Rafi Mohammed

So…Why Do You Tip?

Posted on October 22nd, 2007 (2 Comments)

Over the weekend, an editor friend of mine called with a curious question, “Rafi, I paid $150 to have my furniture delivered, do I have to tip the drivers?” My instinct was to respond “yes,” but to check my senses I called my friend Richard – who knows a lot about life. Richard was clear in his opinion that no tip was required. He then helpfully added that my compulsion to tip has to do with my family’s Asian roots, as tipping is prevalent in Asia. Later at the gym, I asked a fellow midwesterner on the treadmill next to me her opinion. She replied “of course you tip.” These differing answers got me thinking about why we tip – a voluntary price we pay others.

When asked about their tipping habits, most respond along the lines of: “I tip 15% for good service, 20% for great service, and 10% for poor service.” Here’s an amusing piece from the Onion about the effects of leaving 10%.

That said, I believe there’s more to tipping than this pat answer:

1. Impress Others. While I’m a healthy tipper, I’m inclined to tip more when I’m out with clients than on personal dinners.

2. Peer Pressure. When splitting a check with another couple, I tip more if I see the other person offers a higher gratuity. New York parking garages take the notion of peer pressure to an extreme. During the holidays, these garages post a “tipping board.” The board lists all contributors by name and car, and ranks them by their tip size. Adding to the pressure, big tippers at the top of the board are shaded in green. A tip board would make me tip more than I normally would have.

3. Solidarity with the wait staff. I’ve been out with friends who tip 25% - 30% because they know “how it is to wait tables.” While understandable, I’m left wondering if I also have to participate in this gesture of solidarity.

4. We want something. Diners often tip more at restaurants they frequent because they want something. A generous tip brings you a friendly smile when you return, better service (“the scallops are delicious tonight”), and maybe even a complimentary drink.

5. Reflection of our mood. A good day often leads to a better tip.

6. It’s how we were raised. I’ve been reflecting on why I feel compelled to tip anyone who comes in my house (e.g., cable installer, delivery, painter, etc.) but give nothing to my dry cleaner. This all goes back to my upbringing, my parents tip similarly.

So, why do you tip?

Interestingly, 90% of the Google searches that hit my site today are from those seeking more information on the Jordan’s furniture World Series promotion: if the Red Sox win the World Series, customers get their furniture for free. Go Red Sox!

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Readers' Comments on This Blog Entry

From Leo Piccioli on October 23th, 2007
I think tipping is highly inefficient, at least as usually defined. Some waiters tend to give a better service to the people they think have a higher propension to tip. And then they find out they were wrong. In my opinion, part of the tip should be given ex-ante, before even taking the order. The waiter will then understand how service-oriented is the customer (big tip = I want a very good service and am willing to pay for it), and act accordingly.
From Steve on October 23th, 2007
The tipping board is digusting. At our office in L.A. The office did a tip for the parking lot guys (we self parked). These guys changed regularly and some were rather surly. For the last few years, a guy came in, Elvis was his name, and he was a breath of fresh air. A smile and offers of help whenever you needed it. When Id get 10 cases of Corona every year from Gambrinus, I'd give him 3 of them and $50. He was shocked. Here on Vashon, there is one place where everybody goes once or twice a week. Nothing fancy, but nice casual dining and good northwest type food. When you go to a restaurant 60-100 times per year, you know everybody and they know you. When I sit down, there's a glass of pinot grigio and a menu. I tip 25-30%. I'm more than happy to do it and I know its appreciated. No tipping board necessary.