A short note about throwing a few coins in every pot.
What I find most fascinating about the discourse around tipping right now is that people are feeling bullied by iPads. No one has a knife to their neck or a gun to their heads, forcing their finger toward the button that says “30 percent,” yet they are—as the New York Times reported—“bewildered” by the suggestions of the machine. Do they know that there is no actual wrong answer? That locusts will not rain upon them if they hit “no tip” or even “10 percent”? It is unclear. The machine, in this case, seems to have a lot of power over these folks. They are fatigued by its demands! People treat the tip options the way they treat posts on social media they don’t like or agree with: as a personal affront, not pixels on a screen.
This new type of exhaustion owing to touchscreen bullying has been invented in the last couple of years: tipping fatigue. This is because most cafés’ point of sales systems now have this as a standard, and thus tipping selections have leaked from places where it’s the norm—restaurants, bars—and into spaces that used to only have a little jar, like coffee and ice cream shops. There are memes now that say, “I just tipped 25 percent to someone for turning an iPad around.” Ok—poor you? Also, you decided to do that? I understand that we all, like George Costanza before us, want those serving us to know we are good people, deserving of good treatment, and that this comes only from showing our gratitude through tipping.
(Is tipping an absurd and immoral means of compensating labor, rooted in feudalism and slavery? Yes. Is that going to be fixed by abstaining? No.)
As that ’90s Seinfeld episode showed, it has long been custom for places such as a pizzeria to have a jar on the counter to be counted up later and divvied up among staff. This would probably be enough to buy someone a treat after a day spent working for other people’s pleasure—a beer, a burger, whatever. When I worked at Starbucks in college, the weekly tips often meant I could put gas in my car and get to the city for class without worry (these were different times). When tipping wasn’t allowed at a hospitality-included bar where I worked but people still threw us a few dollars, it would be split 50-50 between the two people working; I’d go get myself a whiskey soda or just enjoy an extra $5 in my wallet.
I think if people were to look more at the amount that these tip suggestions are providing and less at the percentage, they’d realize it’s not much more than the spare change they would’ve tossed in a jar anyway (or not!), and the idea that it’s all going specifically to the person who turned the iPad around is laughable. As Adam Reiner wrote for Bon Appétit, there has been an increase in labor for many restaurant workers that has been rendered invisible:
With his section of the restaurant crowded with diners, Victoria was also expected to greet guests at the door and check their vaccination status while packaging takeout and delivery orders. Tips for delivery orders, if there were any, would go to the drivers. While Victoria’s job description expanded, his pay did not. In fact, it dropped precipitously. As the pandemic ground business to a halt, his income—based almost completely on tips—was cut in half overnight, from $1200 a week to under $600 a week. He was doing five times the work for less than half the pay.
Do you have to tip on all occasions, or when you don’t feel you can spare it? No, unless you’re at a restaurant or bar, the workers are likely being paid at least the local minimum wage rather than the archaic and disgusting tipped minimum wage. But is it nice, if you can, to offer a little breathing room to people who are supporting your ability to live life comfortably and have a nice time? Yes.
The normalization here of complaining about providing a little bit extra is what troubles me. Yes, tipping should be abolished and wages should go up for everyone. That would mean that prices would go up, too, and we know people also do not enjoy that. The iPad screen is tormenting people because it somehow reminds them daily that no one is being paid properly, that survival is tenuous, that we depend on each other’s generosity. I understand the fatigue with that ceaseless misery, but the ire and mockery should be directed elsewhere.
This Friday’s From the Kitchen dispatch for paid subscribers will be about a method for a big batch of a salad topping that makes me excited to eat salad every day for lunch, combining protein, sweetness, fat, crunch, and acidity. See the recipe index for all recipes available to paid subscribers.
Programming Note: I’ll be off on vacation in Quebec City next week to celebrate our first wedding anniversary as well as my birthday. Back on November 14!
This Friday, I’ll be on a panel called “How creators reach their first 10, 100, 1000 paid subscribers” for CUNY Newmark Journalism’s Creator Summit. It’s happening 11 a.m. EST, and it’s free to sign up.
Back to How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo.
Baked ziti. Testing a carambola (starfruit) tart for paid subscribers. Above are the ugly gnocchi I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.