Should You Tip Workers?


Tipping in the US is a strange concept to many people around the world. The general consensus is you tip restaurant servers 20% of the total of your bill. So a $10 bill becomes $12 after a tip. Some tip less if the service was not ideal or tip more if the service was better than expected. Some people just tip whatever cash they have on hand and don’t worry about percentages. After the pandemic, many are choosing to tip more than 20% as a ‘thank you’ to workers. Brooke Seminazzi, 12, works at the Sno Hut and receives a lot of her income from tips.

“Tipping should be expected [from] everyone who can afford it. Even tipping a quarter can go a long way. It shouldn’t matter how wealthy you are, it should matter how much you buy,” she said.

Since the pandemic, there has also been a change in who receives tips. The standard used to be to tip wait staff, bartenders, take-out drivers, hairdressers, and taxi drivers. Now, almost every business is requesting a tip for their employees. Tipping has grown to boutiques, self-serve restaurants, Amazon drivers, retail stores, and more.

History of Tipping in the U.S.

Most believe tipping originated in Europe, probably in medieval times. Serfs, or laborers who worked under a specific lord, would get extra food when they worked harder. After serfdom was abolished, tipping stayed in practice as a way to reward hard working servants and workers. Wealthy Americans in the mid 1800s visited Europe and brought the tradition home. Tipping workers made the Americans appear extravagant, rich, and cultured in comparison to the others who had not heard of the practice. Tipping quickly spread throughout wealthy Americans.

Some American workers were strongly against tipping. They were insulted, viewing tipping as something between masters and serfs, not between equal people. Despite their protests, it continued. Tipping began to spread right in the middle of the Civil War, around the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. After enslaved Americans were freed, they weren’t left with a lot of choices for work. Most ended up as laborers, field workers, or servants. Some became restaurant workers. The managers and owners learned workers were receiving large amounts of money from tips. They started reducing the workers’ pays to account for the extra pay from tips. Some stopped paying workers entirely, leaving them dependent on tips received from customers.

Tipping became the expectation for restaurants in the early 1900s. By the 1960s, Congress had written pay from tips into worker compensation guidelines, reinforcing tipping culture in the U.S.

Is U.S. Tipping Weird?

In many countries, tipping is not the standard. Some European countries, like France, automatically add a 10% service tax which replaces the American version of a tip. Those who do expect tipping often only want 5-10%. In several Asian countries, like Japan, tipping can even be considered rude. Workers take pride in their work and do not need or want tips as rewards for doing their duties.

The United States acts as the odd one out for tipping. We tip a larger percent of the bill, and we tip for more tasks. We rely on customers to decide the pay for certain workers, like wait staff, rather than the company standardizing it and using tips as a means to reward exceptional work.

Most people in the U.S. agree you should tip servers. The tipping culture is written into federal and state law. Workers who receive tips have a reduced minimum wage. Servers can be paid as little as $2.13 per hour, way less than the $7.25 federal minimum wage. The money they make in tips is added to the $2.13 in hopes to get to at least the minimum wage of $7.25, and if they do not receive enough in tips, the employers have to fill the gap. The Florida minimum wage is $11, but tipped workers’ minimum wage is $8. The expectation is a worker’s tips plus their minimum wage will be enough to live off of. This isn’t always the case. Seminazzi tends to tip more if she knows the servers rely on tips, like at a restaurant with minimum wage.

“For places like Dunkin drive-thrus, I usually tip the change I receive from a purchase, but depending on the service, I might give a dollar. At a dine-in restaurant I tip the recommended percent,” Seminazzi said.

What Should We Do?

Everyone has a different idea for tipping in the United States. Generally, customers tip anywhere from 10-25%, but most choose either 15% or 20%. Some believe tipping should be standard for every customer, where everyone pays 20% when they purchase food from a restaurant. Others believe tips should be based entirely on the service experienced. If you go into a fro-yo store and serve yourself, you tip less, if at all, than you would in a drive-thru. Others tend to vary their tip from day to day, giving more when feeling generous or after a big payday. With so many different methods and forms of tipping, it can be difficult for food service workers. Their main source of income is dependent on the generosity of random strangers. Sam Tanz, 12, works at Subway, and he relies on the tips he receives.

“I get tips, usually around 2-6 physical dollars per shift. I mostly rely on credit tips, as they add around $30 per shift. It definitely is a considerable portion of my pay,” he said.

Tipping workers can be very confusing. It feels compulsory, but it is labelled as voluntary. Different services are worth different percentages, and it is hard to keep track of everything. Some people in the country are advocating for less tipping. They want to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers or include a preset 20% tip for all dine-in and delivery experiences. Relying on tips can be problematic for many workers. They may feel pressured into situations just because they want a good tip.

“I wish we didn’t have to tip and that minimum wage was sufficient enough to actually provide someone with their basic needs,” Tanz said.

Many servers and customers have agreed with Tanz. Tipping can be confusing and difficult for workers and customers alike. Opponents of tipping are making moves to increase workers’ minimum wage and have restaurants support their staff more. They hope that will reduce workers’ reliance on tips. What do you think? Should we continue to tip?