It's Lowell's Turn: Have we reached a tipping point?

The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

Our turn

Only once in my life have I received a tip.

No, I don’t mean the kind of tip like, “You should work harder” or “You should invest in stocks” or “Maybe you should try doing it this way.” I mean an actual monetary tip that you can put in your wallet.

One summer, long ago, I was working for a lawn service where we mowed the same lawns every week. Most of them were fairly small and didn’t take long. However, one day after finishing a job, the homeowner gave me a $20 tip. I don’t know if he was pleased with my work or just felt obligated, but I do know I certainly appreciated it. I also know I always tried to do a perfect job and didn’t expect to get any more than my hourly wage.

Contrast that to my experience eating at a popular restaurant in Grand Marais about a month ago. After lunch, we were surprised to see a 20 percent fee tacked on to our bill. After asking about it, we learned that it was a mandatory “tip” that was divided among all the staff. We also learned that there may have been some small but not obvious signs alerting customers about the fee, but there wasn’t one at our table.

I wasn’t happy. It wasn’t a tip at all, it was a service charge. I’m sure their reasoning was something like, “We all are working hard and struggling to survive. So we all deserve a tip.”


Sorry, but I don’t buy that. First of all, A tip goes to one specific person who you want to reward, and it’s certainly not mandatory. Second, not everyone in any business is equal. Some work really hard and try to do a great job, while others just do what they can to get by. Should they all be equally rewarded? And finally, lots of people in other jobs work hard, struggling to survive and are under-appreciated. Most of them never get a tip.

This whole tipping thing has gotten completely out of hand. Now, it seems like every coffee shop or fast food place you go into is begging you for a tip.

The problem is that tipping, especially in restaurants, no longer has anything to do with a reward for great service. Instead it’s mostly about guilt, obligation and entitlement. And why is it that only certain service people deserve a tip? Why not tip your auto mechanic or a police officer? Why not tip your garbage collector or your newspaper reporter or the carpenter who built your house?

Sure, I understand that many restaurant servers get low wages, but that’s only because they make so much in tips that higher wages are unnecessary. We should just be transparent about this: Instead of calling it a tip, just call it a service fee. Or better yet, just raise prices by 10 or 15 percent (we’d still be paying the same) and give the extra to the servers while at the same time discouraging tipping.

Here’s the sign they could post prominently: “We don’t expect a tip and won’t think any less of you if you don’t. Our servers are paid well. However, if you think we’ve done an exceptional job and decide to leave a tip, we will certainly appreciate it!”

Most people dutifully give at least a 10% tip at restaurants — even if the food and service is lousy — just because if they don’t, they will be considered a low-down, good-for-nothing cheapskate who doesn’t care that the staff is starving to death. On the other hand, a good tip given gladly just gets lost in the mix and becomes meaningless because it was already expected.

Most people, myself included, could probably stand to be more generous and give more. But giving should be done freely, gratefully and without compulsion, otherwise it becomes just a fee or tax.

It’s time to change this nonsense and return tipping to being a voluntary reward for exceptional service, instead of a guilt-trip. But this change will never come from customers or servers, it would have to start with owners and managers who are smart enough to see how ridiculous this whole thing has become.


“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

Lowell Anderson
Lowell Anderson

Lowell Anderson has been a photographer and writer at the Echo Press since 1998.
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