I hate tipping. So when I tip, I resent it. Want to know why? Here's just an example:
Recently I booked a van to take me to the airport for a business trip. I had broken my right toe and couldn't drive. When the driver arrived, I waited at my front door for him to help me with my things. I waved to him. He didn't budge.
I hobbled over to the van loaded down with a laptop computer, a briefcase and my usual overpacked purse. Oh, and did I mention the monsoon outside?
I guess the driver didn't want to get wet. He also didn't want to stop working on his crossword puzzle.
Once we got to the airport, I waited for the driver to help me out. He didn't. When I reached back in to pay the guy and get a receipt, I couldn't believe my eyes. There in big, black, bold capital letters, the driver had written the word "TIP."
The whole trip was a trip. The driver didn't say much other then asking me which terminal I was departing from, and having to ask seemed to bother him.
But instead of fussing him out, I wimped out. I gave this guy a tip of $2.50 for a fare of $35. I thought I was making a statement by leaving less then the recommended 15 percent.
As I look back, I realize now that I felt intimidated by that driver's glare and was worried about what he might think of me if I tipped nothing.
It's like we all have this tipping disorder that compels us to give a gratuity even if we are treated poorly. There has to be a war crime committed before many of us will withhold a tip.
What I wish I had done in the case of my van ride--what all consumers should do more often--is to stiff the person who fails miserably to provide good service. Tipping should be reserved for service beyond the call of duty.
Where I live, there is a company that will pick up your order from certain restaurants and deliver it for a fee. They recommend that you tip the driver. Why should I have to tip the driver? Isn't that the service I'm paying for in the first place?
If I have to pay $40 to $60 to get my hair done, why should I have to tip the hairdresser as well? But if I want my hair cut right the next time, I pay up and just grumble under my breath.
The word "tip" began as an acronym for "To Insure Promptitude." Now it's more likely to stand for "Try Intimidating People"--intimidating them into forking over more money to someone just for doing their job.
Ever left a paltry tip for a waiter or waitress because you felt the food was bad or you hadn't been treated well? They give you this evil eye or growl at you. We are too often guilt-tripped into tipping.
The restaurant industry tells us that the tip we give the waiter or waitress is often shared with the busboy, the cook and three or four other people. If we don't leave a tip, they argue, then we are denying those workers a decent wage.
I'm finding that a shameless number of restaurants are including a mandatory tip even before you've ordered the Evian, and not just for parties of six or more.
Speaking of which, I don't buy this automatic tip charge for large parties anyway. It's like saying, "We may not be able to give you good service if you come in with a crowd, but you must tip us anyway for inconveniencing us with your mob."
"The automatic tip is a form of extortion in a subtle way," said Allan Ripp, spokesman for Zagat Survey, the publisher of one of the best-selling consumer restaurant guides.
Subtle. Ha. They aren't subtle about it at all.
If the service industry wants customers to tip everybody from the person who pours a cup of coffee at the cappuccino stand to the server who just pops the cork on our wine, then at least I want my money's worth.
I would rather the business owners pay their people decent wages and charge us a little more, relieving us of the responsibility and anxiety associated with tipping.
Ironically, experts say tipping doesn't really ensure better service. Tipping has become so automatic that many workers have come to expect the money as part of their salary rather then as an voluntary gift from grateful customers. Tipping has evolved into an entitlement so employees don't necessarily have to do anything extra to earn it.
I have a suggestion. Let's stop tipping the laggards as a lesson and instead reward really good service workers. Mediocre work shouldn't merit a 15 or 20 percent bonus.
If this tipping trend is to continue into the next millennium, then I say we use it as an incentive to get the service we deserve. That's my tip.
Michelle Singletary's column appears in this section every Sunday. While she welcomes comments and column ideas, she cannot offer specific personal financial advice or answer detailed questions about individual situations. Her e-mail address is singletarym@ washpost.com. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.
Each customer ultimately decides what and how to tip depending on quality of service received -- there are no absolutes -- but here are some suggested amounts for several types of service from Web site www.tipping.org:
Barbershop: Haircutter usually gets tip of 15 percent of the bill, generally a minumum of $1; if you don't get your hair cut often, $5 is suggested.
Beauty shop: One operator gets a tip of 15 percent. If there are several operators, 10 percent tip for person who sets hair, 10 percent divided among others.
Manicurist: $1 or more, depending on cost.
Owner: None unless he or she is doing your hair, then follow above.
Shampoo person: $1 to $2.
Pizza: $1 to $2 for short distances; $2 to $3 for longer distances; $5 or more for large delivery.
Furniture, appliances: $5 to $10 per person
Large deliveries: For any kind of exercise equipment, air conditioners, refrigerators, etc., if delivery is large, heavy or difficult or requires assembly, a larger tip of perhaps $20 per person is suggested.
Flowers: $2 to $5 for flowers; $5 to $10 if a large plant or for heavy or large delivery.
Waiter or waitress: 15 percent of the bill but 20 percent for large parties or if it is a four-star restaurant.
Wine steward: 15 percent of wine bill.
Coat-check attendant: $1 for one or two coats.
Restroom attendant: 50 cents.
Parking attendant: $1
Taxi driver: 15 percent of fare but no less than 25 cents.