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Tipping: Its Definition, Origins, Common Practices and Expectations

Updated on August 15, 2012

Should You Tip?

I've written this to answer the question, "Should you tip at a buffet, fast food restaurant or coffee shop?" asked by bankscottage.

Let me start by saying I do leave tips at sit-down restaurants, but it galls me. I don't believe in the practice. I believe these employees should be paid a fair and adequate wage in the first place, at least minimum wage, more as they gain experience!

But at a buffet? Who would you tip? Run around and find some employee refilling salads? The guy handing out cups for drinks? The manager? Leave money on the table, and who knows who ends up with it? (Perhaps even a dishonest customer?)

I don't think so! It's self-service, folks...and most of the time, you have to bus your own table as well. When I see a jar placed out ASKING for tips, (usually at coffee houses such as "Starbucks"), I call that tacky and in poor taste, and I won't make a deposit.

The History

The concept of tipping goes far back in time. It may even date back to ancient Rome, but was probably more like a bribe in those days. Indeed, if you analyze the practice, it is still a form of bribery. "If you do this, and do it well, I will reward you with extra money."

The origin of the word is an acronym, supposedly meaning, "To Insure Promptness." In its original incarnation, the tip was given prior to the meal (or service), hence the bribery aspect. There can be found a number of discussions in various Internet sources as to whether or not this is the actual meaning of the word.

One source calls it a "backronym," a coined word meaning that the practice existed first, and someone came along later and fitted words to the letters to force in an artificial history and meaning. I rather doubt this, since references to the wording "To Insure Promptness," (or "promptitude," in Shakespeare's day) go back so far in time.

What Are The Reasons For Tipping?

The practice of tipping has become so commonplace that it is expected, and workers are insulted if they do not receive a tip. In fact, it is so 'expected' that service workers can be penalized for failure to report their tips at tax time. The IRS will make an assumption about how much tip money the person should have gotten, and charge them tax accordingly, even if they earned less. (Well, there's the government for you--and we all know what "assume" spells, right?)

The usual reason given for leaving a tip is that the service industry workers, most notably in the food service area, are paid less than minimum wage and must make up the difference in tips. In my opinion, this is just plain wrong. No one should ever earn less than minimum wage, period. The law needs to be changed in this area to disallow that practice.

The secondary reason given is as a reward for good service, with increasing amounts for above average or truly outstanding excellent service. That's fine. But it should be an option of the customer to decide whether that extra bonus has been earned.

I do not believe it is up to the customer to be expected to supplement the employees' salaries by means of "standard" tipping schedules, dictating a certain percentage of the bill.

How Much Should a Tip Be?

The standard is currently at 15%, after tax. Right away, I have a problem with that. Why should the tax come into the equation? Neither the worker or the establisment gets any of the tax money: it goes right to the state coffers to be re-distributed to counties and cities at large.

However, the tax is useful in figuring out how much the tip should be. Where the tax rate is in the 7.5% to 8.5% range, a general easy way to figure the amount is to simply double the tax amount--it gets you into the ballpark of the 15% mark. A 10% tip is easy to figure--simply move the decimal point in the total amount over one space to the left, and you've got it.

Some people sit there with their calculators (mental or actual) and figure the tip to the exact penny. That's not necessary. Just round to the nearest dollar, and you're good.

Have you ever worked in food service and had a problem with the employer's handling of tips?

See results

Who Gets the Tips?

Traditionally, the server in a restaurant gets the tip. But that's not the end of the story. One of my daughters worked in a restaurant during summer break one year, and I then leared that the server is expected (no, made!) to share her tips with the bussers! Here's where your under-reporting issues come in. Who wants to tell the IRS you made xxx dollars in tips, when you don't even get to keep all of it? No one wants to pay taxes on money they didn't get.

When it comes to tips added on to credit card tabs, the employer is supposed to take the tip amount from the till and give it to the server. That doesn't always happen, either. However, by virtue of all those credit receipts, they have an accurate record of what each server earned, and it can be reported to the IRS, leading to the issue mentioned in the last paragraph.

There is the further issue of some establishments collecting all of the tip money, whether cash or credit, and distributing it among the employees at the end of the shift. This scenario has the potential for abuse, favoritism and outright cheating of the employees.

Do you think food service employees should simply be paid at least the standard minimum wage?

See results

"They" Say, If Tipping Were Eliminated, Prices Would Go Up

Well, in a sense, that's true. But, no, it's not really true. When you stop to think about it, if the employee salaries were raised by that 15%, and that same 15% added to the cost of the menu items you've still spent the same amout in the end.

What's the difference whether you pay $7.95 for a lunch platter, and tip the server 15% (about $1.20), so your final cost is $9.15, or whether the menu item is simply priced at $9.15, and you leave no tips? It's a wash.

Eliminating the practice of tipping, and adjusting salaries to compensate would also eliminate much angst over figuring out the tip amount, and hard feelings on the part of servers who thought the customer was being cheap.

It would also eliminate the tax-reporting issues, and it would get rid of the potential for unethical employers to cheat their workers.

When Tipping Should Stay

If someone has really gone above and beyond, anyone should feel free to offer a cash bonus to that employee. But it should not be expected as an obligation falling on the customer.

There are some categories of employees barred from taking tips, and these usually fall under government jobs, as it would be considered a bribe. Hmmm.... didn't I say that at the beginning?

I'm sure my personal opinions are controversial and I may get some flak from folks working in the industry, but let me reiterate that I've stated a plan for the monetary compensation to stay at least the same and possibly go up.

Take the polls and quiz, and have some fun and let me know what you think.

How Do You Feel on the Matter?

Submit a Comment
  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Glimmer Twin Fan, I agree that the practice is out of control. Thanks very much for adding your contribution. I agree...tip jars are just tacky.

  • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

    Claudia Mitchell 

    9 years ago

    Interesting hub! I think that tipping has gotten way out of control. I have even seen a tip jar at a gas station counter. I don't leave money in those.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Mhatter99,

    Thank you. I agree--you have to work very hard at something to make it as complicated as it has become. Let's go back to common sense, (no longer common, I fear), and simplicity.

  • Mhatter99 profile image

    Martin Kloess 

    9 years ago from San Francisco

    Good job. Tipping, as you pointed out, has been made complicated. It use to be: you provide me with good service an I (on my own) reciprocated. This was all service providers.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ josh3418—Thanks so much—I’m delighted you liked the hub so much. I agree—tip on how well you’ve been served…and I’ve run into one or two situations over the course of my life where that amount was zip! Thanks again for the praise!

    @ Rosemay50—Thank you so much—I’m happy you liked the article. The scenario I describe is U.S.A. based. There is no “law” or regulation setting the tip amount: it has just sort of come into being as tradition. It used to be 10%, but inflation has hit that as well, so if you leave a 10% tip, you’ll be seen as cheap.

    I’m not sure at all how they get away with paying less than minimum wages. Legal or not, it just isn’t ethical! Thanks so much for your comment.

  • Rosemay50 profile image

    Rosemary Sadler 

    9 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

    A great thought provoking hub Ms Lizzy

    I am not sure how the system works in the US but if a minimum exsists then everyone no matter what industry should be paid the minimum wage. How can it be legal to pay less than that.

    I don't think in NZ tips have to be reported to be taxed.

    I am quite happy to tip for good service except when there is a 'service charge' added to the bill. This really bugs me.

  • josh3418 profile image

    Joshua Zerbini 

    9 years ago from Pennsylvania


    I loved how you presented this hub and have brought out some very good points! I tip on how I have been served, period. But that is my philosophy. :) Awesome hub Lizzy!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, internpete,

    Ah--I appreciate your contributing another viewpoint. Giving good service just because it's your JOB. Imagine that! Now, if we could combine that idea with proper wages, we'd have something going! I'm glad you liked the hub. Thanks very much for popping in!

  • internpete profile image

    Peter V 

    9 years ago from At the Beach in Florida

    Good hub. I spent about 10 years growing up in Japan, where they don't tip. It really changed things because the servers or waitresses provided good service not because they were trying to get a good tip, but simply because it was their job.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ TToombs8—Thanks so much for your kind praise of the hub. I agree, it needs to be “re-thunk” (to paraphrase Winnie the Pooh), and I believe it must start with laws prohibiting less than minimum wage for any reason in any industry. Thanks for your input.

    @ Leroyworld—You make an excellent point, that keeping track of all that probably does eat into profits. I hadn’t even thought of that aspect. I also agree that the tip jars at fast food joints do create an unrealistic set of expectations. “Starter” jobs they may be, but in the current economy, I’ve noticed a few too many people whose ‘starter years’ are probably half a century behind them, as they scramble to make ends meet and supplement their Social Security checks….that is truly sad.

    Thanks very much for your contribution to the topic.

    @ ignugent17—Thank you very much for stopping by. I appreciate your comment, and I understand what you mean in leaving the tip anyway.

    I'm glad you found the hub useful.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    I am confused also about why they have to be paid less than the minimum wage. But I don't complain in giving a tip. My husband and I always leave the right tip to those people who serves us. Thanks for this informative hub.

  • Leroyworld profile image


    9 years ago from Texas, No place else

    Excellent statement of your views on tipping. I tip when I am waited on mainly because it is so ingrained in the restaurant industry. A Minimum wage might just save the restaurants some money if they don't have to keep track of the tip money. They are paying staff and management to do an activity that is basically overhead. That eats into profit.

    The jars at fast food places make me sad. Those are starter jobs. I am convinced the tip jars are reinforcing some unrealistic expectations in the kids working there.

  • TToombs08 profile image

    Terrye Toombs 

    9 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

    A great and thorough hub on all that is tipping. Great job, Dzy! I agree, the whole tipping thing needs to be rehashed and a new game plan figured out.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, bankscottage!

    Thanks so much for your feedback. I'm glad you liked my answer, opinion though it is. I'm sure anyone might like 'cash under the table,' as it were, but who's to say or prove how much was gained, and whether the server even gives the busser her fair share?

    That really irks me. But then, it also gets my goat that often anymore, the so-called "waiter" does no more than take your order and bring your bill; your meal is delivered by some anonymous other person, and it's hard to find "your" server if you need anything during the meal. To my way of thinking, that "server" has not served at all, and didn't earn a tip.

  • bankscottage profile image

    Mark Shulkosky 

    9 years ago from Pennsylvania

    DyMsLizzy, thanks for answering my question. You answered exactly as I would have. It is unfortunate that some people have to depend on tips to make even the minimum wage. But, lately, it seems like almost everyone is expecting a tip, even those that are making at least minimum wage and/or essentially provide nowhere near the service of a good waiter or waitress. While there are some that are adversely affected by the IRS tip reporting requirements, I suspect that there are at least a few that like the cash transactions when it comes to (under)reporting their income to the IRS.


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