Why Is Service So Bad When We Supposedly Tip To Get Good Service?

U.S. tipping culture is insane, it’s gotten out of control and what’s worse is that it’s getting exported to the rest of the world. Workers should be paid by their employer, not by an uncomfortable system where customers are supposed to pay extra – on top of posted charges – paying some amorphous amount meant to supplement an employee’s wages.

Some people believe that the scheme is meant to encourage better service, to align incentives, because apparently companies are bad at managing their workers, creating a customer-focused culture, or providing the incentives needed to deliver a quality experience.

After all, ‘tips’ is sometimes said to mean “to insure prompt service” although there’s little evidence to support this.

And when tipping is introduced to an industry or country where it wasn’t previously common that doesn’t even mean the worker benefits. Tip amounts are just a less pre-determined part of an employee’s pay package, and the company can pay less to attract workers precisely because the customer will pay them more directly.

  • If a worker needs to earn $20 an hour to make the job worthwhile
  • The company can pay $20, or they might pay $10 and customers pay $10
  • Adding in tipping lets the employer pay less while still attracting the employees they need

But shouldn’t we at least get good service for tipping? Shouldn’t we be a high service culture?

And yet cultures where tipping had previously been anathema tend to offer better service (Asia, especially Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia) or at least as mediocre (Europe) as the U.S. Oddly the connection between tipping and service quality is weak at best.

  • people tip because it is expected.
  • sometimes they feel good about doing so, and they may offer a thank you
  • but great service doesn’t mean great tips, since tip amount has more to do with who happens to be the customer than the service performed
  • mediocre service often doesn’t translate into lower tips

Many people are simply formulaic: “double the tax” or “15%” or “20%” regardless. Few people do a thoughtful retrospective analysis of an experience to determine tip amount, and few people being tipped assume that customers are doing so. As a result tipping is ‘something we do’ not actually something ‘tied to service’. We get the worst of both worlds, a dysfunctional pay system that creates awkwardness for customer and employee alike, and a low service culture despite the tipping practice.

When drive through workers complain when they aren’t tipped something has clearly gone wrong. Here are 5 simple rules for tipping that will cover you throughout the world.

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