The basic question is, does tipping
represent a sound exchange of wealth? Do the
American people receive full value, or any value, for
the $200,000,000 or more given in tips?
Values, of course, may be sentimental
as well as substantial and, so far as tipping is concerned,
it can be demonstrated that if any values are received
they are sentimental. The satisfaction of giving,
the balm to vanity, the indulgence of pride, are the
values obtained by the giver of a tip in exchange
for his money.
It is a stock argument for tipping
that the person serving frequently performs extra
services, or displays special painstaking, which deserve
extra compensation. Only an examination of individual
instances can determine whether this is true.
The proportion of the tipping tribute which really
pays for extraordinary service is negligible.
A brief inquiry into a few of the more prominent instances
of tipping follows.
If food is sold undelivered, then
the waiter in bringing it to the patron and assisting
him in its consumption does perform an extra service
for which payment is due.
But this is not the fact, any more
than that a shoe clerk should be tipped for assisting
a customer in the selection of his employer’s
footwear. In both instances, the cost of the service
is included in the price of the article food
The prices on the bill of fare have
been figured to include all costs of serving it, such
as cook-hire, waiter-hire, rent, music, table ware,
raw materials and overhead charges. If a sirloin
steak costs seventy-five cents a definite part of
that amount represents the wages of the waiter serving
Thus the waiter has no claim upon
the patron for compensation, because the patron, in
paying for the food, provides the proprietor with funds
from which the waiter’s wages will be paid.
If the patron, in addition, gives the waiter a tip
it is clearly a gift for which no value has been returned.
The waiter is paid twice for one service.
The question then recurs, is this
gift to the waiter a sound economic transaction?
Economists teach that no transaction is industrially
sound which does not involve an equal exchange of
values. The exchange of five dollars for a pair
of shoes is a sound transaction because the dealer
and the customer each receive a value. But the
gift of a quarter to a waiter as a tip is an unsound
transaction because the patron receives nothing in
return nothing of like substantiality.
The patron may justify the gift from
sentimental considerations, of pride, generosity or
fear of violating a social convention, but no sophistry
of reasoning can prove that a substantial value has
Of course, a waiter may give a patron
more than the proprietor agrees to give in the bill
of fare, and this undoubtedly is an extra service but
it is also a dishonest service. Every extra
service to one patron means a deficiency of service
to other patrons. It is a common experience that
liberal tipping obtains special attentions which non-tipping
patrons miss, but, being dishonest, such a condition
is outside the scope of this inquiry. When a
patron pays for food he is entitled to adequate and
equal service, and no largess by other patrons should
interfere with this basic right.
On its economic side, then, tipping
is wrong. Wealth is exchanged without both parties
to the transaction receiving fair values. The
psychology and ethics of the transaction will be considered
in other chapters.
No tipping is so inexcusable as that
which is done to a barber. The trade is highly
organized and the workers are well-paid under good
working conditions. There is not the slightest
chance for the barber to serve a patron in a way for
which the patron does not pay in the shop tariffs.
If a haircut costs thirty-five cents,
the patron is entitled to just as good a hair-cut
as the barber can give. The patron enters the
shop upon the assumption that he is entitled to a
satisfactory service. Hence, in tipping a barber
a patron is yielding in a peculiarly timid way to the
mesmeric influence which the tipping custom exerts
over its devotees.
It is a wanton waste of wealth, an
unsound business transaction, because money is given
where charity is unnecessary and where absolutely nothing
is given in return. “But my barber takes
lots of pains with my hair,” the patron exclaims
in justification of the tip. As in the instance
of the waiter, if he takes more than a normal amount
of pains with your hair he is dishonest to his employer
and to other patrons whom he must neglect to pay you
special attention. Your right is to a satisfactory
service, and this you pay for in the regular charge.
Any extra compensation is unearned increment to the
The unctuous manner he employs to
arouse a sense of obligation in a patron, when stripped
of disguises, is a plain hold-up game. This will
be shown in the consideration of the psychology and
ethics of tipping.
The attitude that hotel employees
have been allowed to develop toward the public is
a blot upon professional hospitality.
Every one of them takes the hotel
patron for fair game. And the hotel proprietor,
with a few notable exceptions, encourages this despicable
attitude. The assumption is that the patron pays
at the desk only for the privilege of being in the
Hence, they will not cheerfully move
his baggage to his room unless he pays to get it there.
He cannot have a pitcher of ice water without being
made to feel that he owes for the service. The
maid who cares for his room exacts her toll.
The head waiter demands payment for showing him to
a seat. The individual waiters at each meal (and
they are changed each meal by the head-waiter so that
the patron has a new tip to give each time he dines)
require fees. If he rings a bell, asks any assistance,
goes out the door to a cab, in short, whichever way
he turns, an itching palm is outstretched!
Just think for a moment of the real
significance of this state of affairs. Hotel
hospitality? Why, the Barbary pirates would have
been ashamed to go it that strong!
To ignore this grafting spirit means
insulting annoyance. The suave hotel manager
listens to your complaint and smiles assurance that
his guests shall have proper service, but underneath
the smile he has a contempt for the “tight-wad,”
and instructs the cashier always to give the waiters
small change so as to make tipping easy for the patrons.
In truth, what does a hotel guest
pay for when he registers? Certainly for the
service of the bell-boy who carries his suit-case to
his room; for the keeping of the room in order; for
water, clean towels and other necessities for his
comfort; for the privilege of finding a seat in the
dining room; for the right to use the doors all
without extra charge.
But the hotel manager admits this
in theory and outrageously violates it in practice.
All tipping done to bell-boys, porters, maids, waiters,
door men, hat-boys and other servitors in a hotel is
sheer economic waste. When the guest pays his
bill at the desk he pays for all the service they
The hotel manager protests that the
money that passes between his guests and his employees
is not his affair. But he proves his insincerity
by adjusting his wage scale on the estimate that the
guests will pass money to his employees!
Professional hospitality as “enjoyed”
by Americans is a travesty on democracy. That
Europe should have such a system and spirit is historically
understandable. Tipping, and the aristocratic
idea it exemplifies, is what we left Europe to escape.
It is a cancer in the breast of democracy.
It would be possible to run through
all the classes tipped and prove that the extra compensation
is unearned. The chauffeur is a latter-day instance
of the itching palm. Like the barber, the chauffeur
is paid well for his work. He does nothing for
which the patron should give him a tip. The taxi-meter
charges the patron roundly for all the service given,
yet tipping chauffeurs is as common in the larger cities
as tipping barbers or waiters. It simply shows
the spread of the practice to workers who have no
other claim upon it than their own avaricious impulses and
the extreme docility of the public. Every tip
given to a chauffeur is so clearly a bad economic
transaction that further argument is unnecessary.
So widespread has the practice become
that tipping is, individually, a problem, as well
as collectively. The traveler has a formidable
cost to face in the tipping required. When the
total passes $200,000,000 a year, it becomes a problem
which the American people will find more difficult
of solution the longer it continues unchecked.
The whole argument is summed up in
this. Tipping is an economic waste because it
is double pay for one service or pay for
no service. It causes one person to give wealth
to another without a fair return in values, or without
any return. The pay that employers give to their
employees should be the only compensation they receive.
All the money given by the public on the side is unearned
The best condition for a fair exchange
of wealth is where standards are known and prices
are definite. Self-respect and sound economics
flourish in such an atmosphere, whereas, if values
are hazy and compensation is indirect and irregular,
as it is under the custom of tipping, the bickering
that follows degrades manhood.
From an economic viewpoint, all businesses
are on an abnormal basis which figure minimum wages,
or no wages, to their employees on the assumption
that the public will, through gratuities, pay for this
item of service.
“One service one
compensation” is the only right relation of seller
and buyer, of patron and proprietor.