Tipping 101

It is strange that our schools and colleges teach us ad nauseam about things that have no relevance to our lives, but provide no instruction about life events- for example marriage, dealing with teenagers, our spouses, our in-laws, obnoxious neighbors and so on. Thus it is no surprise that while tipping is an integral part of our lives, we are not given any formal training in this gastronomically related activity. You would think that courses like Tipping 101, 201 etc, would be pre-requisites to all college degrees. Far from it, my research failed to turn up a single course in this ancient art. I really need such a course, because tipping is confusing; I cannot understand who to tip and how much to tip. Forget my embarrassment; tipping is even affecting the political future of New York State.

Let me share with you some thoughts about tipping; including a little bit of knowledge and a lot of confusion.

The word TIP is an acronym for “TO INSURE PROMPTNESS”. It started in England around 1755. We gained independence from the British, we drive on the right side of the road instead of the left and we have modified our knife/ fork usage for dining. However, tipping has remained with us.

You know what’s ironic? If tipping is meant to ensure quick service we should be tipping in fast food places like McDonald’s and Burger King, where we are served within two minutes. Instead we give tips in snooty restaurants where we wait the better part of an hour to get our food. (Why do we call the servers “waiters”, when we do all the waiting?)

Who should we tip? We tip waiters, coat attendants, valets, porters, delivery men. We also tip taxi drivers. This is all very confusing. Should I tip everyone that helps me? Should I tip my wife after dinner? Should I tip my office subordinates when they complete an assignment on time?

At barbershops, hairdressers etc, we are expected to tip workers but not the owner. How is one supposed to know? They all dress alike. Perhaps they should wear dog tags saying “tip” or “do not tip”. My suggestion: As you are leaving tell him or her “You own a great business here”. Then just leave without tipping anyone.

I searched the Internet to learn more about tipping. All I found were 3 sites about cow-tipping. What is this cow-tipping? It seems to me that American farmers are tipping their cows and if so, what for? I don’t know, but if it makes the cows happy and results in tastier milk with less cholesterol and more protein, I am all for it.

Last year, I took a flight to North Carolina. It was a dark and stormy night with heavy rain. Even so, the pilot made a perfect text book landing. I was impressed and after the plane landed, I tried to get into the cockpit and tip the pilot but the attendants would not let me in. I still think one of them was crazy. Placing her index finger on her temple, she rotated her hand in a corkscrew motion and glanced at her companion. This was most unsettling; if there were any loose screws on the airplane, she should have reported it to the maintenance crew. Anyway, I decided not to upset this (obviously deranged) lady and gave up on trying to tip the pilot.

Quite the opposite happened recently, when I endured a cab ride in Manhattan. The driver was a borderline lunatic; it was a terrifying experience, and we had 3 near accidents in a 10 minute ride. Even so, my companion insisted that I tip the driver. I found this very strange. When a pilot flew 500 miles and landed me safely under difficult conditions, I was not allowed to tip him, but when a cab driver almost got me killed thrice in 10 minutes, I was expected to give a gratuity.

How much should we tip? I had heard that we should tip either 15% of the bill or tip two times the sales tax. I adopted the second rule, i.e. twice the sales tax. This worked fine for me in New York. My next job assignment was in North Carolina. It worked well again. In Texas, however, the waiters gave me dirty looks, even though I followed the same rule. Is it my fault that they have zero sales tax over there?

Enough of my personal troubles. Even the politics of New York is being affected by tipping. A few years ago Hillary Clinton was in the news. In the course of her senatorial campaign she stopped at an upstate restaurant. As a courtesy, the owner waived the bill and said that it was on the house. Hillary did not leave any tip. Newspaper reporters pounced on this story. The WANTIP, “Waiters Against Non Tippers” declared her persona non grata and adopted a resolution that their members would neither serve her nor vote for her. However I feel that she had some justification. After all 15% of nothing is zero, zilch, nada. Double the sales tax (when there is no bill) is also zero. So she was mathematically correct, while being politically incorrect.

Mayor Giuliani, Hillary’s opponent, was in a similar situation but very prudently, left a large tip. He won the endorsement of the WANTIP association for the upcoming election. While he was politically correct, he was mathematically off base. Then I faced a dilemma. Should I vote for the former first lady who was mathematically astute but politically incorrect, but OR should I “tip” my hand towards Mr. Giuliani, politically correct but mathematically a dunce? I was totally confused. Fortunately for me, Mr. Giuliani withdrew his candidacy and I was saved from having to make a tough decision.

Even Winston Churchill, that bulldog of bulldogs, was tripped up by tipping. One day, when he had to go for a meeting and his car would not start, he hailed a cab. The cabby did not recognize him. At the destination, as Churchill paid the fare, he requested the cab driver to wait for him. However, the cabby refused saying “Sir, I have to go home and listen to Churchill’s speech on the radio. I cannot wait”. Churchill was so flattered that he gave the man a 10 pound tip. Now the cab driver was overjoyed and said “Sir, you are a fine gentleman. To hell with Churchill, I’ll wait for you.”

So you see that this problem of tipping is confusing not only to me but also to experienced politicians and statesmen, while impacting the political future of New York State. I am desperately looking to enroll in a Tipping 101 course. If you find such a course offered somewhere, please “tip” me off. Needless to say, you will receive a generous tip, even if your state has no sales tax.

(Reader note: some varieties of cows sleep in a standing position. Occasionally a prankster would sneak up to the side of a sleeping-while-standing cow and try to tip it over, hence the term “cow tipping”.)