Reaching the tipping point on tips?

Lately it seems that I have been eating more meals away from home than I ever had before. That means that I have also been spending a little more overall on a non-edible item: Tipping.

Years ago, I thought the going rate was about 10 percent, but that seemed to give way to 15 percent and now it is up to 20 percent.

Thinking about that, I wonder where the end will be – I suppose that in another few years the expectation might reach 25 percent, then 30 percent, then ???

Every now and then I have read about some restaurants that have attempted to raise salaries for wait staff to the point where they could say that there is to be no tipping or no tipping necessary. So far I haven’t heard of any such business that has stuck with that strategy for very long.

It is hard to buck the trend. In my late teens and early 20s, I had two experiences with tipping, both of which probably affected me so that I find it hard to buck the trend.

The first experience was in the spring of 1955 when I was with a group of other high school seniors belonging to the Junior Council on World Affairs visiting New York City primarily to see and visit with a few representatives of some foreign countries at the United Nations and to observe the General Assembly.

We had some free time when several of us were on Times Square. At an open counter some of us ordered cokes and paid an exorbitant amount (or so we thought.) We paid the exact amount and were walking away when the server loudly proclaimed: “Cheapskates!”

I suppose I should have been happy that the proclamation did not contain any worse vulgarity. I can imagine what that vulgarity might be these days.

The second experience was in 1958 when I accompanied three other college fraternity brothers to visit Montreal, Canada, on our Thanksgiving break. We left on Wednesday and drove all night from Granville, Ohio, to Montreal, checking into a single, cheap room in the downtown area. We spent three nights there, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I believe it was Friday or Saturday night when we decided it was party night rather than sightseeing time.

We happened upon the Copacabana, a bar/nightclub with band and dancing. We did not tip the head waiter (maitre d’) so were seated in some of the worst seats in the place. We each ordered a drink that we nursed for about an hour or hour and a half. We then settled the bill with practically nothing for a tip.

At that point the waiter said in a loud voice heard by virtually all the patrons in the entire place while stretching his arm out and pointing at us at the table: “Tourists!” We had thought ahead not to wear coats, despite the freezing temperature, so that we would not have to pay to check them.

Incidentally, there is still a Copacabana in Montreal, but I am not sure it is the same place we had visited back in the 1950s.

Those two experiences made me more cognizant of tipping.


Restaurants and bars are not the only places where tipping is common. As a newsboy even before I was 10, I valued tips. It is hard to believe that I was appreciative of getting one cent tips when I delivered a newspaper, The Press, where the weekly cost was 34¢.

There were the “stingies” who expected to get a penny back when I was given a quarter and a dime each week when I collected for the cost. The best tippers usually came up with 50¢ and a, “keep the change.” Later while delivering a more expensive daily paper there were better tips. Around Christmas time there was usually a newsboys’ week when expectations went up significantly.

A common tip for that week was a whole dollar and rarely some customers provided $5. I vaguely remember giving slightly better service to those folks – being sure to protect the delivered newspaper when it rained or snowed by careful placement behind a screen or storm door or some other protected location like the milk box – remember those?

Another tipping place is for the barber. When I attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, there was a barber college where you could get a first-timer barber student to cut your hair for a quarter. Older barber students got a half-dollar. I don’t recall tipping there though I probably should have, but I was just a financially poor student – on the other hand, the training must not have been a long process because I don’t ever remember seeing the same barber there more than once and I never splurged for the 50¢ job.

These days, however, tips are probably expected for haircuts and the amount seems to be something close to what is used for restaurants – something in the 15 percent to 20 percent range. When I used to have my hair cut short I found that somewhat high especially when from beginning to end, the time to do my haircut seldom reached above 10 minutes.


When traveling overseas or on most tours, it is a good idea to check travel guides to get some idea of what might be expected or consulting a bit with others who have taken the tour before. In some countries tips are not expected at all.

Tipping at a hotel or motel has always bothered me a bit. Even the American Hotel and Lodging Association apparently has indicated that less than a third of the time are housemaids tipped.

However, if there is a person who helps with your luggage, parking valets and any shuttle service or service from a concierge will expect a tip. AACH!

My rule for travelling: Carry lots of one dollar and five dollar bills.

Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!