The tipping gods must be crazy

I was among the first people in my circle to tip the carhop at Sonic. I’ve also given gratuities to my mail carrier, garbage man and the delivery guy who charged me exhorbitantly for filling my propane tank after hours. Once, I was even accused of being gauche for tipping $10 on a $20 haircut.

In full disclosure, I’ve also left pennies and a coarse napkin note for a server who seemed to require intense therapy and anger management classes.

The common denominator in all of those events: the tip happened after the service was rendered.

During the past few weeks, we have patronized three restaurants that request tips upon paying the tab — before the meal is served. All three businesses employed a counter ordering system in which customers pay in advance via a crowd-visible iPad. The system is similar to ordering at a fast food restaurant, except I’ve yet to hit up a McDonald’s or Whataburger that puts the patron in such a precarious position.

Have we really arrived at such preposterousness?

During my vent to a longtime friend recently about this advanced tipping thing, he abruptly cut me off. “Hate it,” he twice repeated as I started to explain why such a practice is just … backward. This old friend, by the way, very much lives by the same gratuity code as Lawrence Tierney’s mob boss character Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs.

Mr. Pink: “I don’t tip because society says I have to. All right, I mean I’ll tip if someone really deserves a tipping, if they really put forth the effort, I’ll give them something extra, but I mean this tipping automatically, it’s for the birds. I mean as far as I’m concerned they’re just doing their job.”

A little later in the scene…

Joe Cabot : “He don’t tip? Whaddaya mean you don’t tip?”
Mr. Orange : “He don’t believe in it.”
Joe Cabot: “Shut up!”

Just like Joe Cabot, my friend always seems to think that everyone should throw their share in the tip pile. But advance tipping?

“It’s an age-based thing,” he told me. “It’s much like these fucking kids who don’t understand that ‘No problem.’ is not the proper way to respond to someone who says ‘Thank you.'”

In her Wall Street Journal article You Want 20% for Handing Me a Muffin? The Awkward Etiquette of iPad Tipping, author Jennifer Levitz writes: Tip jars have long sat on counters, but consumers have all sorts of viable excuses for avoiding them or tossing in just a few coins, such as not having the right change, according to Michael Lynn, a professor and tipping expert at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. Not so, he says, with the electronic tip prompts that explicitly require consumers to opt out of gratuities. “You can’t even pretend like you forgot,” he says. “It clearly ups the social pressure to tip.”

Though my experiences occurred long after Levitz’ article hit the pages, I totally concur.

My first experience caught me way off guard. It was advertised and reviewed (by the Houston Chronicle) as a higher end eatery. It never occurred to me that such upper scale restaurants usually employ waitstaff who wear ebony-colored slacks and bow ties. Here, I read my order from a chalkboard while standing at a counter. The polite lady, after asking me if I’d like dessert, directed me to the 12.9-inch iPad screen to settle up.

Because it was dinner and because there was a line in my rear view mirror, I tapped the 20 percent button — $10 for a $50 order that I ordered no differently than had I been a Dairy Queen patron. Just as important, I was responsible for filling my tea glass and selecting my flatware from cafeteria-style compartments. Indeed, someone delivered my meal to the table, and someone was nice enough to reappear halfway through my meal to inquire as to whether I might want to change my mind about dessert.

As delicious as the food truly was, the apparent tip-shaming left a layer of rancidity on my taste buds.

Tipping in advance is nothing new, by the way. But the rules have changed over time. Historians have pretty much proven the TIP acronym To Insure Promptness as lore. Still, the practice hasn’t always been the exception. My friend pointed out to me that his father regularly offered a portion of the gratuity up front so that servers and stewards weren’t always “betting on the come.”

I’m curious though what his reaction would have been had the advance tip been requested via an iPad in the company of onlookers.

No problem? No way!

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