Is the Tipping Culture Helpful or Hurtful for Service Workers

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While our law firm focuses on the rights of workers, specifically with regards to being injured on the job, etc., we thought we’d discuss something of great importance to workers, even if it’s not necessarily something related to legal claims: tips.

Many other countries do not have a culture of tipping. Most other nations do not tip.

Here in the United States, though, tipping is standard practice. It all began in 17th-century England, where people staying in lodging – hotels and inns – began to provide additional money for their hosts. The practice spread to restaurants, and eventually to other businesses.

For the first 125 years of the United States, tipping was discouraged. Several US states outlawed tipping. Since 1900, though, customers and consumers have given tips. The use of tips as expected compensation has spread, and the percentage amount of the average tip has steadily increased.

Different types of businesses approach tipping differently. In service-based industries – restaurants, hotels, taxi or rideshare driving – tipping is de rigueur. In the public sector, however, tipping is outlawed. Civil servants and politicians may not accept tips of any kind, or they can be arrested (or sued) for bribery.

Across Europe, tipping is almost as common as it is in the United States in some areas. In Asia, though, tipping is not at all expected. In many Asian countries, tipping is considered offensive. Across many of these nations, restaurants include a service charge, rather than expecting diners to tip their servers.

Many people pose provocative questions about the nature of tips.

If we tip servers, why do we not tip the cooks in the restaurant?

If we tip the cleaning staff in the hotel, why do we not tip the front desk employee?

If you are in Oregon, where it is illegal to pump your own gas, do you tip the gas station employee who fills your tank?

For years, it has been common practice for restaurants to include a 15 to 20 percent service charge if the table has six or more people sitting. More recently, other restaurants have begun adding this service charge for smaller parties as well. Hand in hand with this move is a push to raise the minimum wages for all service workers. The idea there is that, if the base pay is higher for servers and other food service workers, then tipping will not be as crucial a part of their compensation.

In other areas, though, the practice of tipping continues to expand. Ridesharing companies like Lyft and Uber now include a tip function within each app, which was not there for the first several years of their operations. According to Uber, their drivers have been tipped more than a billion dollars since the app added its tip functionality.

The future of tipping, or “gratuities,” is uncertain. As fast-food workers organize to push for higher hourly wages, some believe that restaurant servers will take steps toward organizing as well, and that these steps may push for a higher guaranteed base pay.

The protocols and etiquettes surrounding tipping are constantly shifting as well. Entire articles are dedicated to the topic of “how much should I tip in different circumstances?” Here is an entire article about how much you should tip when you visit a salon.  (To save you the reading time: it is customary to tip 20% of the overall service cost. Your colorist and haircutter are both tipped out of that same portion for the overall styling.)