs 

Quentin Tarantino’s first film, Reservoir Dogs, begins with two men in an intense dispute about tipping or not as they dine at a greasy spoon. One man cites the fact that waitressing is the number one job of non-professional-track women in the US; the other man retorts that one’s wage and benefits should be enough to fairly compensate people for their labor. Once tipping is established, another hot-button topic arises: how much? With the advent of Square and digital swiping, a tip amount of up to 20% is auto-prompted, with the cashier not necessarily doing anything above and beyond the basics. Tipping is culturally different wherever you go. How’d we get here? 


Origin of Tipping

Tipping began in medieval England as a master-serf relationship way of letting the serf know they’d performed superbly well. But as money is said to be the root of many evils, problems arise when tips are expected but the tipping party does not agree on the service. What does it mean to go above and beyond? The issue quickly becomes thorny and philosophical. Servers at Waffle House restaurants – a Southern staple – make on average $3.85 as base pay. Social and economic justice warriors quickly champion the underdog worker as exploited, and diners feel some pressure to tip regardless of how good (or not) service was. In an ideal world, base pay is reasonable, and tipping is an acceptable practice for service that goes beyond. And then there’s the taxable/nontaxable issue, but let’s keep that can of worms closed for now. 


OT, Whuffie 

One could look at tipping as a bit like overtime, but the same problems are shared by overtime expectancy and tipping expectancy.woman server carrying tray of food and drinks  Interestingly, the move from money to a different kind of measurement/analytics has taken place in the digital age, that of how many likes/followers/views an entity receives. This type of Big Data-harvesting and social capital was inspired by a 2003 dystopian science fiction novel called Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. In the novel, money has been replaced by something called “Whuffie” – a person’s popularity and social standing. Similar to a credit score or Social Credit System that China has experimented with, Whuffie goes up and down depending on a person’s status and popularity. However, in today’s day and age, we still have a monetary system based on cash, credit, debt, etc, and formerly had a gold-backed system. 


Chef Becky Knows the Ropes

Chef Becky knows the restaurant business inside and out, having been a waitress in Hunterdon County and now as chef-owner of Bex. “Tipping is touchy,” she says, “but I think establishing tipping for people who don’t necessarily deserve it is dangerous. It defeats the purpose of tipping in the first place. Tipping is for people who hustle, grind – who put forth effort to earn it. It’s not a given. At the same time, as the boss of staff, we appreciate tips!”