Sunday, November 30, 2014

AARP's "New Guide to Tipping Etiquette": I Don't Buy It

According to a new AARP online piece, ' A New Guide To Tipping- Are You Doing Enough?, it seems I may not be what they regard as the "model American tipper"  as I rarely if ever give 20 percent (which is being pushed as the 'new norm'  for wait tips at restaurants, and regard a $1 tip for a $12 haircut as close to breaking the bank. The last time I delivered a 19.8% tip was in October when we took our visiting niece out to a dinner at Jose Muldoon's. The waitress nearly covered every base perfectly - including not pestering us every five minutes asking 'How is your food?' (Buffalo and steak fajitas) She just committed one miscue, delivering the wrong size beverage to our niece.

But then, I don't feel guilty in any case, since I am not the employer of these service people, and if they want higher remuneration they need to demand it from their bosses. It is not my job to subsidize their pay because they have chosen work which at base minimum - doesn't pay enough to keep bread on the table 

As I noted in earlier blog posts, the system in the U.S.  is really a very poor one, where wait staff basically sign on as indentured servants whose miserly (normal) scale pay, at $2.13 /hr. is usually quickly snatched up by the employer to pay whatever "expenses" he can think of, with the employee then scrambling to make enough in tips to pay the rent, or just groceries.  

Worse, none of the wait staff in the U.S. get anywhere near the two full weeks vacation that wait staff get in Germany, Austria. Or the health benefits. Why not? Because in this cheapskate Neoliberal bastion few want to pay the taxes that would support decent living wages or benefits for everyone. Then we scratch our butts and wonder why our Xmas is ruined by norovirus because we went to a restaurant where the wait staff had to come in sick - because of no sick days. 

A  piece last year on tipping  observed:

"People fall over themselves to brag of their tipping prowess and, despite the inherent and obvious injustice of a massive, scarcely-paid workforce scraping and begging for a wage, there has yet to be a true revolt of tipped employees. In a lottery-minded, American Idol culture, workers are loath to give up the chance for a Saudi Sheik to tip them a million dollars as reward for preparing a great smoothie."

The last line is especially apropos and accounts for the reason many in the service industry are loathe to change to a wage-based system.  I bring this up because waiting for a "lotto-sized" tip to push one into the middle class, is basically an immature and jaundiced perception .  About like believing one will win the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes,  when everyone knows you have to spend nearly as much on their over-priced garbage to win - so the top prize winner barely breaks even. Yet one guy who responded in a letter to a Denver Post's piece on tipping insisted he'd hate the salaried alternative because, get this, it meant "being trapped in socialism".  His reasoning: Well, as a salaried employee - even with benefits - he'd be paid exactly like everyone else, and there'd be no way to shine, get more tip money and rise above the rabble!

This kind of thinking is exactly what's wrong with too many in this country, who also believe taxes need to be always cut rather than increased. It also explains why one can never expect to see any "true revolt of tipped employees". Why should there be, if they all  - or most - believe they can get ahead of their brethren more via tips?  Never mind they still have to cough up for health care and get no paid vacation or sick days.

But they need to think about this scenario: what if  a new credit crisis is triggered owing to the collapsing oil prices (see the Weekend Financial Times on this prospect). Think people will pour into restaurants then, and even if they do - be able to afford even a 10% tip, far less the 20 % demanded by the likes of the AARP elites? Not a chance! People will simply eat at home or go to fast food outlets where they aren't hassled or hectored by unctuous media over tips.

All this could mean restaurants lay off more, but then many of the working public will also be laid off too. Those wait staff who remain - bear in mind all restaurants won't close - will be paid living wages because they'd have to be amongst the best to be retained. With that in place they will be more likely to garner self-respect instead of grafting for tips.

Grafting? Think of the word "servicing" itself, as the article noted:

"Tipping makes us into slaves and masters simultaneously in a confused, kinetic, and highly kinky social model. The service industry model carries over into the bedroom with the modern emphasis on oral sex and “servicing” one’s partner. And it is cross-cultural; the service industry accounts for most jobs in the post-industrial West— up to 80 percent in the US, a country that has exported most of its industry to cheaper places ."

In a Denver Post piece last year on tipping we also read:

" In some circles, according to Cornell University professor Michael Lyon, there has been talk about discontinuing the practice of restaurant tipping and adopting the European model, where waitstaff are considered professionals supported by salaries and benefits.

On a Freakonomics podcast in late spring of 2013, host Stephen Dubner asked Lyon (who has written dozens of academic papers on tipping), what he would change about the practice.

'You know,' Lyon replied. 'I think I would outlaw it.'

According to Lyon, there is enough race and gender disparity in how much servers get tipped (blond women more, blacks less) that "It's an ethically dubious way of rewarding workers."

Then why do it? According to the AARP it is simply the way things are and if we aspire to be model, decent citizens we will cough up those coppers as proper tips - to help these forlorn folks out. 

Well, sorry! But I'm not a charity, nor am I their employer. It is not my bounden duty to subsidize their pathetic pay, and certainly not to some artificial 'norm' defined-  mainly by the media elites  as "20 percent".  (These elites, like the consultants and professors the AARP cites, often make $250,000 a year or more which - if not the upper 1 percent - certainly puts them close to it. So their perception of what's required to tip is already biased at the high end.)

There's a simple way to test my claim: Next time you go to a restaurant ask the wait staff if they'd prefer a  consistent 15 percent tip from three fourths of patrons or... NO tip because those patrons are no longer coming  - they are cooking at home because they are tired of being hassled about their meager (15%)  tips. Ask the staff if they think they'd then even have jobs.

Finally, I strongly disagree that tipping falls under the umbrella of "etiquette". No it does not. Blowing your nose into your shirt in public is a matter of etiquette, so is whether or not to cut a fart. Deciding how much to give a wait staff person is a subjective personal financial assessment, based on personal quantifiers- including one's financial means - that must be respected from the individual's POV. Thus when I read drivel like this from the AARP website:

Tipping is important. There are so many services where people aren't even paid minimum wage," says Debby Mayne, etiquette guide for the resource website

My reply is: Sorry, but it's not my job to ensure service workers' jobs pay above the minimum wage! I am not a charity and I am not their employer - or the gov't. Nor can I be held responsible for all the services in this country where people aren't paid properly. I didn't create that low pay service system, and indeed, I'd toss it out in a heartbeat via higher taxes to create living wage jobs with benefits - IF I could!   But I can't so all I can offer is my heartfelt sympathy, and perhaps the hope that one day the majority of our countrymen will wake up and see what their cheapskate tax preferences have caused. (And their cheapskate voting preferences have engendered!)

In the meantime, if service staff feel they aren't being paid what they believe they should be, they need to take it up with boss man, OR find another job.  As for tips for takeout, already ordered food - or pick up (like the pie we collected for Thanksgiving from Village Inn) forget it. No tips for those! Pizza delivery - well I always give a buck but no more, because I note delivery charges are already there. It's not my fault if the business doesn't give it to the actual delivery person. Same with Chinese food delivery.

Instead of being subservient slaves to tipping culture and its false etiquette we need to impose rational standards and as long as companies underpay workers, that will always be a subjective decision - evaluated at the time by the tipster. If those like the nabobs at AARP don't like it, they can shove it.

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