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Correcting Your Behavior Since 2017

Tipping Point

There has been a long-standing tradition—it's a requirement, really—of tipping those who provide certain types of services. One tips one's waiter at a restaurant. One tips one's driver at the end of a taxi ride. One tips hairdressers, bartenders, hotel staff, parking valets, and others who provide similar services. We're expected to know the custom. It's simply what people do.

Incidentally (though this is a rant for another day), if you don't tip properly (a minimum of 15 percent, or, as is the current custom, 20) then you are a pig. The Curmudgeon just thought it might be helpful for you to know that so you can go roll around in some mud somewhere and find your life's true purpose. Or, as an alternative, you could start offering proper gratuities and thereby join civilized society.

But on to the main event: tip jars. They've been on display atop pianos in restaurants and hotel lobbies for ages. Buskers put them out to invite the patronage of passersby. These are traditional and perfectly appropriate places for tip jars. Indeed, those of us in possession of that very human yet all-too-rare quality, awareness of others, are appreciative of the opportunity to honor these artists and support their work.

But more and more, tip jars are appearing in places where the solicitation of a tip is both offensive and ludicrous. Traditionally, casual services or those that involved less work weren't expected to elicit additional monetary expressions of gratitude. But lately, customers are being invited to bestow such rewards on those who heat slices of pizza and toss them onto paper plates, slosh overpriced coffee into paper cups, or ring up sandwiches pulled by customers from self-service cases. Here in New York, we've even seen tip jars on hot dog carts. For any who aren't familiar, these offer a culinary experience in which a mumbling, sour-faced vendor pulls a tube of mystery meat out of hot, dirty water and throws it onto a stale bun. One is hard-pressed to imagine why anything about this procedure would merit a request for a gratuity. Once again the Curmudgeon bears the profound burden of enlightening violators of the socially sensible. So here's this week's newsflash. Not all "services" are tip-worthy. I took an informal survey among some colleagues, asking them to share the most outrageous places they'd ever encountered tip jars. Their answers included a therapist's waiting room, a funeral home, a van offering free flu shots, a wine shop, a hardware store, a dry cleaner, and even an unattended parking garage. It has come to this. What's next? Tip jars at the post office? At grocery store check-outs? At car rental counters? At ATMs?

Adding insult to temerity, tip jars are turning up in establishments at which one can all but count on receiving the very surliest of greetings from employees who hate their jobs, hate their customers, and make no effort to disguise those feelings. "I hate you and I hate this place. Tip me." The whole thing reflects the cultishly pervasive notion these days that everyone is entitled to acknowledgement, whether merited or not, for each and every thing they do, including showing up for work and executing the basic tasks of their jobs. It seems to me that suggesting customers might want to give some bored, bitter, dead-faced teen a bit extra for merely facilitating a brief, impersonal transaction is pretty damned cheeky. Of course, the newer, interactive, iPad-type registers have added yet another layer. The counter worker is now able to swivel the screen around and confront the customer directly, requiring him or her to choose to either tip or decline. The pressure is palpable. I imagine most customers find it's simply less awkward to just tap the confounded 15% button, in spite of the fact that the only service that's been provided has been announcement of their total purchase price. Sometimes, believe it or not, customers are are invited to tip for even less service than that. One of my colleagues recounted the following: "Last night I ordered pizza through the Domino's app and drove to their store to pick it up. When swiping my card, the machine offered to calculate and add a tip for me."

I think perhaps we ought to turn the tables, giving these fine service folks their own opportunity to express their appreciation for our patronage at their establishments by presenting our own tip jars. I'm quite sure they'll want to thank us for coming in. And with apps like PayPal and Venmo, they can simply follow the prompts on our phones and tip us electronically, or decline while we watch and glare at them. I think that will do nicely, don't you? By the way, if you enjoy these weekly installments, there's no need to tip. I'm just doing my job.

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