Tip jars 2 (the glass is always half something)

A few weeks ago I posted Tip jars (and their slogans), with the overall message being that the various signs attached to the ubiquitous tip jar are more than just amusing puns or witty anecdotes – they are designed to change the way we think about tipping more generally.

Another thing is striking about tip jars. As one, over time, goes to a number of bars, coffee shops and cafés one will eventually realise they are never empty.

NEVER will you find a tip jar that has nothing in it.

The amount in the vast array of tip jars may vary – and vary considerably. Each of us might consider them to be half-full or half-empty (depending on your philosophical bent). Those of you who know me personally will know that I consider all glasses half-full, which reflects my constant sunny disposition to all things… but I digress.

However, I put a challenge to anyone to find a tip jar that is completely empty.

But shouldn’t we see the odd empty tip jar from time to time? People working at these places don’t fashion tip jars only to watch the money sit inside it. Presumably they want to take it and spend it on things (and maybe they end up putting some of it in other tip jars, so that the circle of life may continue).

However, they do not take the money, well not all of it anyway. There seems to be some sort of rule in these establishments to leave some of the money in the tip jar at any given time. If for some reason the tip jar finds itself empty I am sure the cash register is pried open to fill the void.


Because it gives the impression that others are tipping. It gives the impression that we’re all doing it and perhaps the fear of being left out will spur on the rest of us to tip also.

This logic does not only apply to tip jars.

Have you ever seen a busker without coins in their guitar case?

Have you ever seen a homeless guy without any money at all on the blanket that lay in front of him (and surely they have the least change to spare)?

These are all subtle messages that those around you are giving money to the cause. The complementary message is that if you want to be part of society, if you want to fit in, you should give too.

The money in the jar reinforces the message from the signs I wrote about in that previous post. The signs say that tipping is something that you should be doing and the money inside the tip jar says that other people in your position agree.

As I have said before I am not against tipping, nor am I against giving money to buskers or the homeless, but I am saying that not all is as it seems on the surface.

Posted in Tip Jars | 6 Comments

Would Australians work harder if they got tips instead of wages?

We’ve all been there. Sitting at a restaurant, waiting.

Waiting …

“Could we get some menus, thanks”, you ask.

“Sure, I’ll be right with you”, is the reply from the waiter.

They are the words you got anyway. But you also got a little something extra with that reply. You had to read between the lines. Maybe it was in the tone, maybe it was in the body language. But something about their reply also said, “Why the fuck couldn’t you eat somewhere else?”

It was subtle, but it was there.

You got your menus. (Eventually.)

You got to order meals. (When your waiter was in the mood.)

And you got your food (after a while).

Technically, you were given everything that could have been expected.

But you also got the impression that you were an imposition, causing the waiter to exert effort and taking up time that they could have been using for other things, such as reading the paper or chatting up the waitress. No need to pay for that feeling of guilt though. It was complimentary, like the bread.


I am certainly not suggesting this happens all the time. Also, I’d hate to try and put a percentage on how often it happens, because its just impossible to tell. But I am saying the percentage is higher than zero and I suspect most of us have experienced it at some point.


But from the waiter’s perspective, why would they try any harder?

Its not like they’re going to get paid any more for providing good service. Their wage is fixed (and for a lot of them its fixed at the minimum).

Its not like they even really want the job (because for most its just a casual job on the way to something better, such as a ‘real’ career). So, you not returning, due to bad service, doesn’t concern them.

And many people are not going to complain to the mananger, because its not as if the waiter has been openly hostile. Everything they have done to make you feel uncomfortable and hesitant to ask for anything from them has all occurred beneath the surface, out of the eyes of management and its even hard to pinpoint yourself. It would be hard for even the waiter to identify because its not deliberate on their part, but a result of just not being bothered. As such, its free from specific identification and criticism.

So there is no real reason for a service-employee to try and ensure any level of service beyond the barest of minimums. Given this incentive structure, we shouldn’t be annoyed when we get bad service. Really, we should be amazed if we receive any level of service, whenever we eat out.

(Of course, one could argue that, even without these lack of incentives, people will still do their job properly because that’s what they are “supposed” to do and they will also take pride in a job well done. But if human beings really operated like that, I suspect communist states would have had a better run and McDonalds wouldn’t have to give police officers discounted food, just so they would patrol the area.)


Some countries think they have this issue sorted, by lowering service-employee fixed wage rates and having the customer make up the wage via tips.

Read any public forum that discusses tipping in the USA and this will be the first thing anyone says. Tips ensure that the service-employees deliver high levels of service, because if they don’t they will not get paid. Further, the argument goes, it gives the service-employee the incentive to put forth really high levels of service with the hope of extra-ordinary tips as a motivator.

But, it seems, that under such conditions tips just become expected.  (After all, tips, in such circumstances, are needed for the service-employee to live). In this situation, customers often tip regardless because they are so petrified of what would happen if they don’t. If a service-employee is going to get a tip anyway, then the situation becomes very much like the one I described in Australia. No incentive and a reasonable chance of the service-employee exhibiting no effort.

So in the end, I’m not sure that lowering Australian service-employees fixed wages and having customers tip on service-quality would have any positive effect on service levels, or if it would even encourage service-employees to pretend they don’t hate you, just because you chose to eat where they work.

Posted in bars/pubs/restaurants, Meta | 12 Comments

Higher price. Higher tip?

Is there a greater imperative to tip the more fancy (and expensive) the restaurant?

People always amaze me when they say something like, “well, I tip at fine dining restaurants but not at regular restaurants.”

If you ask what the difference is, normally the reply is something like, “that’s just how it works”. Some people will say that the wait-staff do a lot more at fine dining restaurants. That’s difficult for me to confirm or deny, because despite my claims that my research funding should be extended to cover fine dining the University thinks otherwise. So I can’t really comment on the quality of service in such places, but I expect that the standard of service is indeed considerably higher.

I’m also confident that prices are higher to match.

Furthermore, I suspect that the wait-staff are either specially trained or are just better than average wait-staff and, as such, are probably paid more as a result. Which, of course, is part of what feeds into those higher prices.

So then, why tip in places that are already charging more?

If tipping was really about some sort of social justice, whereby people tip to balance out inequities in the free-market system, then shouldn’t it work the other way around? In such a case, people would surely tip the minimum wage employee at the local pub who brought you your parma and chips.

On the other hand there’s not really a lot of service in that.

But if tipping was about adequately compensating those who have served you, then the higher prices, and commensurate higher wages, should already have taken care of it, making tipping unnecessary.

That is unless one just believes in tipping. Which is fine. But one obviously doesn’t ‘believe’ in tipping if they only do it at expensive restaurants.

Some people seem to insist on, it seems, tipping (or tipping proportionally more) in more expensive restaurants on the grounds that … well … the restaurant is more expensive.

Is it because that’s what the elite do? Do they throw money around to demonstrate their wealth and show their compassion for the little people at the same time?

Perhaps, for those who do not frequent such places so often, they feel that since they are treading on the turf of the privileged they had better play the game or else they’ll be seen as wannabe’s who somehow escaped great unwashed masses to play rich for an evening?

I’m sure people have their reasons for tipping when the restaurant is considered fine dining, but not anywhere else.

I just have no idea what they are.

Posted in bars/pubs/restaurants, Morality, Status | 7 Comments

Tipping and Stripping

To what extent does a woman’s ovulatory cycle affect the amounts of tips she generates at any given time?

Recent research published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior suggests it could have a staggering influence.

Researchers sought to find out whether oestrus was really “lost” during human evolution (as some often claim) so they examined the ovulatory cycle effects on tip earnings by professional lap-dancers working in gentlemen’s clubs.

Eighteen dancers recorded their tip earnings over a sixty-day period, which included a total of 296 shifts (representing around 5300 lap dances) and the results demonstrated cycle phase and tip earnings were significantly correlated.

On average, participants (who were not using contraceptive pills) earned US$335 per five-hour shift during oestrus, US$260 during luteal phase and US$185 during menstruation.

By contrast, participants using contraceptive pills showed no oestrus earnings peak. That is, they had an extended luteal phase in terms of tip earnings.


Based on these results it would be curious to investigate how these results affect people’s conceptions about tipping being money given for ‘good service’.

Now, of course we are talking about results from a very specific situation, which may not be translatable to our everyday lives. Apart from the obvious distinction, the moneys paid to lap dancers were not ‘tips’ in the commonly understood sense. These tips were, strictly speaking, money for service, but they were not a payment freely given above the contracted price. The tip is the payment.

However, even though the ‘consumers’ had to pay a tip of some kind, the exact amount was at their discretion (much like a standard tip). Thus I suggest that given the customers had some discretion over how much to ‘tip’ enables something to be gleaned from this study, which could be used to better understand tipping in a more general, everyday, sense.


Obviously, these guys did not know what stage of the cycle the lap dancer was in. Yet their behaviour was significantly influenced by something they could never have ‘known’. On some level the way they perceived ‘the service’ was affected, presumably in a positive way since they left significantly higher tips.

From an evolutionary point of view, the lap-dancers in oestrus were technically able to become pregnant and there seems to be something in guys that is able to subconsciously be aware of this.

This type of logic can be easily applied to more everyday situations. I wonder if there are any waitresses or barmaids who had an unexpectedly good night in tips, or if there are any guys out there whom upon reflection pondered why he tipped so much?

I’m sure it could very well have been that, in such situations, stellar service was given or received. But I’m sure it could also have been something much more to do with basic instincts.

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

Which Reservoir Dogs character are you?

Reservoir Dogs is a 1992 film, by Quentin Tarantino, about a group of ruthless criminals who gather at their warehouse hideout after a botched diamond store heist. Two members were missing or dead, and they soon began to realise that there is a police informant among them.

The film begins with the criminals, who do not know each other’s real names, eating at a diner before the heist. The conversation is dominated by whether they should tip the waitress.

The scene is attached here and an abridged version of this classic Tarantino dialogue is repeated below:

Nice Guy Eddie: C’mon, throw in a buck!

Mr. Pink: Uh-uh, I don’t tip.

Nice Guy Eddie: … Let me get this straight: you never ever tip, huh?

Mr. Pink: I don’t tip because society says I have to. Alright, I tip when somebody really deserves a tip. If they put forth an effort, I’ll give them something extra. But I mean, this tipping automatically, that’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned they’re just doing their job.

Mr. Blue: Hey, this girl was nice.

Mr. Pink: Jesus Christ man, these ladies aren’t starving to death. They make minimum wage. You know, I used to work minimum wage and when I did I wasn’t lucky enough to have a job the society deemed tip worthy.

Mr. White: You don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. These people bust their ass. This is a hard job.

Mr. Pink: So is working at McDonald’s, but you don’t see anyone tip them, do you? Why not, they’re serving you food. But no, society says don’t tip these guys over here, but tip these guys over here. It’s bullshit!

Mr. White: Waitressing is the number one occupation for female non-college graduates in this country. It’s the one job basically any woman can get, and make a living on. The reason is because of tips.

Mr. Pink: Fuck all that! I’m very sorry the government taxes their tips, that’s fucked up. That ain’t my fault. It would seem to me that waitresses are one of the many groups the government fucks in the ass on a regular basis. Look, if you show me a piece of paper that says the government shouldn’t do that, I’ll sign it, put it to a vote, I’ll vote for it, but what I won’t do is play ball. And this non-college bullshit you’re givin’ me, I got two words for that: learn to fuckin’ type, ’cause if you’re expecting me to help out with the rent you’re in for a big fuckin’ surprise.


Mr Pink

After all that Mr Pink ends up tipping when the organiser of the group tells him to. So he lost the battle. But who do you think won the argument?

Was it Mr Pink?

Mr Pink is against tipping automatically regardless of the situation of those he is not tipping.

Or was it Mr White?

Mr White

Mr White blindly tips those in certain professions because ‘its the right thing to do’.

In many ways, the broader question is – should we concern ourselves with the situation other people, strangers, find themselves in and them treat them differently on that basis, or not?

Voting is open now.

Posted in Morality | 7 Comments

Tipping, humour and the French

Loves jokes

If I told you a joke would you pay me for it?

According to recent research you might, if I was selling you a coffee at the same time.

The research was carried out by Nicolas Gueguen. He supposed that the mood of customers would have a significant influence on their tips. Based on this, he set out to prove that if customers were given a card with a humorous joke on it, people would tip more, on average, than compared to when they are given a card on which there was no humorous content.

The idea being that the joke would put people in a better mood, thus making them more likely to tip.

So this is what he did. He convinced a bar at a seaside resort in France to get the service-staff to provide the customers with one of two cards, along with the bill, when they ordered an espresso coffee.

(The fact that this study occurred in France makes it somewhat relevant to Australia. People do tip in France, but since there is a legally mandated service fee – 12% at the time of the research – the pressure for people to tip is not as strong as it is in the US.)

One card was simply a promotion for an upcoming event at the venue. On the other card the following was written:

“An Eskimo had been waiting for his girlfriend in front of a movie theater for a long time, and it was getting colder and colder. After a while, shivering with cold and rather infuriated, he opened his coat and drew out a thermometer. He then said loudly, “If she is not here at 15, I’m going!”

I think it is extraordinary just how unfunny that joke is.

Nevertheless, the joke card worked. People who received the card, with what I suppose you could call wit, not only were more likely to tip but also tipped significantly higher amounts than those who had been given the card without the joke.

Gueguen interpreted these findings as the joke “activating a specific process that induces customers to tip more easily”.

I would disagree with Gueguen’s interpretation that a joke could “activate” the act of tipping, or the process that lies behind it. I suggest instead that a mood enhancer, such as a joke, could leverage off and exaggerate the process that is already taking place. Those less likely to tip in a given situation become more so when in a good mood and those already prone to tip will tip more.

But regardless of the interpretation of the findings, we can take two things from this research with relative confidence. Firstly, we are more likely to tip, and tip more, when given a joke by a waiter or waitress; and secondly, the French have a very different sense of humour to Australians.

Posted in bars/pubs/restaurants | 5 Comments

Do we tip to impress others?

Larry David: Hates being out tipped

Tipping a waiter might not impress your friends as much as a new skin-tight lycra suit would impress a peloton of cyclists, but giving money away without any hope of a return does seem to suggest an act of largess that one might hope will score him or her some social status points.

No one would admit to it of course, that defeats the purpose of nonchalantly handing the money over in the first place. But maybe tipping can be seen as an act of ‘conspicuous consumption’ and is the reason we do it. We would notice when somebody else tips, maybe. What do we think when we see it?

We might say “He’s got no chance with that barmaid no matter how much he gives her”. But he tips her just in case and we find amusement at his misdirected funds.

Or do we surreptitiously, perhaps even subconsciously, compete with those around us? Someone leaves the change on that silver plate that so often graces the tops of bars, so we might feel the need to do the same.

Or is it, you know you’re entitled to $7.00 in change after paying for your share of dinner but nobody else is putting their hand in the pile of cash to collect theirs, so you think you had better not either?

Maybe its not that we’re conscious of climbing the social ladder via tipping, but that doesn’t mean we want others to use us as the rung that they climb on. Perhaps some of us tip because we feel we have to, just to keep up?

This all goes unspoken, but its happening. Its happens in Australia and it happens regularly.


Who better than Larry David to over analyse this minute and unspoken aspect of our everyday existence.

David stars in Curb Your Enthusiasm, a sitcom where he portrays a fictionalised version of himself. In the episode titled The Reunion, David feels the pain of being out-tipped by his friend.

Larry: Remember I was sitting here yesterday?

Waiter: Yeah.

Larry: Do you mind telling me how much tip the guy I was with left you?

[After some negotiating]

Waiter: It was a healthy, healthy tip.

Larry: Was mine a healthy tip?

Waiter: Yeah.

Larry: Was his healthier? … Was it over twelve dollars?

Waiter: I can really get in trouble if I talk to you about that.

Larry: Nobody even knows what we’re talking about. Scratch your face with your finger if it was over twelve dollars. Go ahead just scratch it. Was it over twelve dollars?

[Waiter scratches his face]

Larry: Oh, for god’s sake. What an asshole! Let me ask you a question. Was it over fifteen dollars? Just tug on your tie up here. Was it over fifteen?

Waiter: This is making me really uncomfortable.

Larry: Nobody’s even knows what we’re talking about! Was it over fifteen dollars? Tug on your tie.

[Waiter tugs on his tie]

Larry: Oh my fucking… FUCK!


This might be a bit over the top compared to a typical Australian experience. But next time you’re out with people at a restaurant or bar, watch what they do. I’ll bet they’re watching you.

Posted in Status | 6 Comments