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The uncomfortable truth about tipping, explained with stick figures

It's about time we got to the bottom of this.

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.

Pop Culture

Here’s a paycheck for a McDonald’s worker. And here's my jaw dropping to the floor.

So we've all heard the numbers, but what does that mean in reality? Here's one year's wages — yes, *full-time* wages. Woo.

Making a little over 10,000 for a yearly salary.


I've written tons of things about minimum wage, backed up by fact-checkers and economists and scholarly studies. All of them point to raising the minimum wage as a solution to lifting people out of poverty and getting folks off of public assistance. It's slowly happening, and there's much more to be done.

But when it comes right down to it, where the rubber meets the road is what it means for everyday workers who have to live with those wages. I honestly don't know how they do it.


Ask yourself: Could I live on this small of a full-time paycheck? I know what my answer is.

(And note that the minimum wage in many parts of the county is STILL $7.25, so it would be even less than this).

paychecks, McDonalds, corporate power, broken system

One year of work at McDonalds grossed this worker $13,811.18.

assets.rebelmouse.io

This story was written by Brandon Weber and was originally appeared on 02.26.15

Bill Gates in conversation with The Times of India

Bill Gates sure is strict on how his children use the very technology he helped bring to the masses.

In a recent interview with the Mirror, the tech mogul said his children were not allowed to own their own cellphone until the age of 14. "We often set a time after which there is no screen time, and in their case that helps them get to sleep at a reasonable hour," he said. Gates added that the children are not allowed to have cellphones at the table, but are allowed to use them for homework or studying.


The Gates children, now 20, 17 and 14, are all above the minimum age requirement to own a phone, but they are still banned from having any Apple products in the house—thanks to Gates' longtime rivalry with Apple founder Steve Jobs.

smartphones, families, responsible parenting, social media

Bill Gates tasting recycled water.

Image from media.giphy.com.

While the parenting choice may seem harsh, the Gates may be onto something with delaying childhood smartphone ownership. According to the 2016 "Kids & Tech: The Evolution of Today's Digital Natives"report, the average age that a child gets their first smartphone is now 10.3 years.

"I think that age is going to trend even younger, because parents are getting tired of handing their smartphones to their kids," Stacy DeBroff, chief executive of Influence Central, told The New York Times.

James P. Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that reviews content and products for families, additionally told the Times that he too has one strict rule for his children when it comes to cellphones: They get one when they start high school and only when they've proven they have restraint. "No two kids are the same, and there's no magic number," he said. "A kid's age is not as important as his or her own responsibility or maturity level."

PBS Parents also provided a list of questions parents should answer before giving their child their first phone. Check out the entire list below:

  • How independent are your kids?
  • Do your children "need" to be in touch for safety reasons—or social ones?
  • How responsible are they?
  • Can they get behind the concept of limits for minutes talked and apps downloaded?
  • Can they be trusted not to text during class, disturb others with their conversations, and to use the text, photo, and video functions responsibly (and not to embarrass or harass others)?
  • Do they really need a smartphone that is also their music device, a portable movie and game player, and portal to the internet?
  • Do they need something that gives their location information to their friends—and maybe some strangers, too—as some of the new apps allow?
  • And do you want to add all the expenses of new data plans? (Try keeping your temper when they announce that their new smartphone got dropped in the toilet...)


This article originally appeared on 05.01.17

Democracy

This Map Reveals The True Value Of $100 In Each State

Your purchasing power can swing by 30% from state to state.

Image by Tax Foundation.

Map represents the value of 100 dollars.


As the cost of living in large cities continues to rise, more and more people are realizing that the value of a dollar in the United States is a very relative concept. For decades, cost of living indices have sought to address and benchmark the inconsistencies in what money will buy, but they are often so specific as to prevent a holistic picture or the ability to "browse" the data based on geographic location.

The Tax Foundation addressed many of these shortcomings using the most recent (2015) Bureau of Economic Analysis data to provide a familiar map of the United States overlaid with the relative value of what $100 is "worth" in each state. Granted, going state-by-state still introduces a fair amount of "smoothing" into the process — $100 will go farther in Los Angeles than in Fresno, for instance — but it does provide insight into where the value lies.


The map may not subvert one's intuitive assumptions, but it nonetheless quantities and presents the cost of living by geography in a brilliantly simple way. For instance, if you're looking for a beach lifestyle but don't want to pay California prices, try Florida, which is about as close to "average" — in terms of purchasing power, anyway — as any state in the Union. If you happen to find yourself in a "Brewster's Millions"-type situation, head to Hawaii, D.C., or New York. You'll burn through your money in no time.

income, money, economics, national average

The Relative Value of $100 in a state.

Image by Tax Foundation.

If you're quite fond of your cash and would prefer to keep it, get to Mississippi, which boasts a 16.1% premium on your cash from the national average.

The Tax Foundation notes that if you're using this map for a practical purpose, bear in mind that incomes also tend to rise in similar fashion, so one could safely assume that wages in these states are roughly inverse to the purchasing power $100 represents.


This article originally appeared on 08.17.17

What dog is best for you?


PawsLikeMe might know you better than you know yourself.

Hello from the other siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide!!! I'm a dog and I love youuuuuuuu!!!

Because PawsLikeMe knows about your dreams.

Your DOG dreams, that is.

How? A dog-human personality quiz!

A sophisticated one, too! From their website:

"The personality assessment is based on 4 core personality traits that influence the human-canine bond; energy, focus, confidence, and independence."

It also takes into account environmental factors and other special circumstances as well.

It's not uncommon for dogs that are adopted to be returned because they just aren't compatible with their owner's life.



PawsLikeMe aims to stop dog-owner mismatch by playing dog matchmaker! Its goal is to help people find the right dog for them.

Need a dog that's friendly with kids but loves learning tricks and is also house-trained? DONE. Have other specific requirements? DONE!

Ya got options.

When you go on the website, you can opt to just answer the four most important questions in a dog owner's life:

1. What's your energy level?

2. What kind of parties do you like?

3. What kind of dog personality do you want?

4. What is your personality like?

After those four questions, you can begin searching for a doggie match.

Or you can opt for the full questionnaire (you should) ... and basically feel very, VERY understood.

I took the full PawsLikeMe quiz, and when I saw the results I was kindof taken aback:


PawsLikeMe GETS ME!

Then I was the whisked away to dogs who are just ready to love me.

Listen. My apartment in NYC doesn't allow dogs. But if it did? I'd be 91% ready to adopt Carli. She's perfect, and I love her. CUE ADELE and her songs of lost opportunities to love!

With all the 80 gajillion personality quizzes out there in the world, this one is hands down THE BEST.

Take it for yourself! You won't regret it.


This article originally appeared on 11.06.15


New baby and a happy dad.


When San Francisco photographer Lisa Robinson was about to have her second child, she was both excited and nervous.

Sure, those are the feelings most moms-to-be experience before giving birth, but Lisa's nerves were tied to something different.

She and her husband already had a 9-year-old son but desperately wanted another baby. They spent years trying to get pregnant again, but after countless failed attempts and two miscarriages, they decided to stop trying.


Of course, that's when Lisa ended up becoming pregnant with her daughter, Anora. Since it was such a miraculous pregnancy, Lisa wanted to do something special to commemorate her daughter's birth.

So she turned to her craft — photography — as a way to both commemorate the special day, and keep herself calm and focused throughout the birthing process.

Normally, Lisa takes portraits and does wedding photography, so she knew the logistics of being her own birth photographer would be a somewhat precarious new adventure — to say the least.

pregnancy, hospital, giving birth, POV

She initially suggested the idea to her husband Alec as a joke.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

"After some thought," she says, "I figured I would try it out and that it could capture some amazing memories for us and our daughter."

In the end, she says, Alec was supportive and thought it would be great if she could pull it off. Her doctors and nurses were all for Lisa taking pictures, too, especially because it really seemed to help her manage the pain and stress.

In the hospital, she realized it was a lot harder to hold her camera steady than she initially thought it would be.

tocodynamometer, labor, selfies

She had labor shakes but would periodically take pictures between contractions.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

"Eventually when it was time to push and I was able to take the photos as I was pushing, I focused on my daughter and my husband and not so much the camera," she says.

"I didn't know if I was in focus or capturing everything but it was amazing to do.”

The shots she ended up getting speak for themselves:

nurse, strangers, medical care,

Warm and encouraging smiles from the nurse.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

experiment, images, capture, document, record

Newborn Anora's first experience with breastfeeding.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

"Everybody was supportive and kind of surprised that I was able to capture things throughout. I even remember laughing along with them at one point as I was pushing," Lisa recalled.

In the end, Lisa was so glad she went through with her experiment. She got incredible pictures — and it actually did make her labor easier.

Would she recommend every mom-to-be document their birth in this way? Absolutely not. What works for one person may not work at all for another.

However, if you do have a hobby that relaxes you, figuring out how to incorporate it into one of the most stressful moments in your life is a pretty good way to keep yourself calm and focused.

Expecting and love the idea of documenting your own birthing process?

Take some advice from Lisa: "Don't put pressure on yourself to get 'the shot'" she says, "and enjoy the moment as much as you can.”

Lisa's mom took this last one.

grandma, hobby, birthing process

Mom and daughter earned the rest.

Photo via Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

This article originally appeared on 06.30.16