Tuesday, May 4, 2010

To Tip Or Not To Tip

To tip or not to tip, that is my question. I get it when it comes to waiters and bartenders. It is a way to grade their service. In fact, I probably over tip them, especially bartenders. My hair stylist? Doesn’t he already get a percentage of the fee? Well, OK, I tip him too because it’s customary and because he’s been dealing with my weird hair for 15 years.

But why is there a tip jar at Starbucks? Aren’t they just like McDonalds except the products taste better? I order a coffee, the person behind the counter pours it, caps the cup and rings up my order. I get 3 cents back. Do I throw the 3 pennies into the jar – that’s an insult as a tip. Do I come up with 15% of $1.97? That’s an insult to me. I could pour the coffee myself. Today’s coffee irony: I got my daily Starbucks fix before a meeting in downtown Washington DC, where my Grande costs 7 cents more. That means when I handed the counter person 2 dollars, she asked me for 4 cents more. As I fumbled for my wallet because I had no change, she told me not to worry about it. I can picture her telling her husband, “This guy in a sharp black suit and tie just looked at me with a goofy expression on his face and couldn’t come up with 4 cents. I had to take it out of the tip jar.”

I lived in Chicago once. I spent my first week there in a fancy hotel, paid for by my new employer. I understand tipping the waitress at breakfast and I sort of understand leaving a tip in the room for housekeeping. But why should I tip the uniformed guy who hailed me a cab? I can yell “Taxi!” just as easily. In fact, there are so many taxis in Chicago you can get one to stop just by looking at the driver.

This is on my mind today because I got my car washed on the way home. I stopped at the automated car wash at the gas station near work. I’ve been there before. Right before you choose your octane level, you can push the Yes button for a car wash, then choose the level of wash – I choose Express, the cheapest. Usually I then fill my tank with gas, drive around to the car wash entrance, enter my code and hope the machine doesn’t quit pulling my car through in the middle of soaping it. But tonight there was a guy at the entrance “pre washing” cars. He scrubbed the tires and applied some more soap to the sides of the car. No, he wasn’t just some random guy; he was standing next to the open supply room door with a brush and two buckets of some soapy substance.

So do I tip him? I go to this car wash so I don’t have to deal with anyone. I fill the tank, get the car washed by a machine and go home. This guy does an unnecessary pre-wash then enters my code for me. He flashes something vaguely resembling a smile and mumbles a thank you. Why do they want this guy there? His presence means the automated system doesn’t have a chance to try and sell me an upgrade to my car wash. And he didn’t try that either.

So did I tip him? Well, no. I can picture this guy telling his wife later, “This guy wearing a sharp black suit and tie, driving a soon-to-be-shiny black car with leather interior just looked at me with a goofy expression on his face and didn’t tip me.” OK, he probably wouldn’t phrase it quite that way, but you get the idea.

Waiter? Yes. Bartender? Yes. Hair stylist? OK, yes. Starbucks/McDonalds counter person? No. Human at an automated car wash? No.

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