Thank you and good bye

Hello all.

This will be my last post about tipping.

As a final post I thought I would run through a few of the things that service-employees can do that have been found to be effective in increasing the amount of tips they can earn. Also, if you’re a customer and you notice any of these things being done to you, its quite possible they are being done so you tip more.

So, hopefully this post will be a little bit useful as well as serving as a goodbye.

Service-employees, wanting to earn more tips, can:

  • Smile broadly at customers (it may seem simple and obvious but it has been shown in numerous studies that the bigger the smile, the bigger the tip).
  • Touch the customer, when handing them their bill, on either the hand or the shoulder (which ever seems more seamless).
  • Introduce themselves by their first name. (It is unclear why this would work, but it does. It is possibly about creating relationships and closeness.)
  • Write “Thank you” or draw a smily face on the bill that is given to customer.
  • Expose the customer to credit card insignia just before they are about the pay the bill (for example, the bill could come on a tray on which the credit card insignia is inscribed). (This is another one of those situations where it is not really known why it works, but multiple studies suggest it does. It could have something to do with subtly reminding the customer how much access to funds they have.)
  • Give the customer a sweet at the same time as the bill.
  • Compliment the customer on their meal selection.
  • Wear a flower in their hair. (This one only seems to work for female service employees. I have no idea why this would increase tip levels. There has only been one study on the effect of this and it was conducted over 25 years ago, but the results seemed clear enough.)

These studies were all conducted in either the USA or France, so it is not guaranteed that they will work in Australia, but it might be worth a try.

Also, there is likely to be an upper limit to the amount to which tipping can be increased, so doing all of them isn’t going to result in you being able to retire at the age of 35. However, don’t be surprised if doing some of these things increases your overall income a little bit.

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So that’s it from me. Thank you to everyone who has read, commented on, distributed or even thought about this blog. It has received more attention than a blog about tipping ever really deserved.

As for the tipping research from this point, it continues, but in other forms. Suffice to say, if you see someone in a Melbourne bar with a notepad drinking soda water its most likely me. Then its off the USA later this year to carry things on a little further.

Thanks again, and all the best.

John

Posted in bars/pubs/restaurants, Meta | 6 Comments

Tipping, blondes and breast size

That's right. That's Mr Bean's face. What of it?

I was speaking to someone a few weeks ago that gave me, what is possibly, the most honest and succinct appraisal of tipping I have heard so far. Her pseudonym is Geraldine and she said:

“Tipping is bullshit! All the tips go to the blonde girls with the big tits and the rest of us get screwed.”

Geraldine works in café, so has the experience to make this claim. Geraldine has also pointed out the (large breasted) elephant in the room, which is that the way people act toward others depends, in part, on how attractive they find them.

Surely this has an impact on how tipping is practised and how appropriate it is in terms of forming the basis of somebody’s income.

Most of us tip-toe around this issue, pretending it is not important, that we are all beyond such superficialities. Not Geraldine. She knows such things matter to people.

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Afterwards I was wondering if there had been any research done on this.

There is so much obscure and (borderline) pointless research out there that I thought surely someone has produced something relating tip levels and attractiveness, or maybe even tip-levels and breast size.

On the other hand, how is a researcher going to collect this data without offending every service-employee they speak to?

Turns out, such research does exist and was recently published in a journal called The Archives of Sexual Behavior. (Don’t ask me how I came across it.)

The results basically confirm what Geraldine already knew. The results include:

  • Average tips increase with breast size and having blonde hair.
  • Average tips decrease with body size.
  • Average tips increase with waitress age up to early 30’s.
  • Average tips decrease with waitress age after early 30’s.

The risk of offending service-employees was reduced by collecting data via an online survey, whereby respondents reported their own physical characteristics, self-perceived attractiveness and average tips.

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Its important to note that these results are based on average tip levels. The data collected does not distinguish tips from men and women, thus differences between men and women tippers can only be assumed. But we’re probably all assuming the same thing…

So, it seems, Geraldine knew what many of us were too afraid to talk about.

Posted in bars/pubs/restaurants, Meta, Morality | 3 Comments

If Australia had a ‘tipping culture’, would it be a better place?

Australians, collectively at least, have a fair amount of control over the society they want to live in. We can’t control everything – technological limitations, international politics and economic realities, among other factors, limit the type of society we can create. Nevertheless there is much of our society we can determine, if the will is there.

Whether or not we have a culture of tipping for service is surely one of those things.

Australians, more or less, have opted against it, preferring instead higher wages for service-employees. There are many reasons for this. One being that tipping is seen as ‘American’, thus not having a tipping culture is part of our identity as ‘Australians’.

But that aside, what would be the outcome if Australians did decide to adopt a tipping culture? In other words, how would aggregate social welfare change if Australians customarily tipped for service – in much the same fashion as in the US?

On the plus side…

  • Cheaper restaurant prices.
  • Better service?
  • Lower unemployment and possibly more restaurants to choose from (due to lower labour costs)
  • Increased opportunities for (good) service employees to earn higher income through tips.
  • Freedom to pay according to our perceived value of service.
  • Possibly a range of new professions would develop (like bathroom attendants), since they could rely on tips as income. (Although maybe that’s not a good thing.)

On the other hand …

  • Loss of income stability for service-employees.
  • Increased gap between high- and low-income earners?
  • An additional social expectation of tipping and the pressure that brings to behave ‘correctly’ even though the rules are unclear.
  • Overall loss of certainty when buying products with any sort of service attached (“Do I tip here, or not?”).
  • We would have to constantly assess those we deal with and publically announce our evaluations in the form for tips.

Something that cannot really be listed, as either a ‘pro’ or ‘con’, is how tipping changes the dynamics between the customer and service-employee. Under a ‘tipping system’ the service-employee is accountable to the customer, whereas under a ‘non tipping-system’ the service-employee is accountable to their employer. This shift in accountability may have all sorts of consequences that are hard to categorise as positive or negative.

The choice is ours and we are making it everyday. Even by not making a decision and maintaining the status quo we are still making a decision, which in this case is to have a non-tipping culture.

Either way, we should be conscious of the decision we make.

Posted in bars/pubs/restaurants, Identity, Meta, Morality | 2 Comments

What makes service ‘good’?

These guys probably didn't leave a tip

 

“I don’t tip … unless the service was exceptional, then I might.”

This is a very Australian sentence.

And on the surface this comment makes sense. Tipping is not a standard part of Australian custom. Some people do it, that’s fine. Some people don’t, that’s also fine. This sentence also suggests a link between effort and reward – an ideology we’ve been brought up with. Most people would probably not have a problem with the idea of tipping someone who has done a good job, even if they don’t tip themselves. So this type of comment is never really going to cause any issues.

But what is it that makes service good? What are the boxes that a service-employee has to tick so that they might get tipped?

The answer probably depends on the specific service, so for this discussion I’ll stick to restaurants.

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Timeliness is probably important. Nobody likes waiting around for food. In some cases it is the efforts of a good waiter that ensures prompt meals, but a long wait may not be the fault of a waiter. The kitchen staff, for whatever reason, may have taken their sweet time. Also, when you’re hungry time moves very slowly. Does this turn otherwise good service into bad service?

Friendliness is surely important. But friendliness is very subjective. One person’s idea of friendliness is another person’s idea of being nosy or overbearing. Anyway, how much should someone’s tip be tied to how much they laugh at customer’s jokes?

Being knowledgeable about the menu and being in a position to offer suggestions would probably help on the service-level scale. But taste is a very personal thing. Should the waiter be held accountable to their suggestions?

These are just a few examples, there are other factors that could be considered here.

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Good service is very hard to define, but we all have a sense of what it is when we experience it. But because its so personal and subjective, saying something like, ‘I tip for good service’, enables us to appear generous without actually being generous.

“Well, I would’ve tipped them – the food was okay, it didn’t take too long, but the waiter could have been a bit nicer” (whatever that means).

So, in some ways, saying that we tip for good service doesn’t mean anything, because each of us sets the bar of what good service is. Also, since each of us are the judge, if we don’t feel like tipping then its easy enough to say the service just wasn’t deserving of a tip.

But saying we tip for good service does allow us to keep our options open, do whatever we want and appear generous and considerate all at the same time.

Posted in bars/pubs/restaurants, Identity, Morality | 4 Comments

120 years from now…

This picture is the best I could do. You try finding a picture that represents the world 120 years from now. Its really hard.

In 1891, two philosophers from the United States wondered about the ethics of tipping.

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At that time, US tipping customs were not like they are today. The American public was familiar with tipping, but it was only practised by some people. Tipping was by no means ‘customary’. Many Americans at the time viewed tipping as a European thing, a hangover from the feudal system and its class rigidities. As such, it was something strongly resisted by many Americans, who viewed themselves as belonging to an ‘egalitarian’ society.

Tipping customs in 1891 USA were very similar to 2011 Australia.

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These two philosophers both agreed that tipping was unethical and ‘un-American’. One said that tipping is so repugnant that both governments and individuals should work actively to stamp out the practice, even though it is only a small part of American society and will probably remain as such. The other said that while it was indeed an evil, it is such an insignificant part of American society that it is not worth worrying about. Either way, the basic attitude of both philosophers was that because it was such an iconic European custom it will never catch on in the US in any serious way.

120 years later, in 2011, tens of billions of dollars are paid in tips every year in the US, which is relied upon by millions of people for their survival.

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Given such an enormous shift in the US and the similarities between 1891 America and 2011 Australia, in terms of tipping customs, I wonder what Australia will look like in 120 years from now? For that matter, what will Australia look like in 50 years?

It seems Australians are more likely to tip than they were a few decades ago. Will this trend continue? Will we eventually forget that tipping is ‘an American’ custom just like the Americans forgot it was once a ‘European’ one?

Public policy, with respect to wages and working conditions, will play a big role in the answers to these questions. The more the labour-market becomes deregulated, the wider the gap between high and low incomes and the more service staff will pressure people for tips. On the other hand, the more minimum wages and conditions are protected, the less likely it is customers will feel any pressure to tip, since the livelihood of service-employees has already been secured.

Things could just stay as they are. But the labour-market is changing, the economy is changing, almost everything is in a constant state of change. It is hard to imagine Australian tipping customs will remain the same.

My prediction: The labour-market will become increasingly deregulated and the minimum wage will fall relative to the average. Minimum-wage employees will see an increasingly wealthy society and will want a piece of it for themselves. Those in the service industry will look to their customers for tips because appealing to their employer for a wage rise is not an option. By ‘look to their customers’ I mean service-employees will use a range of strategies to extract tips and such strategies will work. Increases in tip levels will place downward pressure on the minimum wage (in real terms), which will in turn incite service-employees to seek higher tips, and the cycle will continue.

In sum, I am predicting tipping will become an Australian custom. I’m not saying this is any better or worse than the situation we have today, just different.

Those two philosophers thought American tipping customs (or, rather, lack thereof) wouldn’t change because they assumed things would just stay the same. Its impossible to tell, with any certainty, what Australian tipping customs will be in 120, or 50, years, but I doubt they will look the same as they do today.

Of course, I won’t be here in 120 years. I might not even be here in 50 years to see if I’m right, so I am keen to hear alternative scenarios of Australia’s future.

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Is a tip just a bribe?

If a rose by any other name would smell as sweet then surely a bribe by any other name would be as dodgy.

Australians like to think of themselves as being honest and reliable in their dealings with each other. (To be fair, this is likely to be the case in most places.)

Underlying notions of ourselves is the idea that ‘Australian culture’ is itself based on fundamental principles, such as fairness and the rule of law, which not only reflect how we think of ourselves, but also protect us from the unscrupulous few that seek to take advantage when the opportunity arises.

But are there occasions when we are just as dishonest as those we assert to despise?

Bribery is generally thought of as immoral and inconsistent with our ideas of who we are. Not only does it give unfair advantages to those with means instead of merit, it also disadvantages those who are deserving. As such, bribery is something that public and private institutions have worked hard at removing from society.

Yet tipping exists and it escapes the moral condemnation that bribery attracts. But is tipping really that different from bribery? They both involve under-the-table cash for something extra. The main difference appears to be that bribes are paid at the beginning of a dodgy deal, whereas as tips are paid at the end.

While this distinction may hold true today, this has not always been the case. In 18th century England, most historians (that is, people who’ve looked into the history of tipping) argue that people during this period tipped before any service or even as they arrived at the venue.

Apparently people would attach a note to some coins with the phrase, ‘to insure promptitude’ and give it to a staff member. Alternatively, some establishments even had a box on the counter, which had the same phrase on it, that people would contribute to if they wanted service in a timely manner.

This phrase, ‘to insure promptitude’, is where many suggest the word tip came from (i.e. ‘tip’ is an acronym). I would disagree with this phrase being the origin of the word tip for a few reasons. One of which is that origin stories that are so clean-cut are often made up*. However, it does appear (after looking at historical records) that people did tip before service – i.e. so that they actually got service, even if it meant the guy next to them was ignored as a result. Only some time later did it become customary to tip after service.

Tipping looks a lot more like bribery now, doesn’t it?

Of course, even if tipping is akin to bribery, its not the type of bribery we usually think about when the word bribe is used, like when local councils approve development applications to those who have made considerable ‘donations’ or when police officers ‘look the other way’ so they can line their pockets. When it comes to tipping, all we are talking about is getting faster and/or better service. But if you’re the one who has been left waiting for your dinner or left standing outside a nightclub because someone else thought to leave a bribe … I mean, a tip, then I expect the similarities between tips and bribes will become much more apparent.

So even if tipping doesn’t threaten to undermine the credibility of important social and political institutions, it doesn’t mean that the distinction between bribery and tipping is clear. It can seem like a very murky distinction, at times, indeed.

Maybe in the instances that we don’t want to, or can’t, get rid of bribery we call it by another name, such as tipping, so our collective conscience is clear and our identity of being ‘fair’ Australians remains in tact?

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*Also, the grammar-Nazis among you would have noticed that ‘insure’, in this instance, is technically incorrect and should read ‘ensure’. So, if this phrase was the beginning of it all, it either means nobody noticed this mistake for over 200 years or the phrase was made up after-the-fact in order to create an origin story.

Posted in Identity, Morality | 5 Comments

Should stupid people tip those who help them?

I felt like this guy must have when he found this picture of himself on the internet

Happy New Year!

I’m back posting on Sunday evenings after having a few weeks away from blogging. (Its tougher than you think writing 300-500 words a week.) In fact, I have just walked through my front door a few hours ago.

But I was only able to do so with the help of a Locksmith. Nice guy, although I can’t remember his name. I’ll ruin the ending by asking now whether we should be tipping our Emergency Locksmiths, who really do perform a valuable service.

But the bulk of this post will be focussed on how it is I ended up needing a Locksmith in the first place, after which I intend to renew my membership with the Society for Australian Stupid People of Australia.

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This afternoon I arrived home after a few weeks interstate. All in all, it was a good break. Caught up with friends, watched pay-TV at someone else’s house and collected my annual $300 in cash from Santa (read, my parents. Bless ’em.) But still, like many of us returning home from a holiday, I was tired.  I was also somewhat miffed that my key was unable to unlock the dead-bolt lock.

The key itself must have been fine as it worked on the other lock on the front door. But this dead-bolt was always tricky and it appeared to have finally given up.

Dammit.

Text messages confirmed the house-mates weren’t coming home for days, so my only chance was an Emergency Locksmith.

Clive (let’s just call him that) was great. He was pleasant over the phone and arrived within 15 minutes of me calling. Upon arrival he introduced himself and set about trying to solve the problem.

At first he said it looked like some kids had jammed something into the lock. Apparently that happens a lot during the new year period. (It was probably unfair of him to blame rowdy teenagers, as he could never really know the ages of the perpetrators. However, its hard to see senior citizens jamming up front door locks for fun.)

But the solution (which seemed to involve some sort of flushing out of the lock) didn’t work. Clive started to realise his initial diagnosis was the wrong one.

Clive then started to look at the key, then the lock, then the key again. Clive was musing and a moment later he asked, ‘Are you sure this is the right key?’

Of course it was the right key. It worked on the other lock. I only have a few keys and if this isn’t the key to the house then I don’t even know why I have it. ‘Oh, that’s the key to my office’, I realised, followed by an incredible sinking feeling similar to when you ask a woman if she’s pregnant when she isn’t.

When I put the other key in the lock only to have it open more smoothly than it had ever opened before, my first words were, ‘Well, how much do I owe you then?’

Clive would have been justified if he were rolling around on the ground with laughter at that point, but he said it happens all the time. (I expect he was just trying to make me feel better. It didn’t work, but I appreciated his efforts all the same.)

The call-out fee was $154. I know this sounds too perfect but I had exactly $154 in cash left over from Santa. But because I was paying cash it was only $140. Score!!!

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I suppose, in a sense, Clive didn’t have to do much. But that was my fault, not his. His Sunday was spent fixing people’s locks when they’re stuck outside their homes, or occasionally telling some muppet to try another key. Either way, his Sunday was sacrificed to help others.

On the other hand, he did take home $140 for less than 30 minutes work.

I didn’t tip him. To be honest it just didn’t occur to me to think about whether I should have. I don’t know what I would have done if I did think about it.

Does Clive deserve a tip for his efforts?

Posted in Meta, Morality | 6 Comments