Is Tipping Getting Out of Hand?
Written by: Rita
If you ever want to stir up some controversy, just start a “tipping thread” on any one of the cruise message boards. You are almost guaranteed to have one of the longest, most contentious threads on the board.
But let’s examine this issue in depth and share our feelings on it in a healthy spirit of debate.
I have no problem with tipping service people. While I think tipping has gotten out of hand in our society today, I do realize that there are certain service providers whose income depends on tips simply because custom has always dictated that a good portion of their compensation would come from tips. In other words, if I don’t tip them then they wind up losing money by serving me simply because their employer will not pick up the slack.
My feeling with tipping is that it was always meant to be something additional, and not a part of the service person’s regular compensation. Should not the service person be making a basic wage and the tip be added onto the top, as something extra for going above and beyond in providing service? Shouldn’t the tip represent an acknowledgement that the service provided went beyond what the customer would expect and be designed as an added reward?
I think this has always been the goal of a tip, but in our society its purpose has become corrupted. Today, we have “tipping guidelines” … i.e., what is “expected” to be an appropriate amount to give the service person for any transaction. In the case of our cruises, it’s the $10 or $11 per day that is charged to our onboard accounts, and the 15% added gratuities that are tacked onto our bar tabs. But what happens if we don’t feel we’ve gotten good service? In past years, you just didn’t tip that service person and the matter was solved. Hopefully he learned a hard lesson when he didn’t get a tip out of the transaction, and hopefully that will encourage him to do better the next time. But today, it’s far more convoluted than that. If we have a lousy cabin steward who makes no effort to improve over the course of a week’s cruise, despite “gentle” reminders from the passenger, we now have to go down to the front desk and wait in a long line to get his tip removed from our bills. On some cruise lines, that may actually be impossible to do if they have the tip classified as a non-removable “hotel service charge.” In the case of other cruise lines, yes, we can remove the tips, but then have to put up with the dirty looks we’ll get from other passengers at the purser’s desk, not to mention from the purser’s staff themselves. It seems like it is just a whole lot easier to leave the tip on there, despite being totally dissatisfied with the service.
Then percentages have changed over time as well. True, one could argue that the economy is different today, and of course, the percentages of what would be considered an “appropriate” tip will change. But think about it. In many cases, why should it? If I go into an expensive restaurant and order a meal, today that meal might cost me $50.00, over a $100 for me and my dining companion. In a past era, that same meal would have maybe cost $50 for the both of us. Well, a 15% tip back then would have been about $7.50. Today it will be about $15.00. I think my tip amount has certainly kept pace with inflation. But no. Today we are told that an appropriate tip would be a MINIMUM of 20%, and in many cases as high as 25%. Now the cost of a meal out is gonna cost me over $100, plus $20 to $25 for the tip. For some folks, especially those struggling in this economy today, that often means they can no longer afford to enjoy an occasional meal out. And the worst part of this is that the tip almost doesn’t even seem to be tied to the quality of the service any longer. We find ourselves leaving that big tip even when we are generally unhappy with the level of the service we have received.
I am saddened by the fact that when we take a cruise, we are often made to feel that we are being cheap if we “decline” to tip anything over and above the daily gratuity charged to our accounts. We are told that if you can’t afford to tip, then you shouldn’t be on the boat to begin with. Well, wait a minute. Something’s wrong here. The cruise line is the one telling me that $11 per day is an “appropriate” tip amount to cover the services of my cabin steward, waitstaff and certain behind the scenes people. Now you’re telling me that I should tip even more if the service is “satisfactory.” Wait a minute here. I work hard for a living too. Keep increasing the amount of the tip that I should be “expected” to give, and pretty soon I’m no longer gonna be able to afford to take a cruise. Is that fair? I’m just a working stiff same as these cabin stewards and waiters. My money doesn’t come easy and I don’t even get tips. My employer pays my salary. Shouldn’t the cruise lines be paying more of these peoples’ salaries instead of relying on me to do it? I’ve already paid for my cruise. Now I’ve got to pay their salaries too?
And another thing. The cruise line tells me that $3.50 a day goes to my cabin steward team and $3.50 to my waitstaff team. Well, okay. Now where does the remaining $4.00 a day go? Well, they tell me, that goes to a lot of the “behind the scenes” people you don’t see, but who make your cruise experience special. Really? What? Those people aren’t paid? Shouldn’t it be the cruise line’s responsibility to pay the people who do that “behind the scenes” work? Why should I be getting involved in that?
And that’s another thing about tipping. At one time tipping was confined to certain jobs, purely front-line service workers — waitstaff, housekeepers, and the like. Now it seems like everyone’s got their hand in the “endless” tip jar. Everyone wants a piece of the tip pie … be it on a cruise ship or in our daily lives at home. I go to the Dunkin Donuts and mosey up to the counter to get a cup of coffee. I place my order and the ordertaker fills it. I have not been waited on in the traditional sense. I am standing in a line at a service counter waiting to get my cup of coffee. But yet, there’s a tip jar sitting there in front of me. I’m supposed to tip? For what? The person is filling my order. He’s not giving me that cup of coffee for free. I’m paying him to fill my order. So, why the tip? I don’t understand. If I sit at a table and a waitperson comes up to me and takes my order, and then brings it to me … that’s different. I am being served and if that service is acceptable, I should tip him something. But in the case of the going to a service counter and having the wait person merely fill my order — pour my cup of coffee from the urn and collect my money — then I’m sorry, but I’m not tipping him with anything more than a smile and a thank you — something that I should be getting from him, but often am not.
And how about some of the other people you would never expect to have their hands out for tips …
For example, have you ever cringed when the dining room manager or “matre ‘d” made his rounds of the tables on the last night of your cruise? You haven’t really had many dealings with him on the other six nights, but now on the last one he is coming around, making nice and holding his hand out to accept the tips? Have you ever wondered why you are tipping him … a management level employee? Aren’t tips supposed to go to the service workers?
In the same vein, I like to occasionally engage in “extreme” experiences. Trust me, these experiences are not cheap. I took an aerobatics flight down in Florida on a couple of occasions. We’re talking at a price tag of over $500 bucks here. Imagine my shock when I see a “discrete” plaque posted on the instrument panel in front of me … “tips are never expected, but definitely appreciated.” What? I am gonna tip a “professional” now? You mean to tell me that at a $500 price tag for this experience, the instructor pilot (who, by the way owns the company) is not making a nice take on the deal for his time and expertise? And another time, in Hawaii, I decided to go for a tandem skydive. Again, this experience is not cheap. Something like $250 for the jump; another $150 or so for the video and stills … not to mention the tee-shirts and all that other good stuff. As I am handing over my credit card to the helpful lady at the service window, she “politely” asks what kind of a tip I want added to my total. She tells me that it is “appropriate” to tip my tandem instructor $20, and give the videoflyer another $20. Wait a minute. These people are “professionals,” are they not? Don’t they get well compensated for their time and trouble. If I WANT to tip these people, that should be my choice, shouldn’t it? What’s next? Will I soon be expected to tip my doctor, my dentist and even the pharmacist who fills my prescription?
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying here that I am against tipping. I am just against “forced” tipping, or tipping that I am “expected” to do. I am also against tipping people who are already compensated at a very generous rate of pay based upon their status as a “professional” service provider.
To me, the decision about whether to tip, how much to tip, and whom to tip should be mine. It shouldn’t be something I am “shamed” into by custom.
So, how do you feel about this issue? Have you sometimes tipped because you felt you had to, and not because you felt the tip was earned?
Have you ever tipped someone that you really felt shouldn’t be collecting tips — such as a management or technical employee who is already well-compensated, or at least should be?
Have you ever refused to tip someone and then been made to suffer embarrassment because of it?
Let me know your thoughts on this. I think they could be very enlightening.
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