"Beware of little expenses, a small leak will sink a great ship" - Benjamin Franklin

The Tipping Leak

By , May 4th, 2009 | 18 Comments »

I recently spent a week at a relative’s house. When she went out shopping or to eat I went with her and I was astounded at the amount of money she left as tips in her wake. This relative has money trouble and constantly complains about her debt and how she cannot save money. I left her house thinking that if she’d just plug the tip leak in her budget she could easily save $200 per month, if not more.

Let me state right off: I am not against tipping in situations that warrant it. If someone is serving me a meal or in some other way going above and beyond to serve me or give me personal attention, I will tip. However, I do not tip for everything. If someone (such as the trash collector or the postman) is doing the job I pay them for, I don’t tip. And I only tip for good service. The better the service, the higher the tip. I was not brought up to consider tips as automatic or mandatory, as seems to be the case today.

This relative of mine left a trail of tips in the following places in one week:

  • The dry cleaner ($5)
  • The coffeehouse ($2), three days of this
  • The waitress at the restaurant (on a $20 ticket she left a $10 tip)
  • Subway ($3), two days
  • $10 taped to the garbage bin for the month’s service
  • $10 to the guy from the home improvement store who delivered and installed her new dryer (after she’d paid extra for delivery and installation)
  • $8 left on the table at a buffet restaurant where we served ourselves everything, including drinks.
  • $10 to the hairdresser
  • $5 to the dog groomer
  • $10 to the TruGreen guy who comes to spray the yard for weeds
  • And the capper: $10 to the cable guy who came to fix the broken cable service.

The waitress and the hairdresser were the only ones in the group that I thought “deserved” tips because they were providing personal attention or working a job where the salary is reduced to compensate for tips. But I would not have left the waitress a 50% tip. Twenty percent if she were very good, 15% if she were average and 10% for lackadaisical service. If my relative tips like this every week, she’s spending $90 per week in tips. That’s a big leak in the budget of someone who needs to get their spending and debt under control.

I’m all for being a giving person, but if you’re in financial trouble I don’t think you can afford to tip everyone just because you feel like you should. Tipping in America has gotten out of control and we are now expected to tip for every service or job, even if the person is well compensated for performing that job. In some cases, such as at a buffet or fast food restaurant where there is no “service” I don’t think a tip is necessary. People like the cable guy or the TruGreen guy are paid for their work; a tip is not necessary. Tips have also become inflated. The standard used to be 10%, then 15%, and now 20% or more. Where does it stop? Where do you draw the line and say, “I wish I could give tons of extra money to every person in the world, but my budget just won’t allow it.”

Obviously it’s up to you to tip or not to tip. I’m sure tips are appreciated in any circumstance. And in some circumstances it is considered rude not to tip, as in a full service restaurant or the pizza delivery guy. If you can’t afford to tip those people, then perhaps you need to rethink going out to eat or having food delivered. But in other cases, tipping is not required or expected and tipping when you cannot afford to do so only contributes to your financial problems. If you’re having trouble coming up with enough money every month, take a look at your tip trail. If you’re leaking a few dollars here and there to everyone you come in contact with, it might be time to rethink your tipping strategy.

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  • My Crossover Point says:

    Yeah, some of those tips seem gratuitous to me. (Hmm…gratuitous…gratuity? :))

    Most people think I’m a cantankerous old man for saying so (my wife included…and I’m under 30), but I think tips have gotten out of hand, too.

    They are appropriate for personal service, or going above and beyond, but not for doing your job that you’re already being compensated for.

    I’m also not a fan of Secretary’s Day, Boss’s Day, Electrician’s Day, Architect’s Day, etc. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are another thing, those are deserved, but people get paid for their job, is that not just compensation? If not, then ask for a raise. I guess I’m just bitter because I have yet to get a card for Web Applications Developer Day.


  • Dave says:

    I refuse to tip, under all circumstances. Why should I tip the person whose JOB it is to provide SERVICE to me? I work hard, have an excellent, well-paying, career, yet I would NEVER expect to be tipped for my work. Why should someone who already gets paid to serve me EXPECT anything more?

    Tipping is wrong, for so many reasons, and those that believe in doing it are just showing how foolish they are, to be taken advantage of. If you believe in tipping, then you also believe in accepting mediocracy, and that is sad.

    Don’t tell me that the person serving my food, or other service, “relies” on tips for their income, or that their base salary is so low that they need tips. That’s balony! Everyone in our society has an opportunity to get a real education, to learn a real marketable skill, and to be successful. If the uneducated, low-life serving my food accepts the hard, thankless, JOB that they are stuck doing as their CAREER, then it’s not MY fault.

    Remember, life is full of choices. Choose to get a real education and enjoy the benefits of a successful life.

  • Rob says:

    Wow somebody’s a lil stuck up and incompassionate

  • Trish says:

    To Dave:

    What a pathetic existence you must lead. I agree with not tipping people for work they get paid properly for, but you seriously blame the servers in a restaurant for their $2.13 hourly wage? Some people work to put themselves through college. I’m going to guess that you weren’t one of those people. You’ve probably never had to appreciate working for less money to get somewhere on your own. And yes, I have a good job that pays well. And yes, I tip my servers even though I think it sucks that the restaurant can’t manage to pay them. But they provide a service to you that you are NOT paying for. Would you do your job for $2.13 an hour? How about for free? I hope that somebody figures out who you are and manages to ban you from ever eating out or getting a haircut again. It’s stuck-up people like you that make me embarrassed to be living here.

  • Julie says:

    Dave, I worked as a waitress for years. Back in the early 80’s, I was paid $2.01 an hour as a waitress and had to pay my taxes out of that small sum. Now, 20 years later, waitresses and waiters are paid only $2.25 an hour. They do rely on tips for their income. That does not make them (or me) a low life.

  • ceejay74 says:

    My family was just discussing tipping this weekend. My husband’s from the UK where you would only tip at a nice restaurant or in a taxicab. I agree with tipping taxi drivers, waiters and hairdressers, and I also tip for spa services such as massages and facials when I get them. Occasionally I drop a buck in the coffeeshop tip jar if they’re especially friendly and give me real personal service. Some of those others are just crazy though; they’re not in any way considered standard, and if you’re in financial trouble there’s no need to go above and beyond like that.

  • ceejay74 says:

    Oh yeah, I forgot to write the conclusion we came to: Tip for wants, not needs. If you need a service, like a doctor or plumber, you should only have to pay the required fee. But if you’re paying for a pleasure or luxury, you have the choice to not purchase that luxury if you’re not a tipper. If you don’t ever tip waitresses or taxi drivers, don’t use those services, because their salaries assume tipping as a supplement and their customer service should (and usually does, in my experience) reflect that extra bit of effort for the tip.

  • justme says:

    I have to comment on # one;-) Dave do not be ashamed that you cannot afford to tip your situation may get better maybe take a night job as a waiter 😉

    real comment…
    I always tip at buffets mainly because I once worked at one its hard work the customers are sloppy and leave huge messes since they have to get it all themmselves they seem to think someone should do work and leave a god awful mess on and under the table so I tip them ,just a dollar but I remember how exciting it was to get a tip,we would serve 600 people a night and get 2 dollars in tips and be thrilled

    I do not tip much as I do everything myself I agree with #5 tip for wants not needs

  • Bill says:

    To commenter Dave: Your comment suggest that you value money a little too highly, or that is how it appears to those of us poor, compassionate types.

    Jennifer, I think your relative has a bigger problem than the tips. You almost touch on the solution at the end of the post. If they are having trouble paying their bills then the solution would appear to me to be stop eating out/shopping/etc.. That way they would save money and save 100% on tips.

    It sounds like they’re not miserable enough yet. They’re probably just uncomfortable enough to think that one day they’ll earn enough to get ahead. It’s about choice. How much pain are you willing to suffer to get ahead? Provided that you define “getting ahead” somehow.

    Good luck to them, you, and all struggling in this difficult times.

  • Jackie says:

    I do agree with Dave on one thing: servers do choose to work a tip dependent, but not tip guaranteed, job. I think we should adopt a more European system where the restaurant pays their servers an actual wage and only exceptional service gets a tip, or a tip of a dollar or two is considered great. I’ve been to England and Europe; I don’t know how much those servers earn, but I do know that aside from the exchange rate the cost of a meal isn’t much(if any) more expensive.

    I also don’t ascribe to the philosophy that even mediocre service somehow deserves a tip. Again, people choose their jobs and how they perform on those jobs, so if you choose to be a poor server then you’re going to get smaller or zero tips. I have pretty broad standards for a server, but I have no problem leaving without tipping if I’ve had poor service.

    I will tip extra if my friends and I have talked for hours and held up the server’s table on a busy night. I will also tip at a buffet, just a buck, but there are people cleaning up and often refilling drinks. I don’t get hung up on the tip issue, but I would never tip willynilly. You may feel benevolent, but tipping for poor service or for things that don’t need a tip can set a bad precedent.

  • Jackie says:

    Also, what about tipping at the holidays? Every Christmas season, there are lists all over the place about how we *should* tip extra or just out and out leave an envelope with money in it for the mailman, hairdresser, etc. There’s even a post about this amongst the similar posts listed on the right.

    I don’t get this. One, if you’re my hairdresser then I’m already tipping you 20% throughout the year, why would I give you even more at the holiday? Two, if you’re my mail carrier then you’re making a living wage and probably making more money than I am. I just don’t get tipping someone extra whom I’m already tipping or tipping someone that I don’t generally tip.

    Do service personnel really expect an extra bump at the end of the year? If I were them, I would totally love that but wouldn’t expect it from anyone.

  • I definitely agree with tipping for wants and not tipping for needs. That is a great conclusion. I feel that tipping should be for exceptional quality. I don’t tip for poor quality no matter the service.

    People always try to claim : low wage + tips = payment argument. This is not a valid argument as most states minimum wage laws require the business pay the difference between income and minimum wage. Tips are supposed to be a bonus so don’t accept positions that count tips as wages if minimum wage is not enough.

    I believe deeply in supply demand economics. If you accept this position than you can’t complain about the pay until you quit. If nobody is willing to accept these pay rates then the pay will increase. It you want more prove you are worth it and you will receive the tips to show it.

    I calculate and define my tips as follows:
    Poor service (you want to leave without paying) : no tip
    below-average service (i could do better myself) : 10% service fee
    good service (everything else) : 15%
    exceptional (i’m going to tell everyone how good the service was) : 20%

  • lizajane says:

    Oh, Dave, you seem a little snobbish on this one. I don’t know if the service you receive is great, good or poor, but you might want to keep the attitude about those serving your food being “uneducated, low-life ” to yourself. I wouldn’t go over so well in the kitchen.

    I agree with the majority on here. Tipping food service at a sit down restaurant or diner? Sure. But Subway? No (or maybe you didn’t mean the sandwich joint). Hairdresser? Yes. Dog groomer? Maybe. Weed guy, cable guy, delivery guy? Nope. I don’t tip the mailperson either.

    I do want to add that I might make exceptions for some of these that I just nixed if they were self-employed and going out of their way to provide extra service, I might be more inclined to pad their pockets.

  • Luke says:

    I’ll bet Dave gets spit in his food A LOT when he goes to places for the 2nd time. What a jerk. Yes, it’s all the fault of not having education to blame. I have news for you peanut, when I lived in Knoxville, I bartended for 3 years, part time, and I made more money on less hours a week than I have ever made at any job in my life. I would easily clear 200 dollars a night on week days, and 4-500 on weekends. It’s all about service and showmanship with bartending. Learn to spin bottles and toss glasses you’re money. I’d stick-dip your drink for sure. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry you’ve had it done before.

  • Anne says:

    @ #11 I was a paper carrier for several years in my youth, and I have to say I always greatly appreciated the Christmas-time tips. I didn’t fault the people that didn’t do them, but greatly appreciated the ones that did, esp. since the wages for paper carriers are not all that high (they’re independent contractors, not employees, so minimum wage does not apply). If I had year-round paper delivery service and received good service, I would tip.

  • Lynn says:

    Wow Dave,
    Guess waitressing my way through college and law school makes me an “unenducated low life”…. You’re ridiculous.

  • Rachel says:

    I think you should tip well so the waitress tips – I’m not against those (for the record I’m not nor have I ever been a waitress).

    My personal opinion is that you should always be generous with your money when you can. If you can’t afford a generous tip then DON’T DO that thing that causes you to tip.

    I’m amazed personally at how many people are struggling yet spend $60 on a dinner meal and tip $2. That is cheap and that’s not right.

  • Gail says:

    Tips have gotten out of hand. I’m willing to tip my hairdresser and a waitress, but that is it. It is illegal to tip or give gifts to the mailman, by the way, so I never understand those holiday tip charts encouraging the practice. It seems the relative has gotten into a frame of mind that if she has the money to tip she isn’t in that bad of shape financially–but it and the activity (coffe shop 3xweek,etc) are driving her to the poor house. Most of the places she leaves tips aren’t even traditional places to tip. Tipping the dry cleaners service clerk–shouldn’t that tip be going to the person that actually did the work?, but most likely doesn’t. I don’t live near subways, but who would you tip on a subway? The whole thing sounds crazy. Glad I don’t live in that part of the country and have no pressure to leave tips for the very expensive garbage men we have, etc.


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