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Writer's block. More on tips. Fern's fickle fandoming. - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Writer's block. More on tips. Fern's fickle fandoming.
Grr. I'm a smidgen blocked on Shifts, by which I mean that I had the window open on my partially written (private post) section of the next part of the interlude, and just kind of stared at it dully for twenty minutes.

I come back to the issue of tips periodically, because I find the concept fundamentally icky, to use the technical philosophy term. Judith Martin (Miss Manners) refers to the older American belief that tips were a servile tradition to be disdained by any self-respecting worker, a position that is apparently still held in New Zealand and Australia (according to the responses on my last post). I do not, to put it mildly, consider the rejection of this belief to be a moral advance.

It's also confusing and mined with possibilities for offense. During a blizzard last year, I stood by a hotel near the subway stop trying to hail a taxi. A young man dressed in a bellhop's outfit took pity on me and suggested that I wait inside while he went and got one for me. Now, that's something that a bellhop would do for a customer (and therefore tippable), but it's also something chivalrous that a gentleman would do for a lady (and for which tipping is therefore insulting). Since I wasn't a hotel customer and had no idea whether he was on duty or coming off duty but still in uniform, I couldn't make the call. Ultimately, I tipped him (since he was in a bellhop's uniform), but I've never shaken the horrible feeling that I badly insulted someone who was being a gentleman by treating him like a member of the servant class who couldn't possibly just have noble intentions.

It makes more sense (and is easier to keep track of) if employers are the ones who pay workers directly, charging customers enough to do so fairly and upfront, without hidden costs like tips attached. The customer, after all, is paying either way; personally, I'd much rather people were direct about charges for services. In no case--ever--would a customer be expected to suddenly make a decision about how much to supplement someone's wages, and issues of chivalry vs. job would be clear.

Here are some more specific thoughts:
  • Minimum wage should be an absolute. Under no circumstance should tipping be assumed to make up the difference. That's the first step to getting rid of the practice, because until it happens, the people least able to afford it would pay the most for the end of tipping.

  • Concurrently, tips should become invisible. Yes, the IRS will howl about not being able to tax them, but taxing them is recognizing them as expected and part of an employee's regular income. It's also, as I understand it from reading a few articles on the subject (the internet way of being an expert, natch), a pain in the backside to keep track of. So take it back to the level of the informal and do not acknowledge the practice in any way.

  • Gratuities for delivery people should be included in the cost for delivery. Double-dipping by charging a delivery fee and expecting the customer to tip the delivery person is lousy. Make sure to point this out in the brochure. Again, don't stop tipping delivery people until and unless this policy is implemented, but sheesh.

  • Don't give in to social pressure to start tipping people who were not traditionally tipped (eg, owners of hair salons). This has gone too far already, and if the person who sets the price hasn't calculated it appropriately, that's not the customer's problem, and unlike the issue with wait staff, I have no sympathy at all for it. They will howl that they can't compete if they price up, but if we all stopped tipping owners, then everyone would be forced to price up and competition wouldn't be an issue. And again, it's not like people aren't paying the higher price anyway once they figure in the tip! If it's honest and you feel the service is worth it, then just for heaven's sake, put it on the bill like a respectable business person rather than asking your customers if they could spare a dime from their boundless generosity. Thankee milady, thankee thankee for noticing a poor tradesman like myself from your lofty station...

    Er. Sorry. Just, shudder. We're supposed to all be treating one another like ladies and gentlemen, not taking turns at who gets to be the lower class and who gets to be the upper class, tossing coins around.

So step one in getting rid of this practice needs to be seeing to it that minimum wage is respected in all cases, while doing a a public relations pitch pointing out that if prices seem to go up, it's not actually costing the customer anymore, as it's simply a case of hidden costs being made explicit.

Step one-A, concurrent, cease any official acknowledgement of the practice, which in practical terms means, "Stop taxing it."

I think I may have a real world project to start working on.

Backing out of the real world, I seem to be a real serial monogamist when it comes to fandoms. I'm totally blocked on my HP stuff because at the moment, my brain is back home in SW. When I first switched back to SW from Tolkien, I stopped writing my Tolkien stories. I'm going to attempt dual loyalty this time, especially since I'm not overflowing with SW fic ideas, but my brain is still in the galaxy far, far away.
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silverhill From: silverhill Date: September 29th, 2004 09:32 am (UTC) (Link)
There are some situations where tipping makes some sense, I think. Anything where the person can do a good job as opposed to just completing a task. So I understand tipping waiters (who can be attentive, refilling water, etc.), while tipping a pizza delivery person doesn't make sense to me. I like how the tipping system can allow you to reward especially good service. (And punish really bad service by not leaving a tip.) But I don't like how you're expected to reward someone just for doing their job.

And the one I've never understood is at airports. If you check your bags outside, you're supposed to tip the people. If you check your bags inside, you don't have to tip. Even though they both do the same exact job with the same amount of work!
lothi From: lothi Date: September 29th, 2004 09:45 am (UTC) (Link)
I used to bus tables, and not only did I not make minimum wage, I had to rely on the generosity of both the customers and the waitresses, who were supposed to split their tips with the busboys who took care of their tables. The result was just barely getting enough money to scrape by, along with arguments among the busboys over which waitresses we wanted to work with. It sucked.

Paying us enough in the first place would have saved the manager a heck of lot of time spent refereeing our quarrels.
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: September 29th, 2004 09:52 am (UTC) (Link)

Another unfair double-bind on employees:

Your post reminded me of something I observed during Worldcon:
Service at dinner was pretty poor, and if the bill for our party (of 8) hadn't automatically included the gratuity, we might've tipped less because of it. But the reason the service was poor was because the restaurant was clearly understaffed. So management saves money by hiring fewer people *and* paying them less, expecting customer tips to compensate for lower wages. And yet tips are diminished because service is poor because the management won't hire enough people. Doesn't that suck?
chienar From: chienar Date: September 29th, 2004 10:39 am (UTC) (Link)
I can see tipping for exemplary service, or someone doing something beyond what is normally required for their job to specificly accomodate you. When, on the odd occasion we do eat out, we often go to buffet style restaurants. There, my general rule is tipping $1 per person at the meal, as a "thank you" (especially at the places where the server refills your drinks). I don't tip for bad service. I tip well for excellent service. I do tip my hairdresser, simply because I have a TON of hair and it takes forever to cut it, and I am extremely fussy about it - my last wash and cut took an hour and fifteen minutes. -BUT- employers should pay their employees well enough, and not expect tips to make up the difference.
mrs_who From: mrs_who Date: September 29th, 2004 12:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Backing out of the real world, I seem to be a real serial monogamist when it comes to fandoms. I'm totally blocked on my HP stuff because at the moment, my brain is back home in SW. When I first switched back to SW from Tolkien, I stopped writing my Tolkien stories. I'm going to attempt dual loyalty this time, especially since I'm not overflowing with SW fic ideas, but my brain is still in the galaxy far, far away.

Oh, dear. I just might hyperventilate if you stop writing Shifts, Fern. (Imagine a wink and a smile here.) Perhaps you could pop OotP in the cd player as you're falling asleep each night and allow Harry & Co to ooze back into your creative consciousness? Can you put one of the movie soundtracks in your car stereo for a few days? Can you just give it a try? Please??? LOL. :-) Maybe get your SW ideas down on paper - make an outline or notes and such so you don't forget them, and that'll allow your brain to come back to the Potterverse? Just a few thoughts.

On tipping - I persist in NOT tipping my very talented and capable hair stylist because she owns the shop (and has for 15 years) and drives a BMW. People do tip her - I've seen them - and they bring her all manner of gifts: wine, flowers, food, tickets to things, and the like. So, obviously, she's getting quite a bit of extra out of her profession, but I just can't see tipping her *after* I pay the $80 for the haircut and color foils. Granted, it takes two hours, but that's still a darn good wage, even after subtracting supplies and overhead.
From: magnolia_mama Date: September 29th, 2004 01:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not defending tipping. I find it an annoying and occasionally aggravating practice myself, though I tend to be a generous tipper in restaurants. Nonetheless, as the daughter of a struggling small-business owner I have to speak up for the other side.

Your reforms, in an ideal world, would be wonderful. Minimum wage should be mandatory. Personally I think the minumum wage should also be increased to match cost-of-living increases, but then I'm a bleeding-heart Democrat. However, in the world of small businesses--and *most* of the places who encourage this sort of "guerilla tipping" are small businesses--it's not that simple.

(God help us all if Target cashiers start putting tip jars by their registers)

It's amazing just how expensive it is to start up a small business (even more so if it's a restaurant) and keep it going for the projected 5-6 years it takes to start turning a profit. Seed money from the Small Business Administration, minority grants, loans and personal savings aren't always enough, which is why so many small businesses fail within a few years. My mother has invested probably $250,000 of her own money in her bookstore and the only reason why it is still open after over 4 years (even though it has yet to turn a profit) is because my grandparents were ridiculously wealthy and left most of their money to Mom when they died. Mom has one employee who she pays very well--about $10 an hour--but she can afford to do so only because he works part-time. If he works 40 hours a week or more, she's legally obligated to provide benefits, so she pays him well to work 35 hours a week and works the remaining hours herself (though in the month since her heart attack we've been skirting the law until I can get settled here and start filling in for Mom. Once I start working there, I will not be paid--see aformentioned comment about wealthy grandparents to explanation as to how this will be possible in the short term).

We're amongst an extremely rare and fortunate minority.

With a restaurant you can't get by on just one part-time employee, and the additional overhead costs are astounding (including, for example, food/entertainment/luxury taxes many states and localities levy beyond typical federal and state income taxes--in Virginia I believe it's 4%). I've seen restaurants fail in less than a month because the start-up and overhead costs spiraled out of control from Day One. Most small business owners just aren't prepared, part of which may be their own fault for not doing their research, but they're not always to blame.

The only way to afford paying employees a living wage is to increase intake, but you just can't force customers to spend money at gunpoint (though I'm sure Mom has considered this at times, especially when people browse the bookshelves for titles then cheerfully inform us they're going to the library. That's when I want to ask if they go to restaurants and ask for recipes of their favorite entrees.), especially when their own wallets aren't as fat as they were before 9/11.

Again, I'm not condoing tipping. But not all small business owners are in a financial position to pay employees a living wage, nor are they phsyically capable of doing all the work low-paid employees might otherwise do if they scaled back their staffs in order to pay a higher wage. Granted, there are some small business owners who've managed to turn a nice profit and can afford a house in the suburbs and a hot-off-the-press SUV, and I firmly believe they should pay their employees handsomely (benefits, too!), but they're not all that common, especially in recent years. Most small business owners are scraping by on high-interest rate credit cards, which is partly why bankruptcy filings have skyrocketed in recent years.

Right. I've blathered in your journal long enough. :-( Sorry for that, but as I said, I've seen this from both sides, and couldn't resist speaking up.

sixth_light From: sixth_light Date: September 29th, 2004 03:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can totally understand your point of view, but...is there no minimum wage in America, or is it just below living costs? The minimum wage in New Zealand isn't great, but it's more than the dole, which is a subsitence allowance. You cannot pay people less than that. If you can't afford to, you can't have a business which has employees. End of story. Unless, of course, you hire 14-16 year olds, who get the youth minimum wage, which is less. (Then again, I think the business environment is probably quite different here; something like 90% of businesses are small, i.e. less than 10 employees.)
From: magnolia_mama Date: September 29th, 2004 06:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
The last time I was a wage slave--about a decade ago--the minimum wage was $5.15/hour (sorry, I have no idea what that means in New Zealand currency). I believe it has gone up at least twice since, but I don't know what the exact amount is. For the sake of argument, let's say it's $6/hour. At 39 hours/week (because at 40 hrs. the employer must provide benefits) gross pay is $234/week. Deduct from that federal *and* state income taxes, plus Social Security, and you're lucky to bring in $800/month. Public housing is available to those who qualify, plus vouchers for food and a few other essentials, but ultimately one cannot subsist on minimum wage (then add to this the big push to get people off the welfare rolls within 2 years of enrollment). I think there was a book published recently written by a woman (I think) who took minimum-wage jobs in several different cities to see if one could, indeed, survive, and her conclusion was that it's impossible.

Restaurant workers I think typically get paid around $3-4/hour, with the proviso that they don't have to declare tips as income on their tax returns. Some small businesses cater to industries that allow employees to join unions, and thus to petition for a higher wage, but this is rarely the case. The other side of the problem is that without small businesses to employ people--even at a substandard wage--the alternative is to work someplace like Wal-Mart where you *will* get paid peanuts.

sixth_light From: sixth_light Date: September 29th, 2004 10:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow. That...sucks. I think the wage is slightly less than the Kiwi equivalent, plus we've only got one set of taxes, and there are accomodation/health benefits. Plus the cost-of-living is cheaper in a country whose population is a third of New York's. I can see why people rely on tips.
sreya From: sreya Date: September 29th, 2004 03:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I'd certainly like to see tipping go. As a child of the "McDonald's generation", I more often than not completely forget about tipping, and if I do remember, I get very very confused as to how much to leave. So if I do leave anything, I always stick it on the table when the person is far away and rush out to avoid any embarrassment if I figured it wrong.

While I'm definitely all for requiring employers to just include it in their staff's wages, there's one problem with the idea of no longer taxing the tips -- that'll only encourage both employers and the staff to continue using tips as a supplement to income. The employers wouldn't have to count the tips as part of the business income (no tax there), and the employees wouldn't have to count it as personal income (no tax there) so, in the wonderful logic of popular American thought, it's better to get it in the non-taxable way.

A better option would be to offer some sort of tax relief for small business who discontinue the tipping practice, although I can't for the life of me think of how that would really work.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 29th, 2004 05:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's why I think it would have to be concurrent--make it illegal to pay under minimum wage and stop taxing on tips at the same time. And make it public, so everyone knows that tipping is no longer necessary to a living wage.
riah_chan From: riah_chan Date: September 29th, 2004 04:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I live in Las Vegas where you're supposed to tip everyone or something. It's crazy. I'm a young, poor, married, college student... I have no money but I'm expected to tip alot of people if I go ona date with my husband. So lame. The only reason that I do tip people is because I know that alot of them make the tip-recieving minimum wage and so without tips, they make very little money. Blah... so lame.

From: peppa_minto Date: September 29th, 2004 04:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
//Grr. I'm a smidgen blocked on Shifts, by which I mean that I had the window open on my partially written (private post) section of the next part of the interlude, and just kind of stared at it dully for twenty minutes.//

That's the worst thing ever. I did that on my Remus fanfic the other day, and I was doing that with my Percy/Tonks fic for a while. I've been doing it with me Originals for >ages< now. But I think I am getting over it. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine.

Me: I can't write anything >.<
Angela: Writer's block?
Me: Kind of.
Angela: My writer's blocks are thick.
Me: Mine are purple.
lazypadawan From: lazypadawan Date: September 29th, 2004 05:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
The two current tipping trends that annoy me to no end:

1. Dividing up services in salons so that you have to tip several people instead of just the stylist or the stylist and the lady who washes your hair. At one salon I went to a some years ago, there was a "coatcheck" girl who took your stuff, the lady who washed your hair, the stylist, and another person who blow-dried your hair! It was insane.

2. Tip jars at fast food places. Someone who has to hustle back and forth from the kitchen, remember orders from 5 people, serve your drinks, cart heavy plates around, and keep several customers happy deserves a tip. The kid making a frapuccino does not. Starbucks already costs too damn much. Why the hell should I leave a tip?
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