Stereotype-in-English

Tips hide a wage problem

tips jar

A classic tips jar

Tips are a cultural habit, or so we are told. They are mandatory and conspicuous in the United States, offensive in Japan, a half way in Europe, where they are well accepted but waiters don’t rely on them. Actually, the difference is not only about traditions, it’s mostly contractual.

The 10-20% range of gratuity – it’s funny that the word comes from the Latin term gratuitas, which means something given for free – is considered unavoidable and pretty normal by most of the customers. Plus, restaurants and bars workers really need those extras to make ends meet. And this is a kind of job that the majority of the population can do, as it usually doesn’t require particular skills – unless we’re talking of luxurious businesses.

And here is the vicious cycle. If an employer is looking for not specialized or trained working force, he or she won’t feel the need to invest in that employee. The waiter will be payed less than minimum wage, customers will fill the gap. Not many point the finger at a distorted system, which must be stopped at a labor union level and, of course, not by boycotting tips all of a sudden.

tips jars around the world

A comparison of tips around the world. Japan is missing, as giving gratuities is considered offensive out there

Some history. Tips hasn’t always been compulsory in the United States, we can consider them quite young. This routine got its roots during prohibition, when fat cats used to bribe waiters for quality service. Tips is nothing but the acronym of “to insure prompt service”.

The food industry didn’t take long to understand that had the opportunity to maximize profits, sharing wages with the clientele, tearing down costs. Corruption gets institutionalized. A law of more than half a century ago ratified the cut by 50% of the minimum wage for those workers who were receiving tips.

A few states tried to level the disproportion among workers, but also Barack Obama‘s attempt to rise minimum wage up to 10 dollars per hour had been rejected, because it would have been costed half a million not qualified jobs, according to the Congressional Budget Office. So, the Republican position of keeping the level of occupation prevailed. Or, if we want to be mean, the restaurateur lobby position prevailed…

There’s another flaw in this system. The deplorable corruption of the past really insured good services and attentions. Nowadays the certainty of receiving at least a 10% tip doesn’t improve the treatment. Nor, on the other hand, a good service necessarily leads to a more generous tip.

According a study conducted by Michael Lynn and Michael C. Sturman of Cornell University, there’s no correlation between service and tips, other factors intervene. Chance is the main one.

minimum wage tips

A cartoon about the need of raising the minimum wage. This would help workers who receive tips and, by consequence, customers of bars and restaurants

“Restaurant tips are supposed to be an incentive/reward for the delivery of good service”, they write in their abstract. One reason is the “theory of equity”, which is “similar to the norm of reciprocity in posting that people are socialized to put more into their relationships with others the more they get out of those relationships”.

If someone feels the pressure of not being judged as cheap will give more. The same for a customer who has a tendency of being grateful. Even alcohol consumption affected, in some cases, the amount of tips.

Even with all the problems that this system carries on, it’s important not to fall into the cynicism of Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs. The one who didn’t believe in tips.

Mr. Pink in reservoir dogs

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