The Case Against Tipping

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Watch out, servers of New York—Foster Kamer will not tip you. Or if he does, he won't be happy. Tipping has become so commonplace as to lose meaning, the Village Voice writer argues in a new feature for the recently launched Gourmet Live application, a custom done more to avoid social shame than to show real appreciation for a server's work. He traces the history of tipping, the problems that tipping brings for both workers and consumers, and what we might do as a society to end our addiction to handing out extra dollars for show:

To understand how tipping got here, a little bit of history might be on the menu. The etymology of tipping is just as widely misunderstood as the practice itself. It's commonly accepted that the origin of "tipping" or "tip" comes from the British (who eschew tipping more than we do) in the early 19th century, who used to hang signs in pubs with the word "TIP" as an acronym of "To Insure Promptitude," when in fact, it actually first appeared as a verb in George Farquhar's 1707 The Beaux' Stratagem after being used in criminal circles as a word meant to imply the unnecessary and gratuitous gifting of something somewhat taboo, like a joke, or a sure bet, or illicit money exchanges. That feeling of being robbed by having to tip for bad service? Now you know: the word tipping came from criminals. ...

So, now that you know that tipping is racist, enforces anything but fairness and a meritocracy, preys on your guiltiest impulses, started as a criminal practice, continues as a criminal practice, and exploits people on every side of it, what's to be done? Can anything be done?

Surely it can. The majority of industrialized nations make a service charge obligatory in restaurants, with an option to tip after it. That'd be a start.

Read the full story at the new Gourmet Live.

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John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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