Why tipping is almost mandatory in America and where the (hated by many) "tipping" culture comes from - Start Up Gazzete
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Why tipping is almost mandatory in America and where the (hated by many) “tipping” culture comes from


You go with your partner to a restaurant, read the menu, order two US$15 dishes and a US$20 bottle of wine. Total: $50.

But you end up paying 60 .

What in other countries would be considered inadmissible, in the United States is religion: when paying in restaurants you have to pay about an additional fifth of the bill.

It is conceived as a voluntary reward to thank the good treatment received, but in practice it is almost mandatory regardless of whether the service has been excellent or disastrous.

And not just in restaurants. In the bar, the hairdresser, the hotel or the taxi, the client assumes that he has to leave a generous “tip”, a word that means “tip” in English and that is also part of the daily lexicon of Spanish-speakers in the US .

And, in case anyone is clueless, the payment receipt includes a reminder (“suggested tip: 18%, 20% or 22%”) or the establishment even adds the “service” surcharge and gives the customer the option of expand your contribution.

The history

Many foreigners are reluctant or annoyed when tipping their wallets in the United States. However, the origins of the American “tipping” culture lie outside the country.

Drawing of a 19th century European inn
In Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was common for travelers to gratify service personnel with tips.

“If a man with his horse lodges at an inn, in addition to paying the bill he must give at least one shilling to the waiter, and sixpence to the maid, groom, and bootblack, which adds up to half a crown.”

This text, written in England in 1795 by an anonymous journalist, is collected in the book “Tipping: An American History of Social Gratuities” by Kerry Segrave.

The historian assures that in the United States there was no practice of tipping at least until 1840.

The English traveler John Fowler visited a city in the state of New York in 1830, where he recorded the following expense: “total, 81 cents; waiter 0, maid and boots, ditto; and courtesy and thanks for the treatment. Will this be seen in England? It will be some time before it becomes the custom there.”

Fowler, a famous railroad engineer, believed that eliminating tips would set a trend from the United States to Europe. The opposite happened .

The tipping culture took off in the US at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th when Americans imported this custom from Europe, where it was more common, doctor in social psychology William Michael Lynn, author of more of 70 publications on this phenomenon

Thus, an elitist vocation motivated early Americans to tip in their own country, imitating the customs of the European aristocracy .

However, while in the old continent the habit did not take hold in all social strata, on the other side of the Atlantic it was consolidated. Why?

“We are not going to pay you”

The emancipation of slaves in the United States since the end of the 19th century played a fundamental role, says Saru Jayaraman, a labor rights activist and president of the organization One Fair Wage.

William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States (1909-13)
William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States (1909-13) and ardent detractor of the “tipping” culture, bragged about not even tipping his hairdresser.

“Restaurants and hospitality businesses wanted to continue to have free black labor, so they adopted this culture from Europe and turned tipping from an extraordinary incentive into salary itself. So they said to black people: we’re going to hire you, We are not going to pay you, but you can receive tips,” he explains to BBC Mundo.


Throughout the 20th century, the culture of “tipping” settled in the US, not without some resistance -six states temporarily abolished this practice in 1915, prominent detractors such as former president WH Taft emerged and anti-tipping groups were formed- until which in 1966 was definitively consolidated when Congress promulgated the “Tip Credit” provision.

This system allows businessmen in the service sector to pay certain employees a salary below the minimum wage, assuming that it will be complemented by the generosity of customers.

Hence, in the United States today , the minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 per hour .

However, only Puerto Rico and 15 of the 52 states maintain the federal minimum wage. In the rest it is higher and varies from US$2.33 in Wisconsin or US$6.60 in Illinois to US$12.50 in New York and US$13 in California.


“I’m pretty and they leave me more tips”

“I basically live on tips,” says Diana, 30, who works as a waitress in a Peruvian restaurant in Miami.

His salary is $6.98 an hour, the legal minimum in Florida, which works out to an average of about $1,200 a month.

However, when accounting for tips, his monthly income exceeds US$4,000 gross. “What they pay me per hour is barely enough to cover taxes,” he tells BBC Mundo.

With her job as a waitress, Diana has paid for her university studies , has helped her family and has even put together some savings.

And if tips are lucrative for restaurant workers, in the nightlife they multiply.

“In my experience, in one night you can make between US$300 and US$1,000. It depends on the type of party and atmosphere, on whether you give good service and whether you’re handsome . I’m pretty and I notice that they leave me more tips”, explains Silvia, a 36-year-old Cuban chef who occasionally works behind the bar at nightclubs and private parties in Miami.

A waitress serves a drink in a nightclub
On a good night, waitresses at high-end nightclubs and parties in Miami can earn up to $1,000 in tips.

“White men get more tips”

The relationship between tips and the physical appearance, gender or race of those who receive them has, in fact, been the object of study and also a source of controversy.

A report by the consulting firm IPUS CPS published in the specialized magazine Eater indicated that, between 2010 and 2016, white employees in the US earned an average of US$7.06 in tips every hour, compared to US$6.08 for Latinos. , US$5.57 for blacks and US$4.77 for Asians.

In addition, white waiters, just over half of the total, accounted for 78% of jobs in fine dining restaurants, where tips are higher.

According to a more recent study, conducted by One Fair Wage in New York in 2020, white waiters earn 5 more per hour than black waitresses .

“White men always receive more tips due to the implicit bias of American workers,” says the president of the NGO.

Jayaraman assures that One Fair Wage does not demand the abolition of tips but laws that equate the minimum wage of all workers, considering that the dependence on gratuities places employees – especially women and minorities – in a delicate position.

“If you live almost entirely on your tips, you’re very vulnerable to customer bias and harassment. That’s why our industry has the highest rates of sexual harassment in the US , along with huge disparities among women, people of color and white men who receive tips,” he denounces.



  • Atahualpa Amerise @atareports
  • BBC News World
Author avatar
Joshua Smith

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