It’s pretty common for expats in Asia to bitch and complain about silly little things like road safety and breathable air, and while it might be unreasonable to expect people in every country to use turn signals and not burn down the forests, there are some things that Asian countries do get right that my homeland America gets totally wrong. At the top of this list is tipping—or rather the lack of a need to do so.
Having lived in Japan and Thailand for over ten years, tipping is probably the one aspect of American culture that I miss the least. Many of you might think I’m just being a cheap Charlie, or if you haven’t traveled much outside the US, you might not even be able to comprehend the concept of dining out without tipping the waitstaff. But here’s the deal—I don’t mind paying a fair price for food and service when eating out—just factor in the service cost into the price of each dish and everything works out fine.
“But waitresses depend on tips…” you’re objecting “…they barely get $2 per hour from their employer.” Ah-ha! Do you see now how stupid the system in America is? Why is the burden placed on the customer to compensate for waitstaff’s unfairly low wages? I’m sure they would like to know that if they worked for X number of hours they were guaranteed to bring home Y amount of dollars, and not be at the mercy of individual customers’ tipping habits.
Tipping is bad for the customer
A tip is supposed to be an little extra something given to a service provider as a show of gratitude for exceptional service. Tipping should never be mandatory. If the service is bad, why should the customer feel compelled to leave a tip? In the US, we feel that we must tip the waitstaff a minimum of 15% of the bill because they don’t get paid enough directly by their employer to even pay the rent.
The long term answer would be to get rid of these ridiculous laws that make exceptions to minimum wage for tipped workers. The short term answer would be for individual restaurants and restaurant chains to pay their staff a living wage and post this info for their customers to see. Something like “Our food prices are slightly higher than our competitor because we believe in paying our staff a fair salary, so there’s no need to tip your server.”
I bet a restaurant that projected a sense of honesty to it’s customers like that would actually be quite popular, and the staff would probably earn more money.
Tipping is bad for the government
You would think that the government would prefer to have employers pay their employees more because then they could collect income tax more efficiently. Under the current system, service workers have to self-report how much in cash tips they earned to be taxed. Only an idiot would report the full amount to the IRS. If you’re paid in cash, it’s kind of hard to prove that your tips were above the minimum that must be reported. If the employer pays a real wage, on the other hand, then there is a record of actual income.
Tipping is bad for the waitress
The other major reason to do away with tipping is that it is inherently discriminatory. A study by Cornell University found that customers tip more or less depending on the race of the waitstaff. It goes the other way too—waiters admit to not putting in the same amount of effort with customers that belong to racial groups that have a reputation for tipping less.
Not only this, but tipping also encourages sexual harassment in the workplace. Female waitstaff are far less likely to reprimand unwanted advances and inappropriate comments from customers when they are completely dependent on these same customers to leave big tips in order to make ends meat. I’m not just making this up off the top of my head either—readers of the Washington Post recently wrote in to share their experiences with harassment as tipped workers.
The tipping culture in Japan and Thailand makes so much more sense. They pay the worker a standard wage per hour, and while it might not be a huge amount, it’s still enough to live on. In Japan there is basically no tipping at all, while in Thailand the common practice is to just leave whatever coins you got back with your change. A lot of visitors from the US have a hard time leaving their tipping habits at home, but this is one practice that we shouldn’t try to impose on other countries. Teaching drivers how to merge lanes properly…that’s another story.