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Skip the Tip – Let’s Pay Fair Wages Instead

Published in ChicagoNow, September 15, 2014

Going out to lunch with my friends becomes especially interesting when it’s time to pay the bill. Perhaps my tipping policy is linked to my poor math skills. I always hope there is someone else to figure out the tip and then split the bill evenly. But that’s not the real reason I hate tipping.

Recently, my husband and I went out with a large group of people. When the bill came, one couple calculated their share but neglected to include the tip in their calculations. Rather than create an embarrassing scene, we included their tip with our payment so the server received a fair amount.

Since folks can be inconsistent, unfair, and even forgetful about tipping, why not just include a service charge of 18% (as is done in some restaurants for large parties) on all bills? Better yet, why not pay all the folks in the service industries a living wage?

Including the tip as part of the bill would be a huge help to me. Aside from the mathematical calculations required, sometimes what I tip makes little sense. For example, if I get a manicure with regular polish that costs $14, I tip $3. That’s more than 20%, right? But somehow it feels cheap. If I get the same manicure with vinyl polish, taking the same amount of work and time, that costs $19, so I have to tip $4.

Then there’s my personal favorite tipping conundrum, the tip jar. You know the ones that sit on the counter in self-serve places where I have to order my own food and bus my dishes. Should I also throw money into the kitty? I tend to draw the line here, but I’m not sure that’s fair. I guess sometimes I just feel tipped out.

Going on a vacation is even more confusing. How much to tip the guy who grabs my rolling bag that I am happy to pull myself? How much to leave for the worker who cleans my hotel room? How much to tip a guide and driver for a tour? I see many folks giving these people nothing, but that doesn’t seem right. I have no idea how much these people depend on tips to survive. That’s not entirely true because I read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich and was upset by what I learned. Your tip is an important part of their earnings.

Finally, what about all of the service workers out there who are poorly paid and rarely tipped to compensate for their low wages? I never have the opportunity to tip the people who clean the airplane before I board. A New York Times article cites an entire class of workers who toil for low pay and little or no prospect of receiving a tip. The man who pushes people in wheel chairs and received a pay cut from $7.25/hour to $6.15/hour because he might receive a tip especially struck me. Chances are most of the time he doesn’t. People assume he is adequately paid to do this job.

Workers who depend on tips to make a reasonable salary are at the mercy of those they serve. If my salary as a teacher or administrator depended on the generosity of those who benefitted from my services, it would have been highly upsetting and insulting. Sometimes, the students who needed the most of my time and attention came from families lacking the means or social skills to express their appreciation.

So, here’s my tipping policy: Let’s do away with tipping. Employers, please pay your workers a fair wage. Raise the price of my lunch or manicure. A tip should be like a bonus in business, extra money given in appreciation of excellent work or service. It should not be factored into people’s wages.


by Laurie Levy
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