This post was originally published on Wait But Why.

Tipping is not about generosity.

Tipping isn’t about gratitude for good service. And tipping certainly isn’t about doing what’s right and fair for your fellow man.


Tipping is about making sure you don’t mess up what you’re supposed to do.

In my case, the story goes like this: In college, I was a waiter at a weird restaurant called Fire and Ice. This is the front page of their website (FYI: those lame word labels are on the site, not added by me):

All photos are from the original WaitButWhy post and used with permission.

That sad guy in the back is one of the waiters. He’s sad because he gets no salary and relies on tips like every other waiter, but people undertip him because at this restaurant they get their own food so they think he’s not a real waiter even though he has to bring them all their drinks and side dishes and give them a full tour of the restaurant and tell them how it works like a clown and then bus the table because they have no busboys at the restaurant and just when the last thing he needs is for the managers to be mean and powerful middle-aged women who are mean to him, that’s what also happens.

Bad life experiences aside, the larger point here is that I came out of my time as a waiter as a really good tipper, like all people who have ever worked in a job that involves tipping. And friends of mine would sometimes notice this and say sentences like, “Tim is a really good tipper.”

My ego took a liking to these sentences, and now 10 years later, I’ve positioned myself right in the “good but not ridiculously good tipper” category.

So anytime a tipping situation arises, all I’m thinking is, “What would a good but not ridiculously good tipper do here?”

Sometimes I know exactly what the answer to that question is, and things run smoothly. But other times, I find myself in the dreaded Ambiguous Tipping Situation.

Ambiguous Tipping Situations can lead to a variety of disasters:

1. The Inadvertent Undertip

2. The Inadvertent Overtip

3. The “Shit Am I Supposed To Tip Or Not?” Horror Moment

I don’t want to live this way anymore. So , I decided to do something about it.

I put on my Weird But Earnest Guy Doing a Survey About Something hat and hit the streets, interviewing 123 people working in New York jobs that involve tipping. My interviews included waiters, bartenders, baristas, manicurists, barbers, busboys, bellhops, valets, attendants, cab drivers, restaurant delivery people, and even some people who don’t get tipped but I’m not sure why, like acupuncturists and dental hygienists.

I covered a bunch of different areas in New York, including SoHo, the Lower East Side, Harlem, the Upper East Side, and the Financial District, and I tried to capture a wide range, from the fanciest places to the dive-iest.

About 10% of the interviews ended after seven seconds when people were displeased by my presence and I’d slowly back out of the room, but for the most part, people were happy to talk to me about tipping — how much they received, how often, how it varied among customer demographics, how large a portion of their income tipping made up, etc. And it turns out that service industry workers have a lot to say on the topic.

I supplemented my findings with the help of a bunch of readers who wrote with detailed information about their own experiences and with a large amount of research, especially from the website of Wm. Michael Lynn, a leading tipping expert.

So I know stuff about this now. Here’s what you need to know before you tip someone.

1. The stats.

The most critical step in avoiding Ambiguous Tipping Situations is just knowing what you’re supposed to do. I took all the stats that seem to have a broad consensus on them and put them into this table:

This table nicely fills in key gaps in my previous knowledge. The basic idea with the low/average/high tipping levels used above is that if you’re in the average range, you’re fine and forgotten. If you’re in the low or high range, you’re noticed and remembered. And service workers have memories like elephants.

2. What tipping well (or not well) means for your budget.

Since tipping is such a large part of life, it seems like we should stop to actually understand what being a low, average, or high tipper means for our budget.

Looking at it simply, you can do some quick math and figure out one portion of your budget. For example, maybe you think you have 100 restaurant meals a year at about $25/meal — so according to the above chart, being a low, average, and high restaurant tipper all year will cost you $350 (14% tips), $450 (18% tips), and $550 (22% tips) a year. In this example, it costs a low tipper $100/year to become an average tipper and an average tipper $100/year to become a high tipper.

I got a little more comprehensive and came up with three rough profiles: Low Spender, Mid Spender, and High Spender. These vary both in the frequency of times they go to a restaurant or bar or hotel, etc., and the fanciness of the services they go to — i.e., High Spender goes to fancy restaurants and does so often and Low Spender goes out to eat less often and goes to cheaper places. I did this to cover the extremes and the middle; you’re probably somewhere in between.

3. Other factors that should influence specific tipping decisions.

One thing my interviews made clear is that there’s this whole group of situation-related factors that service industry workers think are super relevant to the amount you should tip — it’s just that customers never got the memo. Most customers have their standard tip amount in mind and don’t really think about it much beyond that.

Here’s what service workers want you to consider when you tip them:

Time matters. Sometimes a bartender cracks open eight bottles of beer, which takes 12 seconds, and sometimes she makes eight multi-ingredient cocktails with olives and a whole umbrella scene on each, which takes four minutes, and those two orders should not be tipped equally, even though they might cost the same amount.

Effort matters. Food delivery guys are undertipped. They’re like a waiter, except your table is on the other side of the city. $2 really isn’t a sufficient tip (and one delivery guy I talked to said 20% of people tip nothing). $3 or $4 is much better. And when it’s storming outside? The delivery guys I talked to all said the tips don’t change in bad weather — that’s not logical. Likewise, while tipping on takeout orders is nice but not necessary, one restaurant manager complained to me about Citibank ordering 35 lunches to go every week, which takes a long time for some waiter to package (with the soup wrapped carefully, coffees rubber-banded, dressings and condiments put in side containers) and never tipping. Effort matters and that deserves a tip.

Their salary matters. It might not make sense that in the U.S. we’ve somewhat arbitrarily deemed certain professions as “tipped professions” whereby the customers are in charge of paying the professional’s salary instead of their employer, but that’s the way it is. And as such, you have some real responsibility when being served by a tipped professional that you don’t have when being served by someone else.

It’s nice to give a coffee barista a tip, but you’re not a horrible person if you don’t because at least they’re getting paid without you. Waiters and bartenders, on the other hand, receive somewhere between $2 and $5/hour (usually closer to $2), and this part of their check usually goes entirely to taxes. Your tips are literally their only income. They also have to “tip out” the other staff, so when you tip a waiter, you’re also tipping the busboy, bartender, and others. For these reasons, it’s never acceptable to tip under 15%, even if you hate the service. The way to handle terrible service is to complain to the manager like you would in a non-tipping situation. You’re not allowed to stiff on the tip and make them work for free.

Service matters. It seems silly to put this in because it seems obvious, and yet, Michael Lynn’s research shows the amount that people tip barely correlates at all to the quality of service they receive. So while stiffing isn’t OK, it’s good to have a range in mind, not a set percentage, since good service should be tipped better than bad service.

I also discovered some other interesting (and weird) findings and facts about tipping.

1. Different demographics absolutely do tip differently

“Do any demographics of people — age, gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, profession — tend to tip differently than others?” ran away with the “Most Uncomfortable Question to Ask or Answer” award during my interviews, but it yielded some pretty interesting info. I only took seriously a viewpoint I heard at least three times, and in this post, I’m only including those viewpoints that were backed up by my online research and Lynn’s statistical studies.

Here’s the overview, which is a visualization of the results of Lynn’s polling of over 1,000 waiters. Below, each category of customer is placed at their average rating over the 1,000+ waiter surveys in the study:

Fascinating and awkward. Throughout my interviews, I heard a lot of opinions reinforcing what’s on that chart and almost none that contradicted it. The easiest one for people to focus on was foreigners being bad tippers because, first, it’s not really a demographic so it’s less awkward, and second, people could blame it on them “not knowing,” if they didn’t want to be mean. Others, though, scoffed at that, saying, “Oh they know…” As far as foreigners go, the French have the worst reputation.

People also consistently said those who act “entitled” or “fussy” or “like the world’s out to get them” are usually terrible tippers.

On the good-tipping side, people who are vacationing or drunk (or both) tip well, as do “regulars” who get to know the staff, and of course, the group of people everyone agrees are the best tippers are those who also work in the service industry (which, frankly, creeped me out by the end — they’re pretty cultish and weird about how they feel about tipping each other well).

2. Here are six proven ways for waiters to increase their tips:

  • Be the opposite gender of your customer
  • Introduce yourself by name
  • Sit at the table or squat next to it when taking the order
  • Touch the customer, in a non-creepy way
  • Give the customer candy when you bring the check

Of course those things work. Humans are simple.

3. A few different people said that when a tip is low, they assume the customer is cheap or hurting for money.

But when it’s high, they assume it’s because they did a great job serving the customer or because they’re likable (not that the customer is generous).

4. When a guy tips an attractive female an exorbitant amount, it doesn’t make her think he’s rich or generous or a big shot — it makes her think he’s trying to impress her.

Very transparent and ineffective, but she’s pleased to have the extra money.

5. Don’t put a zero in the tip box if it’s a situation when you’re not tipping — it apparently comes off as mean and unnecessary.

Just leave it blank and write in the total.

6. According to valets and bellhops, when people hand them a tip, they almost always do the “double fold” where they fold the bills in half twice and hand it to them with the numbers facing down so the amount of the tip is hidden.

However, when someone’s giving a really great tip, they usually hand them the bills unfolded and with the amount showing.

7. Some notes about other tipping professions I didn’t mention above:

  • Apparently no one tips flight attendants, and if you do, you’ll probably receive free drinks thereafter.
  • Golf caddies say that golfers tip better when they play better, but they always tip the best when it’s happening in front of clients.
  • Tattoo artists expect $10-20 on a $100 job and $40-60 on a $400 job, but they get nothing from 30% of people.
  • A massage therapist expects a $15-20 tip and receives one 95% of the time — about half of a massage therapist’s income is tips.
  • A whitewater rafting guide said he always got the best tips after a raft flipped over or something happened where people felt in danger.
  • Strippers not only usually receive no salary, they often receive a negative salary, i.e. they need to pay the club a fee in order to work there.

8. According to Lynn, tips in the U.S. add up to over $40 billion each year.

This is more than double NASA’s budget.

9. The U.S. is the most tip-crazed country in the world, but there’s a wide variety of tipping customs in other countries.

Tipping expert Magnus Thor Torfason’s research shows that 31 service professions involve tipping in the U.S. That number is 27 in Canada, 27 in India, 15 in the Netherlands, 5-10 throughout Scandinavia, 4 in Japan, and 0 in Iceland.

10. The amount of tipping in a country tends to correlate with the amount of corruption in the country.

This is true even after controlling for factors like national GDP and crime levels. The theory is that the same norms that encourage tipping end up leaking over into other forms of exchange. The U.S. doesn’t contribute to this general correlation, with relatively low corruption levels.

11. Celebrities should tip well because the person they tip will tell everyone they know about it forever, and everyone they tell will tell everyone they know about it forever.

For example: A friend of mine served Arnold Schwarzenegger and his family at a fancy lunch place in Santa Monica called Cafe Montana. Since he was the governor, they comped him the meal. And he left a $5 bill as the tip. I’ve told that story to a lot of people.

  • Celebrities known to tip well (these are the names that come up again and again in articles about this): Johnny Depp, Charles Barkley, David Letterman, Bill Murray, Charlie Sheen, Drew Barrymore
  • Celebrities known to tip badly: Tiger Woods, Mariah Carey, LeBron James, Heidi Klum, Bill Cosby, Madonna, Barbara Streisand, Rachael Ray, Sean Penn, Usher

I’ll finish off by saying that digging into this has made it pretty clear that it’s bad to be a bad tipper.

Don’t be a bad tipper.

As far as average versus high, that’s a personal choice and just a matter of where you want to dedicate whatever charity dollars you have to give to the world.

There’s no shame in being an average tipper and saving the generosity for other places, but I’d argue that the $200 or $500 or $1,500 per year it takes (depending on your level of spending) to become a high tipper is a pretty good use of money. Every dollar means a ton in the world of tips.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Upworthy is sharing this letter from Myra Sack on the anniversary of the passing of her daughter Havi Lev Goldstein. Loss affects everyone differently and nothing can prepare us for the loss of a young child. But as this letter beautifully demonstrates, grief is not something to be ignored or denied. We hope the honest words and feelings shared below can help you or someone you know who is processing grief of their own. The original letter begins below:


Dear Beauty,

Time is crawling to January 20th, the one-year anniversary of the day you took your final breath on my chest in our bed. We had a dance party the night before. Your posse came over. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, closest friends, and your loving nanny Tia. We sat in the warm kitchen with music on and passed you from one set of arms to another. Everyone wanted one last dance with you. We didn’t mess around with only slow songs. You danced to Havana and Danza Kuduro, too. Somehow, you mustered the energy to sway and rock with each of us, despite not having had anything to eat or drink for six days. That night, January 19th, we laughed and cried and sang and danced. And we held each other. We let our snot and our tears rest on each other’s shoulders; we didn’t wipe any of them away. We ate ice cream after dinner, as we do every night. And on this night, we rubbed a little bit of fresh mint chocolate chip against your lips. Maybe you’d taste the sweetness.

Reggaeton and country music. Blueberry pancakes and ice cream. Deep, long sobs and outbursts of real, raw laughter. Conversations about what our relationships mean to each other and why we are on this earth.


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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

An assignment on the Trail of Tears has prompted debate about taking historical perspectives.

Helping young people understand the causes and effects of historical events is a formidable task for any educator. History isn't just "what happened and when." There's also a "why," "how" and "who" in every historical happening, and quality history education helps students explore those questions.

Sometimes, however, that exploration can go off the rails.

Most people would agree that understanding different perspectives is an important part of learning history, but there are more and less problematic ways of helping students gain that understanding. We've seen some of the more problematic methods pop up in school assignments before, from asking students to pick cotton like slaves to listing the pros and cons of slavery.

Now an assignment from a school in Georgia is making the rounds, with people calling out issues with the perspective it asked students to take.

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The airplane graveyard that 3 families call home is the subject of a stunning photo series.

From the skies to the ground, these airplanes continue to serve a purpose.

This article originally appeared on 09.18.15


What happens to airplanes after they're no longer fit to roam the skies?


An abandoned 747 rests in a Bangkok lot. Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images.

Decommissioned planes are often stripped and sold for parts, with the remains finding a new home in what is sometimes referred to as an "airplane boneyard" or "graveyard." Around the world, these graveyards exist; they're made up of large, empty lots and tons of scrap metal.

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