They confused him because if tipping is for service and all one is doing is buying a product, then why are tips being asked for (even if it is an inanimate object, shaped like a tip jar, that is doing the asking)?
Seinfeld once concluded that when a customer puts money into a tip jar they are effectively saying, “Thank you for not taking my head and smashing it into the counter”.
If some Americans are confused about the appropriateness of a tip jar, what chance do the rest of us have?
Australians know the tip jar. It sits there on the counter, looking at us. It is often placed next to the cash register, ready to catch the crumbs of a transaction. As it looks at us, the tip jar is often eerily silent and deafeningly loud at the same time.
What to do?
Luckily many tip jars come with instructions.
We might not think of them as instructions as they are presented as witty slogans. They are designed to make us smile and, I suggest, make us feel more inclined to drop in a coin or two.
I call them instructions because they teach us to either feel more comfortable about tipping, in a situation where it doesn’t make intuitive sense to do so, or to make us feel uncomfortable about not tipping.
Below are some of the tip jar slogans one can find in Melbourne, along with what I suggest they really mean.
1. Tipping is not a city in China
(Google Maps agrees, although there is a place called Tiping.)
If its not a city then what is it? Well, given the tip jar is right there and you have coins in your hand, customers are being told, ever so delicately, tipping is something you should be doing.
2. Tippers make better lovers
(I basically threw my wallet into this jar. I was later told it didn’t work.)
The association of something you want and something you can do, such as tip, is a standard strategy in marketing to get people to buy things. (Although this all depends on whether you want to be a good lover.)
3. Instant Karma
(Think religion. Think guilt.)
We’re all familiar with the My Name is Earl view of Karma. Customers are being told tipping is inherently good. Not tipping is inherently bad.
4. The barstaff here are coin-operated
(Reminiscent of the song, ‘Coin Operated Boy’, by the Dresden Dolls, which is often thought of as the dildo song, although I’m it sure has a much deeper meaning.)
This slogan suggests the barstaff actually ‘work for tips’. This implies that if they work for you and you don’t tip, they are working for nothing.
5. Show us your tips
(Even a 1970s British sit-com writer would be proud of this double entendre.)
The use of irreverence allows the tip jar to become much louder and more direct in telling you what it wants.
These slogans are amusing and clever but they serve an additional, less obvious, purpose. I am suggesting to you that they are also, ever so slowly, influencing the way we think and act.