We have become a little obsessed with tipping the service industry in our country. I think it comes from a deep rooted insecurity American’s have against a culture of landed gentry being waited on hand and foot while they sip their tea and nibble on crumpets. Since we are uncomfortable with being served, we tip so we can sleep better at night.
I’m not an international banker who is fluent in the language of stocks, bonds and mutual funds but I do play a tough game of Monopoly and I did save up a substantial trove of gold coins in World of Warcraft back in the day.
Does this make me an expert in economics and able to explain how business makes a profit? I doubt it, but I’m still going to share my point of view anyway.
Basically, we trade in otherwise worthless pieces of colored paper called dollar bills. This piece of paper is inherently about as valuable as my daughter’s picture from the coloring book “Frozen”. Other countries use other pieces of paper, but we like dollars. Mainly because we like pictures of Presidents like Washington, Lincoln and Franklin. Wait…Benjamin Franklin wasn’t a President, was he? Let me check Google.
Nope. He wasn’t. Actually, I’m not quite sure why Benjamin Franklin made it onto the $100 bill. Poor Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. They both got the shaft when it comes to being immortalized on our currency. The former we stuck on a bill no one has ever seen before and the latter…well, he kinda got screwed all the way around.
But I digress. We like Dollars and not Euros, Rubles or Pesos. Did you know that even though England is in Europe, they doesn’t use the European currency called the Euro? England continues to use the British Pound, but there is a country called the British Indian Ocean Territory, but they do not use either the Pound or the Euro. Evidently they thought pictures of US Presidents were way cooler than pictures of an rather old looking Queen of England and use the U.S. Dollar.
Why is this blog starting to sound like Sheldon’ Cooper’s weekly Vlog: Fun With Flags?
Where was I? Oh yes, currency. No matter what President, Queen, Meglamaniac/tyrannical dictator graces the face of currency, the principal is the same; it is just a unit people use to exchange goods and/or service with each other. A business owner spends as little currency as possible to acquire a commodity and then sells it to someone else for a little bit more.
This is called a profit.
If I want to accelerate this rate of profit, I can share some of my profit with workers who will help me do small tasks in the whole process of acquiring my goods and delivering them to the people who value it. For simple jobs, an owner does not have to share a whole lot.
Now, tips complicate things a little, but the principal is the same. If I employ a waitress to take an order and service my customer, my customer may value my waitress giving him extra attention, even though she may not receive any more of my profit. So, in order to ensure that my customer gets the best SERVICE possible, he may choose to tip a waitress to encourage her good behavior toward him. The customer is still paying more of his currency to receive a better service.
I believe all of this is fair.
What I don’t think is fair is that now I’m expected to tip for a service that does not benefit me at all. Am I being greedy? I don’t think so. Let me explain:
I like coffee. The raw ingredients are not all that expensive for a consumer like me: beans and water. Not only that, but the service that I require to provide me with my drink of choice is also very simple: I need someone to stick a cup under a spout and pull a lever until the cup is full. I then need someone to hand me the cup.
For this service I am typically charged $2 and change which I’m willing to give because I’m addicted to the contents of that cup. Now, the server will be paid a small percentage of my $2, but again…her role in my process wasn’t all that involved. Besides, its not like I’m expecting the server to walk around every 10 minutes to top off my coffee. When I am done, I will throw my own cup away, and if I spill in my car, I doubt my baristia will come out and clean up my cup holders for me or get me a fresh cup.
So today I’m standing in line to get some coffee with Heather Graham. She tells me that she is tired and wants to sit down and asks if I’ll get her a cup too.
“Sure,” I agree. The baristia greets me with a smile and I order my two coffees and a small doughnut to nibble on. “Could I have cream and sugar in one?” I ask. “The other is just black.”
“We have a sugar bar over there,” she says with an overly friendly voice.
She tells me the total. Keep track of the work she is actually doing. So far, we have her punching in some buttons and reading a total off the screen. (She let the computer do the actual math work, though)
I give her my bank card and she swivels the iPad around to face me. “You can swipe it here,” she indicates.
So, I process my own payment.
She thanks me and points to the line below. “You can add a tip if you would like,” but keeps the iPad pointed toward me until I punch $1.00.
She thanks me and hands me two empty cups. “The coffee is at the end of the bar,” she indicates. “Help yourself and there is a doughnut in the case you can get.”
I juggle the two coffees and a doughnut. My wife likes cream and sugar so I prepare her drink and get her a glass of ice water I know she will want. While I’m managing all of this, I accidentally spill some coffee on the counter. I look around for some help, but my barista is busy pointing out the tip line to the poor guy behind me and she doesn’t notice I made a small mess.
So I clean up my own spill and carry everything back to the table where I serve my wife her coffee and water.
I didn’t get a tip but I did toss out all of our empty cups on my way out the door.