Yesterday, Matt and I went to a local restaurant for breakfast. It was packed, as usual, and we ended up sitting at the bar. On one side of us was a family of three that…well, they were there together, but I don’t think they spoke for the entire meal beyond one request to pass the ketchup. But maybe they did talk, and I just couldn’t hear them over the noise. To our left were two men, one of whom had the demeanor of a stereotypical used-car salesman, and the other who was subjected to listening to this man simultaneously shove food in his mouth and yet somehow manage to keep talking the whole time. It was nuts in there, packed with squeaking, bleating little kids, loud-laughing high schoolers who were trying so hard to show the world how painfully cool they are, plus lots of couples of all ages.

Our bill came back as 32 bucks and change; I left 40. It wasn’t that much over a 20% tip, but Matt made a joke about “leaving a million dollars.” First of all, I’m crappy at math, so I’d rather be safe than sorry. Second, I don’t like waiting for change, especially not when it’s busy. But there are three very distinct schools of thought (that I’m aware of) on the act of tipping itself, and that got me thinking on my drive in to work today.

On one hand, you’ve got people who have worked in service, people who have been waiters and bussers, etc. These people always, always tip, because they know what a joke wage food service tip-workers get. They can sometimes get evangelical in their support of tipping, which is annoying but ultimately understandable.

Then you’ve got Mr. Pink, immortalized in the following conversation from Reservoir Dogs:

Nice Guy Eddie: C’mon, throw in a buck!

Mr. Pink: Uh-uh, I don’t tip.

Nice Guy Eddie: You don’t tip?

Mr. Pink: I don’t believe in it.

Nice Guy Eddie: You don’t believe in tipping?

Mr. Blue: You know what these chicks make? They make shit.

Mr. Pink: Don’t give me that. She don’t make enough money, she can quit.

Nice Guy Eddie: I don’t even know a fucking Jew who’d have the balls to say that. Let me get this straight: you don’t ever tip, huh?

Mr. Pink: I don’t tip because society says I have to. Alright, I mean I’ll tip if somebody really deserves a tip. If they put forth the effort, I’ll give them something extra. But I mean, this tipping automatically, it’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned they’re just doing their job.

Mr. Blue: Hey, this girl was nice.

Mr. Pink: She was OK. But she wasn’t anything special.

Mr. Blue: What’s special? Take you in the back and suck your dick?

Nice Guy Eddie: I’d go over twelve percent for that.

Mr. Pink: Look, I ordered coffee, alright? And we been here a long fucking time and she’s only filled my cup three times. When I order coffee I want it filled six times.

Mr. Blonde: Six times? Well, what if she’s too fucking busy?

Mr. Pink: The words “too fucking busy” shouldn’t be in a waitress’ vocabulary.

Nice Guy Eddie: Excuse me Mr. Pink, but the last fucking thing you need is another cup of coffee.

Mr. Pink: Jesus Christ I mean, these ladies aren’t starving to death. They make minimum wage. You know, I used to work minimum wage and when I did I wasn’t lucky enough to have a job the society deemed tipworthy.

Mr. Blue: You don’t care if they’re counting on your tips to live?

Mr. Pink: [rubbing his middle finger and thumb together] You know what this is? The world’s smallest violin playing just for the waitresses.

Mr. White: You don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. These people bust their ass. This is a hard job.

Mr. Pink: So is working at McDonald’s, but you don’t see anyone tip them, do ya? Why not?, they’re serving you food. But no, society says don’t tip these guys over here, but tip these guys over here. That’s bullshit!

Mr. White: Waitressing is the number one occupation for female non-college graduates in this country. It’s the one job basically any woman can get, and make a living on. The reason is because of their tips.

Mr. Pink: Fuck all that.

Mr. Brown: Jesus Christ.

Mr. Pink: I mean I’m very sorry the government taxes their tips, that’s fucked up. That ain’t my fault. It would appear to me that waitresses are one of the many groups the government fucks in the ass on a regular basis. If you show me a piece of paper that says the government shouldn’t do that, I’ll sign it, put it to a vote, I’ll vote for it, but what I won’t do is play ball. And this non-college bullshit you’re givin’ me, I got two words for that: learn to fuckin’ type, ’cause if you’re expecting me to help out with the rent you’re in for a big fuckin’ surprise.

And the third player in the game, more recent, is the model of a tip-free establishment, like The Linkery. This is the kind of place that doesn’t allow customers to tip. Instead, they charge you more for the food you eat so they can, in turn, pay their workers more without having to rely on the kindness and generally arbitrary judgment of strangers. I love this idea, and would love to see it take off, but I don’t think it will take hold in the greater industry, if only because they LIKE the screwed-up architecture of the system that lets them pay their workers so little.

So where do I fall? I’ve never worked a tip-based job, so I’ve never actually felt the pain of trying to make ends meet on ridiculous pay. I get the brain-concept of it, but I skipped that class in the school of life.

On one hand, Mr. Pink is right – tipping is supposed to be for going above and beyond rather than just doing your job, and I’m very sorry the government takes servers’ money by taxing their tips when they’re already making pretty much nothing, but it’s not my fault.  I hate feeling like I have to tip someone. So I kind of want to land firmly on the side of Mr. Pink.

Here’s the thing, though.

For me, what it comes down to is if you’re going to play the game, play by the rules. We all know that restaurant workers make nothing, and that it’s not our fault and that we shouldn’t have to tip just because the government is greedy and the restaurant/service industry is screwed up. There’s an easy solution to the conundrum: If you don’t feel you should tip, don’t support or take any part in the system that perpetuates the model. Don’t go out to eat.

However, in my opinion, if you want to play the game – if you’re going to eat at places that pay wages that depend on tips – then tip. That’s the rule, as far as I’m concerned.

In this case especially – the place was busy, the woman was obviously running all over the place, but we still got friendly, timely service with a smile. Plus we go to this place all the time, and it never hurts to be remembered as a good customer in a place you frequent.

The only time I say “heck no” to leaving a tip is when the service is downright bad or rude. Those are the (very rare, maybe two or three times in my life) situations in which I feel justified in not tipping someone, because I don’t mind paying for service but I absolutely refuse to pay to be abused. The ONLY time that’s ok is if you enjoy going to those restaurants where that’s part of the experience. Not my cup of tea, but to each his or her own.

Anyway, that’s where I fall. How about you?

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