I’ve followed my hair dresser around as she relocated from shop to shop for a number of years. Tipping her was never in question as she was an employee working on salary. A year ago, she moved to a location where she owns her chair — which means she rents the space but is her own boss, charges what she wants, keeps all the proceeds and sets her own hours. According to the etiquette book, she is self-employed and no longer requires a tip, just as food cart owners aren’t tipped or folks who run their own shoe shine operation. Still, I continue to give my hairdresser a gratuity because habit Is hard to break and the expectation exists.
Frankly, the notion of tipping anyone never has felt right. The practice allows restaurants to pay miserable wages and leaves the income of their employees to the whims of strangers. Even the origin of tipping is suspect. As Jon Mooallem observes, tipping is an aristocratic convention inherited from Europe where the worker was obliged to rely on the generosity of his or her betters. (“Is It Extra-Rude Not To Tip At A Coffee Shop…” Wired, September 2015, pgs. 40-41.) Tipping isn’t really behavior compatible with the notion of equality. Writer William R. Scott railed against the idea in 1916 in his famous essay, The Itching Palm. (Click for free download) According to him, a tip is “what one American is willing to pay to induce another American to acknowledge inferiority.” (Ibid pg. 40)
Mooallem points out there were periods in American history when various societies rose up against the practice, but they never succeeded in squelching it. Not because employees were in favor of it. To the contrary. In Scott’s day, workers who were polled described the habit as “base, wrong, unjust and degrading.” (Ibid pg 40.) Tipping persists, I’m guessing, because it’s popular with employers. The food service industry has been so effective in keeping the issues of fair wages and working conditions out of the hands of government regulators, that the concept of gratuities is built into the tax structure and the worker is obliged to do the accounting.
Technology may eventually solve the question of tipping in many cases. Robots won’t know what to do with tips. In the meantime, I think it would be nice if anyone who worked in any service industry was paid a living wage and didn’t need to depend upon the charity of strangers?