Short Take: The Tip of Morality

Appeals to morality have become all the rage, as they not only serve to make us feel better about our choices but can’t be challenged. After all, everybody wants to be moral, and have everyone recognize them as such (or at least not call them immoral). And since morality has no rational basis, there is no battle to be waged against it.

It’s not that there aren’t universally accepted moral beliefs, like don’t kill*, but tipping 30%?

So when you’re thinking about compensating servers, it’s best to start from the assumption that tipping will be around for a while. The smart thing to ask is, how can we make the best of a bad situation?

Which brings us to the real reason I’m writing this column. It is common these days to think that the way to do political and social change is: Think of the ideal system, then move to that. But the better way to make social change is: Think of the ideal system, then get as close as you can, given the restraints of human nature, and our own situation.

There’s a problem with this otherwise lovely sentiment. What’s “ideal”? That’s where morality kicks in, you immoral heathens, because you just can’t wrap your heads around good and evil, right and wrong, and even though tipping is immoral, you just can’t seem to let it go. I can’t even.

In the meantime, there are ways we can all make the best of a bad system:

  • Tip 20 percent when the meal is over $25 and 30 percent when it is under.
  • Always, always, always leave a tip in a hotel room.
  • To combat implicit bias when tipping drivers and others, commit to a percentage for all rides and stick to it.
  • Understand that the advantages you enjoy are products of both your individual effort and privileges you didn’t earn. Tip accordingly.

If you don’t do these things, it’s because you’re immoral and deserve to burn in hell. And it’s not as if the hotel owner who sucks you dry should pay the cleaning staff a livable wage or the good fortune that allowed you to be born white, male, cis-hetero in America, to loving parents (plural) in a safe neighborhood where education was valued and provided should mean that you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor without splitting it with the help.

Oh wait. What if you’re not basking in the wealth of privilege that enables you to tip so promiscuously? Maybe you’re struggling to pay the rent, or taking the Uber to your job as a house cleaner because you can’t afford to buy a car?

The one thing about morality nobody really considers is that it costs money to be moral under the new rules. Even if it’s not a matter of being on the edge of starvation, does that mean you can’t save your pennies for a night out once in a while? Is there no limit to the demands of morality?

I went on a group yoga retreat after my father died as a way to decompress. Our group of ten, including our instructor, stayed in a barn-like structure with a bunk room and a few private rooms and shared bathrooms for two nights. We had two dinners, two breakfasts, and one lunch. We had use of the pool. The price for the retreat was pretty high.

At the end, the proprietor, who lived on the grounds in the main house, asked us to each leave a minimum of $25 for the woman who cooked our meals and cleaned the bathrooms because she “deserves a living wage.” Of course she deserves a living wage, but shouldn’t that be paid out of $7000 the proprietor was paid for our two night stay?

She’s going to hell. After all, if you can pay $700 for a yoga retreat, can’t you pay $25 to the person the proprietor doesn’t adequately pay when she’s pocketing your money? After all, it’s the moral thing to do. Govern yourself accordingly.

*Terms and conditions apply.

18 thoughts on “Short Take: The Tip of Morality

  1. Ken

    Overtipping is a privileged behavior done only by those who can afford it and therefore get better treatment than those who cannot. Thus, anyone who tips above 15% for adequate service and 20% for exceptional service is clearly oppressing the underprivileged and acting in an immoral manner.

    Still, when your food delivery kids figure out that you tip $8 at twenty minutes and $2 at thirty its amazing how quickly you get your food – not that I would ever, ever engage in such terrible, evil behavior or live a sad enough life that I order out enough for them to figure this out (*sigh*).

    1. SHG Post author

      If the privileged don’t instruct you on morality, how would you simple country folk ever know you’re going to hell?

      1. Ken

        The flaw in your logic is that one of the things they are instructing us on is that we are superstitious and backward and shouldn’t believe in Hell.

          1. ShallMustMay

            What a great song I’d long forgotten. Listening to it now years later I still feel the same wanting freedom but the dying is definitely weighing in closer. Thanks for the memory.

  2. ctl

    “Still, when your food delivery kids figure out that you tip $8 at twenty minutes and $2 at thirty its amazing how quickly you get your food”

    you’re operating under the assumption that it is the delivery driver kid’s that fault you didn’t get your food in a timely fashion, not he/she got there as soon as was humanly possible. they probably got there as soon as they could, with the food.

    you’re blaming the messenger, basically

    1. SHG Post author

      You probably meant this as a reply to something, but since you didn’t bother to hit the reply button, it’s not.

    2. Ken

      And yet with all the other factors interfering, the food still arrives faster. Perhaps the messenger is prioritizing my messages?

      1. ctl

        could be.

        we’ll use domino’s as an example. generally, drivers are allowed to take two deliveries maximum, which is routed out by computer. go to point a, then b. then come back.

        not a lot of leeway. there are always exceptions of course.

        usually, the food is late because the kitchen cannot produce the food fast enough.
        (caveat: this is houston, a place like nyc would use more bicycles i’d imagine (no idea) )

        from pizza, to your ‘lost’ (yeah right) airline luggage, and beyond, the courier wants you to get your item(s) as fast as possible. he/she can make more money/tips. (once again, always exceptions/bad apples/etc)

        don’t have the production problem with high-end merchandise though

  3. KP

    Coming from countries where tipping is not normal, the extent of the discussion always leaves me bemused. The moment you start a tipping culture a serious amount of society’s time gets spent on arguing about ‘how much’.
    After all, its the boss’ incentive to make sure the customer is served on time and leaves happy, so he should be sorting out his employees with money and incentives, not the customer. So no tipping leads to better business practice.

    1. SHG Post author

      When I go to countries where tipping isn’t the norm, it feels weirdly wrong, as if I’m just not being a decent person for failing to show my appreciation for good service, so I tip anyway. I don’t know whether they like serving ugly Americans because of this, but no one has ever refused my tip.

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