Tipping waiters has become like clockwork for Americans.
We don’t think twice about handing over 10% to 25% of our bill after eating out at a full-service restaurant.
It hasn’t always been this way. In fact, tipping was originally frowned upon in the US and considered anti-democratic, the New York Times reports.
We seem to be coming full circle: The initial grumblings over tipping are resurfacing today, provoked in part by Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer’s recent decision to eliminate tipping at all 13 of his restaurants.
Meyer’s policy change — which will mean higher menu prices and better wages for back-of-house staff — sparked a a slew of editorials and conversations around the practice, many of which point towards its anti-democratic, sexist, and racist underlying.
The custom originated in Europe, and while its history is not entirely clear, it is commonly traced back to 17th century England. The word “tip” is speculated to be an acronym for “To Insure Promptitude,” which was printed on bowls in British coffeehouses.
What is today considered a given started as a purely aristocratic practice — a mere “allowance” that the upper class would offer to the socially inferior.
It made its way to America after the Civil War (which ended in 1865), when wealthy Americans started travelling to and from Europe. They brought the custom back home to show off their worldliness, but it was immediately met with disdain.
Americans considered it anti-democratic, as it encouraged classism and further distinguished the wealthy from the masses.
These initial grumblings escalated into movements. In 1904, the Anti-Tipping Society of America was created in Georgia, and its 100,000 members pledged to not tip anyone for a year, the Times reports.
Anti-tipping laws ensued, starting in 1909 when Washington became the first of six states to pass the new law, but failed to make a significant splash. By 1926, every anti-tipping law was repealed.
Since, tipping has evolved into a given.
However, the early 20th century disdain seems to be resurfacing today.
“The American system of tipping is awkward for all parties involved,” Meyer, who owns well-known New York City-based restaurants such as Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke, and Union Square Cafe, wrote in a newsletter. “Restaurant patrons are expected to have the expertise to motivate and properly remunerate service professionals; servers are expected to please up to 1,000 different employers (for most of us, one boss is enough!); and restaurateurs surrender their use of compensation as an appropriate tool to reward merit and promote excellence.”
Meyer is not the only restaurateur to announce a change to tipping policy. Chef Tom Colicchio has ended tipping during lunch service at Craft, his flagship restaurant in New York City.
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