Tipping Culture In America

The real effects of the extra money consumers give to workers


Money left behind by a diner at a restaurant. Photo by Gabrielle Williams.

Gabrielle Williams, Opinion and Entertainment Editor

The inevitable tablet flip haunts every American consumer. What do you do? Do you tip the barista who only took your order and didn’t even hand you your coffee personally? Do you tip the man who handed you a pizza through a window before you left the establishment you never entered? According to a 2023 survey done by Forbes, “Most people tip when it’s expected—95% of respondents said they tip at least sometimes, with 76% saying they tip always or often.” We live within a culture that loves to tip, but we don’t realize the harm we cause by doing so.

Tipping seems like a nice way of saying “thank you for doing a service for me.” But the extra cash you hand to workers usually leaves them with less money in their bank accounts overall. Companies get away with paying their employees less money by allowing consumers to pay them in tips. It’s no secret that minimum wage is not sufficient enough to support a person through life, or at least a comfortable life. 

Many companies pay their workers less than minimum wage, and then refuse to pay more because their employees’ salaries increase due to tips. Why would a company pay their employees more money when consumers are paying them the extra amount on top of minimum wage? And why would employees fight against how low their pay is when they are making an extra five bucks an hour from tips? This system allows companies to keep their money, and, quite frankly, gouge their workers. While it doesn’t seem like a real issue, tipping is a really easy and well-disguised way for companies to neglect increasing their employees’ pay. 

In addition to tipping, wage theft is another convenient way for companies to keep money from their employees. Wage theft occurs when an employer fails to fully pay an employee for their work. This can happen through paying less than minimum wage or failing to pay overtime. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “in the 10 most populous states in the country, 17% of eligible low-wage workers reported being paid less than the minimum wage, amounting to 2.4 million workers losing $8 billion annually.” When employers pay less than minimum wage, but their employees get tipped, they can justify their misconduct by claiming their employees still make over minimum wage. 

Overall, while tipping seems like a really great thing to do for workers, it may actually be reinforcing a harmful system. While this argument may seem to be on the side of anti-tipping (it mostly is), I would like to point out that in some cases, tipping is necessary. In America, we pay waitstaff less than minimum wage because we have created a culture around tipping. This originally came from Europe; however, most European countries now pay their waitstaff more than minimum wage, so tipping is no longer necessary. It is important to respect servers and it is expected in our country to tip them because they do not make enough without tips (which is obviously a problem). 

After considering all of this information, it seems that tipping someone who doesn’t wait on you, or even bus your table, is just dumb. Everyone should be making above minimum wage (or we could just raise minimum wage). In our culture, we are long accustomed to paying waitstaff a little extra, but recently consumers have been asked more and more to tip, even when tipping isn’t necessary. Consumers should not be paying people’s salaries. Waitstaff should be paid more than minimum wage. Tipping is a terrible social norm that should be eliminated from our society because it keeps middle and lower class people (who are the most charitable groups) poor, and it keeps wealthy company owners rich because they are keeping appropriate pay from the people who work for them. 

So, next time someone turns the tablet on the counter around for you and you read, 15%, 20%, 25%, or none, shamelessly click none because issues with wages will never change if consumers keep giving their money away.