Tip Tension

That’ll be $3.85, would you like to leave a tip for your server today?

My server stood smiling at me.  Eyes locked on the pen and receipt they just handed me to sign.  I waved the pen over the tip line, buying an extra second as I thought about whether or not to tip.

There’s a line for a tip, does that mean there’s an expectation to tip?   They just grabbed my bagel and handed me a cup to fill my coffee up myself. What will the server think if I don’t tip?  What if that’s how they make money in this gig?  I don’t want to be the only guy who doesn’t tip.

What is a tip anyway?

From my vantage point a tip, or gratuity, is money offered for the value added to the item being purchased.  From the server’s vantage point, it’s incentive to provide good service.   It’s an exchange of value. The sticking point is that I as the purchaser have the opportunity to determine what that value is in balance with social norms.

Don’t tip.  You’re rude.

Tip too little. You’re cheap and offensive.

Tip too much.  You’re generous, excessive or maybe you’ve made a mistake.

Tip what’s customary. You’re safe, but come on, couldn’t you have added a little more?

Tipping is not only an exchange of value, but it’s also a statement.  It’s in this statement that lies a tension.  A tension to uphold or deny what you believe about yourself and what you want others to believe about you. It doesn’t seem fair or logical to the server, that my propensity to tip is not about their service, but has more to do with what I want them to think about me.  Maybe it’s just me.