By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
I lived in New York for many years before moving away. This year I went back for an extended trip and I was reminded of all the things that make New York unique and unforgettable --the vibrancy of the City, the night life, food and the straight talking people. But one thing was very different from the New York I remember --- the tipping.
Truth is, people have always been expected to tip in New York more than in Europe. New Yorkers have long been expected to tip at restaurants,to tip the doormen at Christmas, the cab drivers and f course anyone who performs personal services such as delivery men, manicurists and so on.
But it's the way that these tips are given that has changed. In days past, you would receive your bill and either no indication of an expected tip or a polite note that a tip is already included in the cost of your meal.
Now, service givers demand the tips in frontal ways. Sit down at a restaurant and at the end of your meal, you see a print out on your bill of the tip at different ranges, 20%, 25% even 30%. The amount of the tip is at these different ranges is calculated.
So , if your meal is $20, you'll see the tips ranges in dollars already calculated out as as 20% ($4.00), 25% ($5.00) and 30% ($6.00). In all fairness, some restaurants start the tip ranges at 15% or 18% up to 30% but these are the exception and still, even at the low end 15% is a fair chunk of change on top of the cost of your meal.
Because the suggested tips are right there on your bill, you feel enormous pressure to give something. If you choose to give at the lowest end, you are labelling yourself as one of those who inhabit the stingiest, cheapest end of the spectrum of humanity.
The trick here is that they frame the choices for you in a way that makes it impossible almost for you to choose to give less. At least, it's impossible to avoid diving in somewhere in the range of suggested tips without paying an emotional price. No one likes to be judged and this tipping frame practice is a built in pubic shaming scale.
Tipping at the Grocery Store ---Really!
Not only is the Tip Shaming Frame ubiquitous in places where people have traditionally tipped, now you find it in new places. You'll see in in cabs, in car services. They will give you a hand-held machine to insert your credit card. Right there, on the little screen you will see the Tip Shaming Frame.
If you don't find the Tip Shaming Frame, you'll find the Tip Cup. These days, you'll find the Tip Cup even at the end of the grocery store checkout counter. Really? Where in the laws of the Universe is it written that we are supposed to tip a grocery store clerk for simply ringing up our groceries?
You may also see the Tip Cup at the cashier counter at your favorite wine store, at the dry leaners counter, on top of the counter at the hot dog stand on the street and on and on.
Even in places where you don't get table service, such as at a Dunkin' Donuts, you will sometimes see a Tip Cup at the counter.
Enough. Tipping has always been a concept intended to manipulate shoppers/customers into paying a share of a worker's compensation. Restaurant owners pay notoriously low basic wages, expecting the difference to be made up by --- guess who --- you, the customer.
And, as living costs have risen, the wage you need to make it has also climbed. But the basic wage paid to these workers has remained stagnant.
That leaves you, the customer, in a sorry spot. Either pay up in the form of higher and increasingly ubiquitous tips or face an angry service provider. Who wants to receive food from an angry waiter? Not me. They have control of my plate and it's just too easy to put something in that plate before it gets to my table. For that matter, who wants to be driven by an angry cab driver? Life's too short to take that kind of risk.
Left out of this equation is your budget. There are only so many dollars to go around. Few people are so well off that they don't feel an extra 20% to 30% added on top of their living expenses. Yes, waiters need their tips but you need your money too.
How to Navigate the Dangerous Waters of Tipping
Here, a little finesse helps a lot. Presented with a Tip Shaming Frame one too many times, I stopped giving in. Instead of circling the lowest end tip, I simply let the waiter know that I would pay the tip in cas. I then scaled back the tip closer to 10% on average.
I also left a nice note on the bill if the service was good, so the owner would not infer from a lack of tip that I was dissatisfied with the service. Something short and sweet will suffice, such as " Great meal and wonderful service!"
These days, you can also "pay" a tip by complementing the service on social media. Owners and wait staff know that a compliment on Facebook or Instagram or some other platform is worth a heck of a lot more than a few extra dollars in tip.