On Culture: Tipping in America

In the novel I am reading, Americanah, the act of tipping a waiter or waitress is mentioned as an aspect of American culture unfamiliar to the Nigerian protagonist. The act of tipping, giving a server additional payment for their service, is a staple of multiple industries and professions. Tipping at its inception was a way for a customer to acknowledge their server’s hard work, but has unfortunately become the primary source of income for waiters/waitresses, hotel bellmen, bartenders, and valets.

An overwhelming majority of waiters and waitresses in restaurants are paid under the minimum wage by their employers, and make up the rest in tips from customers. In fact, over 80% of a restaurant server’s income comes in the form of tips. The main positive to this dilemma is that tipping is a form of quality assurance; waiters and waitresses feel compelled to perform their job well in order to receive tips. However, the negative sides to this situation far outweigh the positives.

First, companies that hire service workers, like restaurants, taxi cab services, and bars, are able to legally get away with underpaying their employees. Although some waiters may make more annually than a person making minimum wage, they are not guaranteed the same financial security. Second, customers are being ripped off in a sense that they carry the burden of paying a server’s salary as opposed to their employer. Tipping is unjust to both the server and the customer. In fact, the tipping triangle between an employer, a server, and a customer only benefits the employer. Finally, because a large number of service industry jobs with low pay are filled by low-income individuals and immigrants who recently came to America, the cultural “norm” of tipping is a form of oppression to these groups of people. So next time you decide to tip less than fifteen percent, or not at all, consider the impact you just made on another’s livelihood.