Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Is tipping altruism or based on service?

I've always been interested in the practice of tipping and in particular whether the quality of service actually reflects the tip given. In theory you reward for good or outstanding service while penalising for poor or in my opinion adequate service. Saying that, I've not always found this to be the case. I've found that people tend to tip a set amount unless the service has an extreme attribute i.e. the waiter has gone above and beyond their mandate or they've spat in your soup. I'm aware that a number of US states are still without minimum wage and as a result waiters rely heavily on tips, a clear incentive to provide a quality service. In the UK however minimum wage is nationwide and as such the incentive to exceed the bare minimum doesn't exist to the same extent. I've found that people still tend to tip even if they receive adequate service, something I find puzzling and don't agree with despite previously working in a restaurant.

For example, I've found people will leave a tip if their chosen food arrives warm and within 30 minutes. Surely this is the bare minimum you expect from a restaurant and not something worth paying extra for? When I fly I expect to arrive on time and alive, I don't leave five pounds on the seat for whatever airline meets that standard. Why should a restaurant be any different? If a waiter or restaurant goes beyond what I expect i.e. lets me change a set menu item, then I can see why that would warrant an additional token of thanks. Bringing my chosen food promptly and warm is simply expected.

If people still leave a tip for an expected level of service, it suggests they're not tipping based on service but for another reason altogether. Could it be people just like to feel generous? Giving an unnecessary tip makes you feel better than if you'd just paid the bill and not a penny more. Altruism is good for your emotional well-being.

I believe when faced with small amounts of money the majority of people will take a moral incentive over an economic incentive i.e. the feeling of being generous over the money saved by withholding a tip. It's actually quite similar to donating blood. Research has shown that when given a small stipend for donating blood as opposed to being praised for their altruism, people tend to donate less blood. Essentially I believe people tip to feel better about themselves and not to reflect the quality of service they've received.

As always, thoughts welcome.      


  1. When I tip, I usually tip 10% or less.

  2. Haha, I really should have worked that in somewhere.