As I mentioned early on in this blog, I work customer service for a company in the States. All day long, I watch pizza delivery orders pass through our website, and occasionally, a restaurant will call in to add a tip to an order if the customer waited until the food was delivered, or simply forgot to add one. Typically, anything under $10 gets a $1 tip; $10-$13 gets a $2 tip; $13-$17 gets $3; $18-$24 gets $4, and so on. Generally, Americans are pretty good about giving 15-20%. Some people tip less, some more, depending on service, existing delivery fees, personal budget, and the economy, but almost everyone gives something.
The practice of tipping is so ingrained in American culture that we know exactly who to tip and how much. Like American English, though, there are a ton of exceptions, and you learn them along the way, typically by asking someone else. For example, you tip delivery drivers because they’re bringing food from a restaurant to your home, and you also tip waiters because they’re brining the food from the kitchen to your table, but neither tip the UPS guy nor the person behind the counter for takeout (the latter is actually optional, but most people tip much less than 15%). You tip house movers, tattoo artists, and blackjack dealers, but not tow truck drivers, appliance repairmen, or chefs. Oddly, people tip a bartender, but not a barista. Though I did get some tips when I was a barista, they were nothing compared to a bartender’s tips. Both are mixers and preparers of socially accepted drugs, but one earns the big bucks, relatively speaking.
I don’t know if you’re supposed to tip a prostitute or dominatrix, but I Googled it, and there is a pretty even split on the issue. Some say that the fee is all-inclusive, but others say that if you have a regular girl, you might want to tip. There are other issues, like pimps and pay-as-you-go rackets, and it all gets pretty complex. With dominatrices, however, the split leans more toward tip than don’t tip. Anyway, the point is that it’s kind of willy-nilly. There’s no set of rules for who gets tipped. You just have to know. A good starting point is that if there’s skilled/dirty labor involved, you tip them.
In my experience so far in Southeast Asia, tipping is rarer and at a far reduced percentage than in the States. Leaving a little something, like the odd change from a bill, is fine, but on your receipt, you’ll generally find a 10% service charge already included. Restaurants in the States do this, but generally only for large groups of six or more. Here, even if someone’s doing a dirty or service job for you, you still might not tip them. It is almost wholly dependent on the person, place of business, and region. For instance, everyone I’ve talked to who’s been to Japan and Korea, say that it’s frowned upon as an insult. In Malaysia, it’s more accepted, but I’ve tipped two people at the same place and been met with two different reactions. And once, I tried to tip a guy and he just stormed off. Lesson learned. I haven’t had the opportunity to tip here in the Philippines, but I’ve been told that while it’s not frowned upon, it’s not really a thing; there’s no set percentage, and people tend to give a few coins or whatever they feel is appropriate.
Americans are so used to tipping that when, in places like Boston that are saturated with college students from around the globe, we don’t get tipped or see someone not getting tipped, we lose our minds. For the most part, we treat service jobs as lower class or a transition from one place to another in life. A job as a waitress might be a way to get through college, or it might be a way to work your way up to management, where you get paid enough not to need tips. It’s kind of a trial by fire. In one sense, tips, in the American experience, are a way of encouraging excellent performance through incentive–positive reenforcement. In another sense, it’s a way of motivating people upward, through the knowledge that because they rely on tips to survive, they are the lowest on the heap and need to fight their way up. Bootstraps, or whatever. But philosophy aside, tips are a way of supplementing employees’ meager wages in an industry that can’t afford to provide for its own people. At least in America.