Yep: “The American System of Tipping Makes No Sense.”


In Europe, the birthplace of Western aristocracy, countries have moved away from a practice that once denoted class differences. Today, servers across that continent are paid living wages and don’t rely on crowdfunded generosity.

The United States, founded as a rebuke to the old world, has allowed a de facto aristocracy to bloom in our country, where low taxes on the rich, combined with meager welfare for the poor, lead to income inequality reminiscent of a feudal state. Tips are a tiny part of that big picture. But they’re a perfect representation of the philosophy that underlies it: Tipping survives because of the notion that industriousness must be coaxed from individuals through constant threat of their immiseration.

Here’s the link.

The American System of Tipping Makes No Sense, by Derek Thompson (The Atlantic)

If you want to understand how meritocracy acts as a cover for inequality, look no further than our broken understanding of gratuity.

Here’s a simple question. It’s Sunday. You order coffee and a simple breakfast—eggs, bacon, toast—at a local diner. The service is efficient, but not memorable. The bill comes, and it’s $10. What’s the tip?

$1.50, according to typical online guides for foreign travelers in America
$2.00 at least, according to The Washington Post
$3.00 for sure, according to The New York Times
Whatever the hell you want, according to some guys on Twitter

I have no confidence that anything I write here will persuade readers to increase or decrease their average tip. To me, the range of answers raises a larger question: Why are we still crowdfunding worker salaries when tippers so clearly do not know what the hell they’re doing?


  1. I hate our system of tipping, but let me give you a different perspective. When you’re at a restaurant in Europe the wait staff will usually be smiling and pleasant when they seat you and take your order. Once the order arrives, they are pretty much done with you. They forgot to bring silverware? Just try to flag someone down to get some. Something wrong with the order? Too bad for you. Need a drink refill? No one is coming to check. That’s what happens when they have no incentive to give good service. I don’t have an answer.

  2. I'm curious where in Europe you've experienced this. I have, too, but it doesn't seem to be universal there by any stretch. I'd say most of the times we've noticed inattentiveness is when asking for the check.