Andy Rooney, the affable fellow from CBS who gets two minutes a week on "60 Minutes," has come out against tipping. The custom, which peaks during the Christmas-New Year season, should be dropped, he argues.
But don't expect Rooney to be a dropper. After listing some of his anti- tipping complaints--we tip more from pressure than gratitude, the reward of a tip has little to do with the quality of service--Rooney admits that he is a coward: "I'd like to put an end to all tipping, but I don't dare start the movement all by myself."
I have some money-saving-and perhaps face-saving-news for Mr. Rooney. He doesn't need to start the movement at all. Just join it.
No official date marks the beginning of America's non-tipping movement, but as far back as 1946 some resolute politicians decided to open their minds and close their wallets. That year in Mississippi, two state legislators introduced a bill to declare tipping a public nuisance. Both tippers and tippees would be fined $50 for breaking the law.
The bill never moved, as little enlightened legislation ever did back then in Mississippi. But across the nation, waiters and waitresses, bartenders and barmaids, shoeshiners, cabbies, barbers, doormen, porters, maitre d's, parking attendants, beauticians, hat check clerks, grocery carriers, caddies, paper deliverers, trash collectors and all others in the Open Hand trades were put on notice. Public resentment was out there.
Following the Mississippi failure, the non-tipping movement might have succeeded had it had a national leader. Henry Wallace, the second of Franklin Roosevelt's three vice presidents and the Socialist candidate for president in 1948, was a dedicated non-tipper. He thought so much of the workers that he believed a minimum wage was more the means to a decent living than the whims of the customer.
Whims are the issue. A recent study published in the Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly noted that the good looks of a waitress earned larger tips than good service. Pretty waitresses averaged 20 percent of the tab when delivering poor service. Waitresses who gave excellent service but whose beauty was seen as deficient in the eye of the beholder-customer received only 15 percent for excellent service. For poor work, they were tipped 12 percent.
Another variable is the profession of the tipper. Bartender magazine reported last year that doctors, lawyers and bankers are small tippers, while the "Magnificent Seven"--these being the best tippers--are regular customers, blue-collar workers, beauticians, small-business owners, tavern owners, bartenders and waiters. The unwoozy truth emerging from the pages of Bartender is not startling: tippers tend to be the tipped.
Another distinguished non-tipper who might have led the movement was former Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie. At Congressional Country Club, where he golfed, Muskie's philosophy, unsurprisingly, was unappreciated. A caddie told a reporter: "Every time he came here, you saw the caddies run the other way."
Caddies have fled from me, too. It has been several years now that I haven't tipped. I've been cursed by waiters and threatened by cab drivers. But that was the reason I stopped tipping in the first place. Those waiters and cabbies who ill-treat the public do so whether they are tipped lavishly or are, as they phrase it, "stiffed."
Surliness prevails in the tipped professions. As it understandably must. Economic hardship exists, but the cause is not stiffs. The permanent employers--the restaurant management, the firm that owns the parking lot, the cab company--are the ones the employees should be angry with. Fair salaries would eliminate the need for tips.
Managements respond with their worn-out argument: disallow tips and the price rises. Since prices are soaring anyway, how painful can this be?
If we are going to be paying, it's more honest to be paying through the nose than through the emotions--like false fear. Besides, Andy Rooney is too cheerful a chap to have him accusing himself of cowardice. He needn't be a brave leader, only a faltering follower. Henry Wallace would have understood.