The concept of tipping was intended to reward excellent service. Today though, it has become a broken part of the hospitality industry. Unfortunately, though, those people in service jobs are stuck in the middle of the debate. Today, businesses such as restaurants, bars, gig economy platforms, salons, spas etc. all exploit simple economic reality to offer artificially cheap service to customers. This puts the consumer in a difficult position of being forced to cover the wages for those employees, without the luxury of a choice. Regardless though, supporting these folks is something that we all are obligated to do.
It isn't their fault that the industry is broken and employers feel squeezed and have priced their services lower than it would take to run things properly if they paid their workers. That's why I am increasingly against the concept of mandatory tipping ... but absolutely in support of the practice since we depend on these folks now ... even more than ever. While certain industries have been affected more than others, the folks that deliver our groceries, food, packages, and even take us to the hospital if we are too ill to drive ourselves are essential to our survival.
Cruise Industry Tipping
While I love the cruise industry, they are one of the most egregious offenders here and tipping etiquette is the fodder for many animated discussions on message boards. Simply put, the crew on your favorite cruise ships get paid almost nothing and your "gratuity" is actually their wage. This means that not only do you have "suggested gratuities" that are essentially required to be paid as part of your cruise fare, but now you are expected to ultimately pay on top of that fee to reward your favorite members of the staff. It works, but it is confusing for Americans and downright offensive for most Europeans to whom the concept of tipping is well, foreign. As a result, you'll often see folks lining up on the last day of the voyage to remove the money from their accounts.
In fact, I used to do this too, so I could redistribute it to my favorite staff members until I realized that it isn't actually a "tip" it is in fact the wages that those folks depend on. Others are just cheap and don't want to pay anything, while many Europeans simply don't understand the concept.
What I do today is plan to give money early on in the cruise to select workers such as my cabin steward when sharing our service requests, and likewise, if I find a waiter that I like - I always request the same person throughout the cruise. While my "suggested gratuities" are still spread amongst the crew as a whole, this way I can make sure that we develop a good relations with specific members and the service is rewarded through tips at the end of the cruise.
Tipping at Restaurants and Bars
In California, things are a bit more confusing. Unlike most other states, our restaurant staff are paid a minimum of $9 per hour vs the federal minimum wage for tipped workers of $2.13. On top of this, patrons are expected to give between 15% (minimum / basic service) or 20%+ for excellent service. These numbers were originally derived based on the concept of staff being paid almost nothing - typically in the range of just a few dollars per hour. For instance, in states like Arkansas, the minimum wage for tipped workers is only $2.63, while Arizona is $5.05 and Colorado is $5.21!
While there are some that say because California tipped workers get paid significantly more than those in other states, that we shouldn't tip. Others say that we should reduce the amount that we do tip. In fact, I sorta agree with this since the restaurant industry is abusing staff by not paying a fair wage. Tips and gratuity should be exactly that - a way to show your gratitude for a job well done.
However, these days that is an argument for another time and one we are unlikely to resolve satisfactorily. Right now with the way COVID-19 has quite literally wiped the industry off the map, it is important that we take remember to tip people properly and if you have the means even more than normal. Some organizations are doing this by offering tipping calculators like the one at CulinarySchools.org.
Tipping Gig Workers - Taxi, Lyft, Instacart, Drizly, and "The Pizza Guy"
This is where things become more complex. While we Americans pretty much understand that tipping is expected for restaurants and bars and ultimately all we are asking for with most gig workers is that they do their job. I've engaged you to drive me from point a to point b. There should be ZERO expectation of tip for simply doing your job. The same with goes for the pizza guy. You're already being charged a service charge, and often there's even a delivery fee added to the bill and then if you don't give a few dollars extra it feels awkward and who knows if maybe your house will be marked in the future as a non-tipper.
This is absolutely insane that people are being compelled to work for no money, hoping simply that the generosity of others will be enough to make it worthwhile. The result is that few people feel compelled to tip and businesses such as ride-share exist as a discount option that is ultimately more convenient compared to taxies. However, since it is impossible to make a living, there is extreme turnover with these jobs and that results in lower service quality.
Even here though, I generally tip because I look at what the individual is trying to do - and that's either provide for his family or just make a few extra dollars to pay for a fun trip with his family.
We need to come together and encourage businesses to pay their workers properly. Don't add hidden fees like so many businesses in California have by adding a "Labor Surcharge" to the bill. Just raise the darn prices.
If your burger needs to cost $20 instead of $15 then price it properly, pay your workers properly and offer them benefits such as health insurance and sick leave etc. Then let me go back to feeling generous when I leave money on the table after a great meal. Tipping should be a reward and not an expectation.
What do you guys think?