The Tricky Topic of Tipping

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Tipping remains one of our most unpopular, confusing, and troublesome customs. Few would disagree with Miss Manners (a.k.a. Judith Martin), who has to contend with countless confounded readers and considers the tipping system a scourge on politesse. “Tipping used to be considered un-American,� she explains. “But that was back when people valued their dignity even more than a cash handout, if anyone can imagine that. It's a dreadful custom that brings out the worst in everyone — self-importance, miserliness, or social nervousness in customers, and anxiety or blatantly displayed greed in employees, for whom this is, after all, part of their expected wages.�

Nonetheless, tipping — a practice that originated as a display of class superiority to servants in Europe — has survived across the service industries. Americans continue to tip, and tip well. Such are the findings of this month's exclusive American Demographics survey, conducted by Horsham, Pennsylvania-based market research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch.

So who are the best tippers? Not surprisingly, people in metro areas tend to tip better than their rural counterparts; women tip slightly more than men; and older people give larger tips than younger folks. Tipping also seems to bring on a sense of discomfort about the kinds of hierarchies they suggest: Younger people tend to favorably tip older people, and those earning over $100,000 are most likely to give big tips to people they know.

There are fewer regional differences than one might expect, despite preconceptions about the gracious South and the gruff Northeast. Northeasterners offer bigger tips to wait staff and delivery boys, typically between 16 percent and 20 percent. (Other regions are more likely to tip between 11 percent and 15 percent.) But they're cheapest with their cab drivers: 21 percent give a dollar or less, compared with 13 percent nationwide who are similarly stingy. Westerners are most likely to give good tips to people they know (48 percent), and Northeasterners are more responsive to flirtatious staff (15 percent). Southerners and Midwesterners, however, are least likely to reward flirts — 20 percent reward coy smiles with smaller tips.

In fact, flirting on the job is a risky ploy. While wealthier and younger respondents are more likely to give attractive and flirtatious people better tips, it turns out that more than twice as many women as men are turned off by winks from the waiter: 23 percent of women give a smaller tip to a flirtatious service provider, while only 10 percent of men do the same. The less educated are also peevish about over-friendly help: 24 percent of those with less than a high school education leave them a smaller tip, compared with 14 percent of people with at least some college education.

The survey uncovered some other surprising inconsistencies. For example, people who had previously worked for tip wages show little difference in behavior, tipping only slightly more than those who had not. (They are also slightly less susceptible to the flirt tactic.) People with less than a high school education are significantly more likely to give big tips to disabled workers (44 percent vs. 29 percent of those with some college or more), but interestingly, are also more inclined to tip older service workers less. And while blacks are more than four times as likely to say they give good tips to racial minorities (9 percent vs. 2 percent of whites), they are also more likely than whites to say they tip them less.

In addition, older people tend to give female workers less, and men are less generous to other men. Then there are the people who fail to tip at all. The older you get, the less likely you are to tip the bartender and the poorer you are, the more likely you are to forgo tipping.

While tipping is clearly a troublesome practice, it looks like it's here to stay. Kerry Segrave, author of Tipping: An American Social History of Gratuities, explains, “Tipping enables the tip giver to feel power. It reinforces a sense of superiority in a society that says it doesn't believe in classes, and it allows Americans to establish feelings of dominance and superiority over others. It's all about control.� Indeed, it seems Americans like to decide what wages their service providers take home. Fifty-seven percent of respondents are annoyed when a service charge is included in the bill, a practice that prevails in Europe, and 9 percent refuse to pay it. On the other end of the spectrum, a surprising 11 percent persist in leaving a tip above and beyond “service included,� with 16 percent of people aged 18 to 34 offering up extra pennies. The way we tip clearly reflects the kind of people we are — or might like to be.

Tipping Made Easy

The vast majority (74 percent) of Americans tip their waiter or waitress a percentage of the final bill, about 17 percent on average. But 22 percent tip a flat amount instead, $4.67 on average.

PEOPLE WHO TIP

A PERCENTAGE OF THE BILL
PEOPLE WHO TIP

A FLAT AMOUNT
PEOPLE WHO

DON'T TIP
AVG. PERCENT AVG. AMOUNT
Waiter or waitress 74% 17% 22% $4.67 2%
Bartender 20% 16% 48% $1.85* 18%
Barber, hair stylist, or cosmetician 26% 17% 52% $4.21 18%
Cab or limousine driver 31% 14% 43% $5.55 16%
Food delivery person 31% 15% 50% $2.88 12%
Hotel maid 14% 14% 53% $8.08 ** 26%
Skycap or bellhop 11% 13% 71% $3.68 *** 10%
Masseuse 26% 16% 28% $7.50 25%
Usher at theatre, sporting events, etc. 5% 13% 17% $5.26 70%
* for one drink; ** for a two-night stay; *** for two bags
Note: “No Answer/Refused� not shown
Source: Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch

Beauty Gets Bucks

While only 11 percent of all Americans say they give a bigger tip to service providers they find attractive, single people are twice as likely to make a habit of it (16 percent) than their married counterparts (8 percent).

PERCENTAGE OF AMERICANS WHO SAY THEY TIP MORE WHEN THEIR SERVICE PROVIDER IS:

OVERALL MEN WOMEN MARRIED UNMARRIED WHITE BLACK
Older than others who usually do the job 20% 17% 22% 16% 24% 18% 30%
A student 25% 24% 27% 25% 26% 24% 36%
A parent 17% 14% 19% 17% 16% 16% 27%
Attractive 11% 17% 5% 8% 16% 11% 14%
Someone I know 38% 38% 38% 34% 42% 39% 29%
A female 6% 9% 3% 4% 9% 6% 8%
A male 3% 3% 3% 3% 4% 3% 6%
Disabled 33% 34% 32% 33% 34% 32% 47%
A racial minority 3% 3% 3% 2% 4% 2% 9%
Flirtatious 11% 17% 5% 7% 15% 11% 9%
Source: Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch
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