Amer­i­cans have al­ways ag­o­nized over tip­ping

Chicago Sun-Times - - METROBEAT - NEIL STEIN­BERG Fol­low Neil Stein­berg on Twit­ter: @NeilStein­berg Email: nstein­berg@sun­times.com

Tip­ping is back in the news. The Sun­Times ran a full page anal­y­sis on Mon­day. “Four­teen years ago,” Ohio jour­nal­ist Con­nie Schultz be­gan, in a col­umn syn­di­cated across the coun­try, “I wrote a col­umn about a tip jar in Cleve­land and how the man­agers took all the money . . .”

She goes on to dis­cuss the La­bor Depart­ment’s lat­est ef­forts to make it eas­ier for tips to flow into the pock­ets of man­age­ment and not, nec­es­sar­ily, to the work­ers for whom they are sup­pos­edly in­tended.

There’s no rea­son why our view of the topic should stop in 2004. Tip­ping has been an is­sue of heated de­bate in this coun­try for over a cen­tury, with the dis­cov­ery of who re­ally ben­e­fits from tip­ping be­ing a re­li­able scan­dal that, though pe­ri­od­i­cally re­vealed, some­how never quite sinks into gen­eral pub­lic knowl­edge.

“The be­stower of this al­ways re­luc­tant largess is a no­tably un­so­phis­ti­cated per­son if he thinks that it goes to the young man or woman who col­lects the coin,” the New York Times noted on Aug. 31, 1917. “Nei­ther one or the other re­ceives more than aminute weekly salary, paid by the cor­po­ra­tion [ that] em­ploys him or her. All the rest, and by far the larger amount . . . is di­vided be­tween that cor­po­ra­tion and the pro­pri­etors of the ho­tels and restau­rants.”

The only thing that has changed, as far as I can tell, is a cool­ing of pub­lic pas­sion against the prac­tice. Giv­ing tips is no longer “al­ways re­luc­tant.”

A hun­dred years ago, tip­ping was seen as a dou­ble sin: some­thing that forced nor­mally proud Amer­i­can servers into bow­ing and scrap­ing, and a kind of ex­tor­tion, a trib­ute paid by brow­beaten dupes to re­ceive the good ser­vice they should be en­ti­tled to in the first place. The 1917 Times ed­i­to­rial de­spaired that the prac­tice would ever end.

“It will con­tinue just as long as the pub­lic meekly sub­mits to thinly veiled rob­bery,” the Times wrote. “And that, seem­ingly, will be for­ever.”

The height of pub­lic out­cry against tip­ping peaked around World War I, with the for­ma­tion of or­ga­ni­za­tions like the An­tiGimme League and the So­ci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Use­less Giv­ing.

In 1916, William R. Scott pub­lished “The Itch­ing Palm,” a polemic that de­nounces tip­ping as a “moral dis­ease” caught from decade aris­toc­racy of Europe, a “will­ing­ness to be servile for a con­sid­er­a­tion” that holds its vic­tims through “mes­meric in­flu­ence.” The Bi­ble is quoted lib­er­ally in de­nounc­ing “democ­racy’s deadly foe.”

Now Amer­i­cans are far less am­biva­lent about tip­ping, in part be­cause the sys­tem adapted to as­sume tip­ping oc­curs. In Illi­nois, the over­worked wait­ress set­ting down her tray of plat­ters might be paid only 60 per­cent of min­i­mum wage— a mea­ger five bucks an hour— with the as­sump­tion that your tips will make up the rest.

Peo­ple who don’t tip in 2018 are in­vari­ably in­di­vid­u­als shamed on Face­book for not­ing, on their re­ceipt, that they don’t give to im­mi­grants, or gays, or what ever, the cru­elty of not tip­ping mag­ni­fied by the spite of sin­gling out a par­tic­u­lar vic­tim.

Tip­ping is a con­vo­luted way of do­ing busi­ness, per­haps nat­u­ral for a na­tion that re­jects the met­ric sys­tem but keeps the penny.

The idea that tip­ping is re­quired for good ser­vice seems false to me. We were in Paris last spring, and since tip­ping is not ex­pected in France, we didn’t tip and had some of the best, most ef­fi­cient ser­vice we’ve ever had.

It­was a chal­lenge for me not to tip, be­cause I’m gen­er­ally a scrupu­lous tip­per— I even make a point of leav­ing some­thing for the cham­ber­maids at ho­tels. It’s away to showyou rec­og­nized that you’ve re­ceived out­stand­ing ser­vice. It seems wrong that man­age­ments skim, but Imight be one of the un­so­phis­ti­cated rubes that the Times mocked. Even when ser­vice is quite bad, I have great trou­ble stiff­ing the guilty par­ties, per­haps out of the timid­ity noted by the au­thor of “Ivan­hoe” when deal­ing with horse han­dlers and restau­rant staff.

“I like to pay pos­til­ions and wait­ers rather more lib­er­ally than per­haps is right,” Wal­ter Scott wrote in his jour­nal April 9, 1828. “I hate grum­bling and sour faces; and the whole sav­ing will not ex­ceed a guinea or two for be­ing cursed and damned from Dan to Beer­sheba.”

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