Voices: Desperately needed: The tip guide rulebook

Introducing ‘Voices’

With this edition of the Excelsior-Shorewood Sun Sailor, we are introducing a new feature that will run periodically throughout the year. “Voices” will be written by you, the people of the South Lake area, giving you a platform to praise a local organization or individual, or to grumble about an unfair situation.

No politics — you continue to be welcome to sound off on a local issue or promote a political goal, through the more formal Letters to the Editor process.

Should you have funny story to tell, or have a concern to share, please consider participating in “Voices.” Contributions should be in the 400- to 600-word range, and we will need your complete identification for verification. We hope you enjoy this week’s entry – and hope it inspires you to share your thoughts in future weeks. Send submissions to [email protected]

By Caryn Schall
‘Voices’ contributor

I’m glad that the practice of tipping has been in the news lately.

It provides the perfect opening for me to make public a rant I’ve kept (sort of) private for years: What are the determining factors used when deciding which professions in our society should be tipped?

Is there a rulebook somewhere that I missed, one that makes clear who should be tipped and at what rate?

If there is, is there an e-book version so I can have it on my phone and at-the-ready at all times? If there isn’t, aspiring writers — take note! You’ll have an immediate bestseller.

First, a little history: The word tip is an acronym for To Insure Promptitude. (For another day: does a tip “insure promptitude?”) The practice is thought to have originated in 17th Century English taverns, but it didn’t make it to America until the late 19th century, when it was introduced by wealthy travelers wanting to emulate Europeans.

At that time, tipping was practiced only in the food service industry.

In 1966, an amendment was made to the Fair Labor Standards Act that included the creation of a “tip credit” which allowed employers to establish a permanent sub-wage for tipped workers. The assumption was that tips, when added to the sub-wage, would create an hourly wage at least equal to the minimum.

Thus, tips that had once been simply a token of gratitude from the served to the server, became, in part, a subsidy from consumers to the employers of tipped workers.

So, that’s how the whole practice got started. Thus, if tips are supposed to help workers who are underpaid by their employers with set wages, why are we tipping those service people who can and do set their own fees because they are their own bosses? The hair stylists who rent or own their chair in a salon and, therefore, set their own rates…the independent masseuse who sets his or her own fees…the nail shop owner who does your manicure?

Tip jars are as ubiquitous in our country as mosquitoes in a Minnesota summer. Everyone wants a tip! Where do draw the line? Should we tip our dog groomer? (Some people probably do. It never occurred to me until recently. If I knew this was the protocol, perhaps my Labradoodle wouldn’t emerge from her grooming session looking like a Lab without the Doodle.) How ‘bout the guy who does our lawn: do we tip him? The cleaning lady? Bag boy? Fed Ex guy? What about the lifeguard, the gas meter-reader, the Comcast service guy?

The list could go on forever. The point is, we are tipping people who are in position to create their own fee structure and we are not tipping people whose salaries are set by their employers.

Am I advocating that we should broaden the scope of people whom we tip? Heck no! If anything, I’d be all for abandoning the practice entirely.

But until/if that becomes the new norm, I don’t want to be the lone rabble-rouser who risks alienation because I stopped all tipping on principle. And I don’t want to risk unknowingly insulting someone by not tipping them simply because I didn’t know theirs was a profession to be tipped. That’s what I need to know the rules of the game.

To Jenn, my Stylist Extraordinaire, I will continue to tip you as long as to do so remains the norm. I don’t want to fall out of favor with the person who has the power to turn me into a Phyllis Diller lookalike. To Phillip, the Magical Masseuse who never met a knot he couldn’t conquer: I am so sorry I never tipped you during those two years. You ran your own business. I simply didn’t know I was supposed to! And, to the lady who waited on me in Macy’s shoe department today: I’m sorry if I was supposed to tip you. Help me next time: put out a tip jar by the register.

Caryn Schall of Minnetonka spent her career as a video producer and director. She is an incessant questioner, much to the chagrin of her family members. She can be reached at [email protected]