Thursday, February 03, 2005

Tipping points

What are some topics sure to ignite an argument among friends, colleagues, strangers, etc.? Politics? Surely. Religion? Almost certainly. Sports? Possibly. But a lot of us get into arguments about tipping. I know I have. Friendships have been strained. My mother began sending me to warm up the car (even in the summer) so she could leave a tip (or not leave a tip, perhaps) without me clucking my tongue over her shoulder. They say I leave too much, I say they're cheapskates. But I know it's not just me. I see you have the same arguments. I hear you bicker with your dining and drinking companions.

"15 or 20 percent? What? Only 10?"

"Dude, all they do is pour."

"She wasn't that great. She never even asked me if I wanted more water."

"It's a buffet. We get our own food."

"I don't get tipped at my job! And my job's stressful as hell! Why should I tip them?"
And so on and so on. Some feel strongly about tipping for service, others feel the opposite just as passionately. Many people don't understand how much of a waiter's wage depends on tips. Yet plenty of us wonder where the line is drawn when we see tip jars popping up seemingly everywhere. We argue ourselves into the ground, ultimately agreeing to disagree.

More gasoline was poured on the fire in yesterday's New York Times food section, with Julia Moskin's piece on waiters and restaurant staffers who complain about customers all over the web on sites and blogs such as Waiter Rant, The Stained Apron, and, home of the Shitty Tipper Database.

This reminded me of a blog I discovered over the summer (also run by Jim Romenesko) called Starbucks Gossip. If you haven't already heard of it, there's a bunch of stuff about Starbucks's prominence in our culture, which is all fine and dandy. But the best entry was easily the one about tipping. The level of venom being hurled back and forth between baristas and customers will astound you. And amuse you. Maybe even frighten you. It's addictive reading. And there's a lot to read, man. (The page takes a while to load because of all the comments.)

The debate rages on. Here are two books on the subject: The Itty Bitty Guide to Tipping and Fodor's FYI: How to Tip.