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The buck stops here - or should that really be just the small change?

By Michael Levine - posted Wednesday, 6 August 2003

Thirty to 50 years from now when historians are writing about this period in history they might-well portray our society as having gone crazy. Among other obvious indicators they can reference, the trend of tip jars (increasingly appearing in Australia), I believe, will validate their opinion. Dare they scrutinise our disease to please, they will see that as a contemporary American culture, our prerogatives vastly differ from those of the generation preceding ours. Presently, the mentality among Americans is the distorted belief that they deserve recognition "just because". The tip jar represents a cultural expectation of those who feel entitled to acquire a bonus for merely doing their job.

The reason we live in a poor service society stems from the fact that early in age children are shown that the nice thing to do is make everyone feel special. Take for example a junior sporting team in which trophies are distributed to all players. We continuously demonstrate that you don't have to be the absolute best at something in order to receive praise and it is this same thinking that carries over into adulthood. Point being: Whether a coffee is provided to you lukewarm or piping hot, both servers feel worthy of a tip because that's the "nice" thing for us to do.

In any case, why should I feel guilted into leaving a tip for the person whose job it is to be a server? As a mother of two rightly pointed out, "I never tip in those jars. If I start tipping because the employee at Starbucks took 15 seconds to pour a cup of coffee then I should start leaving tips every time I go into McDonalds when they go the extra mile and get me a different toy to go with my son's Happy Meals because I already have three just like them at home". The Japanese have the right idea. They don't believe in tipping at all - not even to waiters in restaurants. Exceptional service is a give-in.


Come with me on a short trip "outside the box" and here is where you'll find the real answer to why we leave our change in tip jars. Cheap. No one wants to be perceived as such; this is why after the purchase of a coffee (which is probably cheaper to buy stock in than it is to buy one from Starbucks everyday) and/or a pastry, we drop the returns coins, and some times even greenery, into these tip jars rather than back into our own pockets. Could it also be that while standing in front of these tip jars we acquire underlying pressure to suppress stinginess and in turn contribute to the happy-go-lucky people that work there? Is it the eyes of those behind us that make us inclined to drop our change?

Although these coffee house and yogurt shop employees put themselves in a minimum-wage position, it somehow becomes the customer's responsibility to make up the dollar difference of what they want to make. As Frank Lloyd Wright said, "I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen". So why is the price of success now paid for by the patron? It is the result of being guilted into feeling sorry for them that we drop our change in those outlandish tip jars and so that we can leave feeling like Jesus who fed the multitude and them, feeling appreciated.

My perception about tip jars more than likely won't change but perhaps if they surfaced next to the registers merely at Christmas time, the holiday spirit may overpower what others may perceive as my "Grinch-like nature" - however, these things are in your face practically everywhere these days. Moreover, it is the justification of why tip jars even exist that is appalling. I say we should ride this wave all the way, be non-discriminating, and apply this entitlement theory straight across the board to every individual no matter what profession they operate in. Why be cautious? Let's just flip out all the way and see what the rewards or consequences will be.

The next time while traveling by plane, knock on the pilot's door and tell him that you just want to place "a little something" in his tip jar for landing you in one piece - because after all, "that was nice of him". Let's have tip jars in hospital rooms where women give birth so that after pushing out a wailing baby she can reap a deserved little tip. And while we're at it, we might as well tip the car salesman who already makes a hell of a commission on the overpriced vehicles he sells. Be sure to also tip the telephone operator (even if they disconnect you) and the clerk at Aaron's Brothers who so "politely" rang up your $189 picture. Also be sure that when going to the bank and standing in line to withdraw your own money, don't forget to place something in the tip jar that should be displayed at each teller window. Although I've never witnessed a landscaper asking for a tip after he has mowed a lawn and trimmed back hedges, I think it's the perfect time for him to start. Gas stations might as well jump on the bandwagon too and place a tip jar next to the squeegees. I mean, if were going to spread the love, let's not exclude anyone. Let's just have everyone expecting that they should be rewarded for just being a part of society. As Dwight D. Eisenhower put it, "A people that values its privileges above its principals soon loses both".

I'm hoping the tip-jar phenomena will fade out just as fast as tye-dye shirts did but in the event that it doesn't, I might as well place a tip jar on my desk that reads "good karma" and join in on the "free money for nothing" era.

Coffee anyone?

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About the Author

Michael Levine is the founder of the prominent public relations firm, Levine Communications Office in Los Angeles. He is the author of 13 books.

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