Culture

Tipping and Servility

Being good at waiting tables requires skill and practice, and those who learn to do it well are consummate professionals. But the custom of tipping reduces their labor to a kind of implied prostitution.

A few days ago Matt Yglesias linked to a blog post by Rachel Ryan about restaurant-tipping customs in the U.S. Ryan notes that her European visitor thinks tipping is ridiculous and essentially anti-capitalistic, saying, "They chose to be waiters. They chose to work for minimum wage. If they want more money, get a higher paying job -- don’t expect me to tip you because you were nice and speedy. That’s your job.” Ryan admits she has no rebuttal for this, since her argument that tipping is a reward for good service is somewhat negated by the fact that we don't tip everybody for doing anything in the service sector (yet -- I've been encouraged to tip just about every type of retail worker I've encountered in New York City).

I think this misses the point about tipping, a paternalistic practice that serves to strip dignity from service-sector jobs, deprofessionalizing them, while giving employers justification for paying employees low wages. You can classify my argument here as part of my jihad against customer service. (Is it okay to use "jihad" that way? I need to ask my local Tea Party apparatchik.) I'll indecently quote myself: "Generally I’m against customer service, which is typically a bogus way of making shoppers feel more important than they really are for an activity that should in no way be thought to dignify them."

The tip shakedown is a variant on the idea that customers have a right to demand special service -- that they are able to buying the illusion that they are treated better than the other customers and are somehow better people. (How often is big tipping not a sign of customer insecurity?) Instead of getting the privileged service automatically, customers must hold out their dollars like treats to get service workers to perform tricks for them. Tipping always and everywhere demoralizes the people who are forced to beg for their pay in addition to doing their work. It's a barbaric backward practice that functions as a kind of institutionalized corruption, as it assumes that workers are all de facto extortionists who will only do something for you for a little extra. Tips are supposed to promote "friendly" service, and admittedly, you don't have to eat too many meals in Eastern Europe to notice a difference in the way customers are regarded. But I don't want waiters to act as though they are my friend, and I don't want them pushing more food and drink on me to inflate the bill and thereby inflate their tip (as one of the commenters on Ryan's post notes). I don't want "good service"; I just want appropriate service, and also not to feel like a phony pasha lording over the lower castes for the duration of my meal.

Being good at waiting tables requires skill and practice, and those who learn to do it well are consummate professionals. But the custom of tipping reduces their labor to a kind of implied prostitution. It builds in the assumption of their incompetence, as though it's only natural they they should again and again prove they are worthy enough to be paid what they should "really" be making.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image