I want to talk about the American custom of tipping. You know, it looks like everybody has their hands out these days. Why should we be expected to pay extra for certain services that people are already paid to do as their regular job? A gratuity is supposed to be a monetary reward given freely in appreciation for some special favor above and beyond normal service. So if I just paid this cab driver for taking me to my destination, why must I give him some more money for taking me to my destination—especially when he has added on night surcharge, tolls and gotten us lost while taking the roundabout route? I just paid my barber his normal fee for giving me just a haircut. So now I should give him some extra money for giving me just a haircut? The pizza boy is paid for delivering pizzas, so why should I pay him again for doing what his employer is paying him for?

I am assuming that nobody works for free, so if a doorman or bellhop is employed at a hotel, he must be getting some sort of salary. So their normal duties are the same things that the hotel guests give them tips for. A bellhop is hired to take guests’ bags to their rooms. That’s part of their job. So why should I pay him for taking my bags to my room?! The same goes for doormen and concierges. I guess people don’t realize that those hundreds (at some places, thousands) of dollars per day that they pay for a room or suite in somebody’s establishment, some of it is used to pay their employees’ salaries. So what you’re doing, in actuality, is paying these people twice for the exact same services.

My most recent vocal group, the New York Vagabonds, had the good fortune of performing on luxury cruise ships for 8 years (2005-12). We worked on Holland America, Norwegian, Regent and Royal Caribbean, for the most part. They have a particular racket going on Royal Caribbean. Whereas the other cruise lines do encourage the guests to tip the crew for exceptional service, Royal Caribbean actually adds a daily pro-rated surcharge to their account, whether the service is exceptional or not or whether you even receive a particular service. They want you to tip your stateroom attendants and your dining room waiters (three in all). And it’s not what amount you choose to give them. They suggest that it be ten dollars a day for each of them. Forty dollars a day for a seven-day cruise, that comes to $280 per person!

Now even though we are guest entertainers, therefore employees ourselves, they expect us to honor this “gratuity” system as well. I’m sorry, but that’s not right! Gabe, our leader, tells us that this cruise line pays us more than the others do, but if we end up giving back as much as $920 to the ship, then that‘s taking away from our would-be increased salary! “I’ll give you more money if you’ll give a good portion of it back.” What?! Besides, I have not been at all pleased with my stateroom attendants on some of the ships. They would close the curtain over my porthole at night (Why? Nobody’s peeking in). I like to see daylight when I awake in the morning. If I want the curtain closed, I will close it myself. What, am I helpless? They always moved my wastebasket from where I kept it–I want it over here where it is convenient to me–and they couldn’t even manage to deliver my daily schedule to my room the night before, so that I can plan my activities for the next day. They keep the schedules with them, so what’s the problem? I had to retrieve one from the front desk every day, which was not a convenience. Every locale on the ship requires a certain amount of travel to get to. I didn’t consider any of this outstanding service that I should pay extra for.

Still referring to Royal Caribbean, for every drink ordered on the ship, a “service charge” of over a dollar is added to your bill, which in itself can be considered a compulsory tip. It’s certainly not voluntary. They add it on automatically. You see, they don’t handle cash on the ships; everything is signed for to be added to your shipboard account. Now that they have your credit card number, you are at their mercy to be charged for anything, at their whim. At the bottom of your drink receipt is a space for supplying “an additional tip for outstanding service.” Do you believe those crooks?! All they did was bring me a drink. What is so “outstanding” about that? Isn’t that their very job? So the $8.00 I was just charged for this tiny cocktail isn’t enough that they have the audacity to ask for more money? And this is for every single drink, mind you, even sodas and juices. The only beverages they don’t charge you for is tap water, lemonade, coffee and tea, hot or iced. It’s a fact that people will try to get away with what you allow them to get away with.

I’ll bet you that whatever they pay these ships’ crew, it’s more than what I get for my job. They get their regular salary–I mean they are not working for nothing, they must be getting something–plus they get all that extra money from the guests, I’m talking about thousands of passengers, on a daily basis! Don’t be crying the blues to me! They must be getting over! Since they live there on the ship, their room and board is provided for free, and they get to travel and see the world. The only time they get to spend any money is when they get into port and get off the ship, and they don‘t have to spend any money even then. I seldom buy anything while on a cruise. Whatever I need, I will bring it on with me. There are many crew members who don’t ever get to leave the ship, because they work all the time. So they must get to save almost everything that they make. I don’t have that luxury. I have rent and other monthly bills to pay. I certainly don’t feel sorry for those ship employees about whether or not they are underpaid.

If I were a rich man with unlimited amounts of money at my disposal, giving it away at will would not be that big a deal. I am quite generous when I have plenty of something to give. But as I am, and most of my life, have been on a fixed budget with an indefinite income, living from varying paycheck to paycheck, I have learned to be frugal and not to spend money unnecessarily. This freelance job I have today might be my last, for all I know. This way I have managed to live within my means and not to spend money that I don’t have.

I am a professional entertainer, as I‘ve told you. I don’t get paid what I think I’m worth, but I do receive something for my work, usually. I do, however, do things that most other performers don’t. When I was with The Flirtations, for example, and then with the Vagabonds, I would stay around after my shows to meet and greet my public, shake their hands, talk with them and sign autographs. That is certainly above and beyond the call of duty. I don’t have to do any of that, nor is it expected. And the people seem to appreciate it. I would prefer to go to my dressing room and change out of my hot, sweaty clothes. So why don’t I ever get tipped for the extra service that I provide my “customers/clients”? We should be put on the ships’ gratuity list, too, along with their other employees.

When female impersonators perform—oh, excuse me, I mean to say “gender illusionists”—most of them lip sync to recordings, and the patrons throw money at them and stuff it in their gowns. When I am on stage, I do my own singing with my own voice, but nobody gives me any extra money. I don’t mean it to sound like sour grapes, but if I’m not expected to be tipped for giving extra service over my regular duties, then all those other people should not expect tips for doing just their regular jobs. That’s all I’m saying.

But the biggest racket, I think, is in the food service business. In the olden days, a tip was given to the server at the end of a meal, maybe for being extra-courteous or super-efficient. The way it is now, at least in this country, a tip is pretty much mandatory, and in some places, is automatically added to the meal bill. Plus, the amount is determined by a percentage of the total check. Neither of these conventions have anything to do with the actual service rendered by the server. It all depends on the eating establishment and the menu prices. Dinner for two at $100 probably requires no more work from the server than dinner for two at $20. The incentive to give the best service is gone. The server doesn’t have to concern themself with what kind of service they give their customers. They can be as rude as they want, inefficient, and the food could be unsatisfactory, because they know that they will still get that tip.

I have eaten in restaurants with groups of people where the service was horrendous, and the food was just as bad, and at the end of the meal, I’ve had to sit there and watch my eating companions figure up the 15% (or 20%) tip to leave this incompetent boob. ‘What are you people doing?!’ Talk about aiding and abetting! But yet I’m “cheap” because I choose not to be a willing co-dependent. Why would this person bother to clean up their act if everybody continues to reward them for their inefficiency? If they would withhold the tip, it might compel the server to ask, “Was the service not to your satisfaction?” Then you can tell them, “No, it wasn’t. For one thing, you didn‘t come back once to refill my water glass. I need water throughout my meal. I asked you for mayonnaise for my burger and you took forever to bring it. I specifically asked for well-done, and it’s quite red inside. Did you even tell the cook how I wanted it? I wanted to drink my coffee with my dessert. I‘m finished eating it, so I don‘t need it now. It is possible to bring them both together, you know. How difficult is it to give us separate checks? Are you trying to save on pad paper or something? Why should we have to do all the required arithmetic?” I never make unreasonable demands on my servers. It’s what I do when I am preparing meals for myself. My requests are always part of their job to give me decent, satisfactory service.

Most of the blame, however, lies with the management of these restaurants. The problem is that waiters don’t get paid a decent enough wage, so it has to be supplemented by the tips they receive. So in reality, we patrons are paying these people’s salaries. In most cases now, these projected earnings from tips are what the servers’ hourly wage is based on, and they have to declare their tips as taxable income. I’m sorry, but that’s not a gratuity anymore. We are supplying the payroll for someone else’s employees! Think about it. That’s not our responsibility. These bosses should be required by law to pay their employees a fair salary (at least minimum wage—some don’t even get that), then they wouldn’t have to depend on what we give them to live on. So we, too, should report these paid wages as a business expense for a legitimate tax deduction.

My friend Lloyd and I eat at those buffet-style, self-service places a lot, where they employ waitpersons only to serve beverages and clear the tables after. Now these people expect to be tipped, too. I’m thinking, “Wong Foo” hired this woman. He should pay her for bringing me this glass of water! Or better yet, leave the water where I can get to it, so that I can pour my own. I don’t mind. I’m not that lazy. In the case of a Chinese-run buffet restaurant, the buspersons are often family members of the owners, who expect us customers to supplement their workers’ meager salaries, that is, if they are paying them anything at all. This way they get to keep all the money that they make, theirs as well as ours! I know for a fact that in some eating establishments the servers are required to turn over a portion of their daily tips to the management. So then, you are not really helping that poor, underpaid server, but putting more money into the pockets of their greedy bosses!

Another probable racket that I am suspicious about is that “handling” charge that we incur anytime we do mail order. I use the mail services often, the regular post office as well as United Parcel Service, and I am familiar with the rates and how much it costs to send things. This added fee is almost always more than it costs to send the item, especially since it’s apparently sent via Conestoga wagon, judging from the long time it takes to deliver it. So I’m wondering, who actually gets that extra fee? Like the servers and buspersons, are we unwittingly supplementing the salaries of the postal stevedores, too? I mean, isn’t handling the mail their very job? “Those guys back there are bitching for a raise again.” “Oh, yeah? Do you think the company will comply?” “Hell, no! We’ll make the naïve consumers pick up the slack. They won’t know the difference, suckers that they are.”

We know now that since it is possible to deliver ordered merchandise by mail without the shipping fees, they must be entirely optional. They don’t have to add on those charges, apparently. I regularly order merchandise from Amazon, and sometimes they will charge a $4.00 shipping fee for each item ordered and other times it’s waived. So it seems to be completely arbitrary. I know for a fact that some theaters and ticket outlets are running this sort of racket. What is this “service charge” added on whenever we purchase tickets for theatrical events or use an outlet? Well, I have news for you. All we are doing is tipping the ticket sellers. Again that extra money is used to supplement their incomes. With all the money they take in for Broadway shows and big concert events these days, don’t you think they could pay their employees out of that instead of our having to do so? I’m telling you, it’s minor extortion…and corporate greed!

Some of the local bars and “social clubs” hire young men to work the entrance door and operate the clothes check. There is a charge to get in, anywhere from $5 to $25, plus another charge for checking your coat. Now these guys expect to be tipped as well. Even if the manager doesn’t pay them anything for working there, he could give them one dollar out of every admission fee they receive. Even if they got only 200 patrons in one evening, that would still be a nice piece of change for them. I don’t have to know where all the money goes, but can’t they use some of it to pay their fucking employees?!

I am sure that a portion of the “offering” money and tithes that are collected from churchgoers every service are used to pay the salaries of the church’s working staff. I, however, don’t at all object to this practice, since I, as an employee, am on the receiving end this time. But as we are providing a needed service to these people—worshipping opportunities and musical enrichment—why shouldn’t they have to pay for it, churches’ being “non-profit organizations” and all that? But even with this, I receive only a regular paycheck. I am never tipped anything extra, like when I am asked to do a solo during the service that does not involve the other choir members. That requires preparation and rehearsal, so I am doing extra work and effort but getting paid the same as those doing less.

Now I don’t want to leave you the with the impression that I am against tipping, per se, because I’m not. I don’t mind at all throwing in a little extra to a friendly, cute waiter at a favorite eatery. But it should be my choice and my decision to do so, how much and when. What I do object to is compulsory tipping—being coerced to do it, people telling me when and how much I have to leave on the table or trying to make me feel guilty about it and judging me harshly if I don’t comply or if I don’t leave the amount that they decide I should.

1,167 thoughts on “Tipping”

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