The Art of Tipping

Even though running to the dictionary right off is a pretty cheesy way to begin an article, that's exactly what's happening right before your eyes, because it seems that we have forgotten what, exactly, the "tip" is. Let's see ... oh yes, here we go. The office Webster's says a tip is "a gift or a sum of money tendered for a service performed or anticipated." A "gratuity." And, incidentally, the good book says this usage was coined in 1755.A gift. A gratuity. Which means that you don't have to tip, and which also means that, should you decide to tip, you also get to decide how much. Yet, just like all the crazy rules that govern Christmas and the dreaded Birthday (if you give me something I have to give you something at least as good, or better, etcetera ad infinitum ad nauseam ...) -- there are rules for tipping, too.We've all had this post-meal conversation: "How much should I give? Is it 15 percent or 20 percent now? Do we tip in here?" Then there's the guilt. We're almost afraid not to tip, especially if the service was bad. When you get a scary waitress, for example, and we've all had scary waitresses. We're afraid of tipping too little and looking like cheapskates, and afraid of tipping too much and looking easy. It's a wonder more people don't have a phobia.And the crazy thing is, some tips are added into the check. At that point, in my book, it has left the realm of "tipping" because it's out of my hands. What if I wanted to give you more than the 20 percent? Your loss. And what about those zany places where, if you hand over a $20 on a $7 bill, they ask if you need change back? That'll suck the wind right out of your sails.There is more social pressure here than at a middle-school sock-hop. You get these sudden oh-my-god pangs, thinking you're going to be labelled for life with the Scarlet C-for-cheap and all you wanted to do was sit down and have a meal with your friends -- my god what were you thinking??It's not just in restaurants. Beauty salons. I had no idea you were supposed to tip hair technicians until someone whined about it in The Whine Line some time ago. Luckily, that stuck and when I decided recently to get my first professional hair cut since puberty, I took a leap of faith and gave what I thought was a reasonable extra for an excellent job, which turned out to be a pretty good guess. Twenty percent.Thing is, not being an avid reader of etiquette mags or watcher of "women's" programs, I never would have thought of tipping some of the people who do indeed get tipped, even though I am a compulsive tipper when it comes to wait staff.A local salon manager confirmed that yes, indeed, it is customary to tip beauty salon personnel. As far as what's proper, she said, "I don't know whether there is any set rule ... Some tip a $1 on a $10 haircut," and some give $5. And manicurists make "about the same," she said. She seemed a little ... entertained by the question, "Is it common knowledge that people tip here?""Sure," she said.Mechanics, too. According to Mark Hagre, a co-owner of Anything Automotive, "some people do (tip). Not a lot." And, he said, there's no certain percentage. The ones who do tip, he said, tend to give about $5.Some restaurants just have the tip jar sitting next to the cash register, sort of an implied, "If you'd like to give us some extra money, we're not going to stop you," sort of thing. A lot of the time people will toss in their spare change, but it's not always expected, since many of those eateries are not full-service restaurants. And that's a far cry from, "Do I really have to give you the rest of your $20?" Or adding the "tip" into the check in the first place. ("Strong arming the tip," I like to call it. Kind of like, "Donation at the door required for entry.")Americans AbroadAfter speaking with Spanish professor Jana Sandarg, an avid traveller of the known Hispanic universe, I came to the conclusion that Americans are a little psycho when it comes to tipping. We tip everyone. Even though wait staffers in Spain are actually paid by their employers, she said, "Americans can't bring themselves to leave a little tip." (A Spanish customer will leave maybe a 1-percent tip.)In many Hispanic restaurants, she said, the menu will say whether service is included in the bill. But basically she said, unlike here, they assume you are paying for good service when you pay for your food. Not only that, she said, but since they are not making their money off your tips, they are not rushing you out the door so that other customers can come in and take your place.In Mexico, she said, the tips go to the house jar, which is later divided among the wait staff ... or kept by the owner.So in Spain they pay their wait staff real wages and over here we pay our police officers OK. In Mexico, Sandarg said, the police officers are paid squat. So it might be a good idea, she seemed to suggest, if you remember that upon getting pulled over while travelling to see your global next-door neighbors. Twenty might get rid of $100, wink-wink, nudge-nudge. And, if your Tio Juan is a shop-owner, it might get him better protection. Here, these days, we call it a bribe, but our neighbors to the west still consider it business as usual.One travel and recreation website includes a joke invoked by Stephen Burr, who teaches at George Brown College School of Hospitality in Toronto. The joke goes, "What's the difference between a Canadian and a canoe? A canoe tips." Ha-ha.Anyway, this site suggests that tipping started in the Middle Ages when travellers tossed coins to beggars to ensure their own safety. As for the word, the site says, there is a Dutch word, tippen, that describes patrons tapping on a mug for service. Then there is the possibility that it came from a custom at English taverns of leaving coins before ordering, "To Insure Promptitude."Well, no matter when the thing got started or by whom, if you live in the United States of America in the 20th century, by law you have to tip everybody within a ten-foot radius of you at any given time, and there are even online sites to help you "decide" how much to give them. When you are travelling, for instance, to Las Vegas. Las Vegas Online has this funny little bit at the top: "A tip is a voluntary payment as a reward for good service. The general rule of 15 to 20 per cent (sic) of the total bill is usually appropriate."Voluntary? Rule? Appropriate?Anyway, Vegas bartenders get $1 per round for parties larger than two. People who bring you rolls of coins while you're trying your luck get paid if you do. Dealers are tipped with small bets on their behalf. Room service staff are tipped as wait staff. You're supposed to give people who tote your luggage $1 or $2 per bag or about $5 if you have a lot of bags. Then there are taxi drivers ($1 plus change per $8 of fare), valet parking attendants ($1 or $2) ... pant, pant ... street performers ... And don't forget to grease the palms of the panhandlers for their contribution to the big-city atmosphere.

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