Why do we tip?

Last year I went on a rant (in both a blog post and in a sermon) about Christian tipping behavior. Suddenly in this town I've become the center of a conversation about Christian tipping and my behavior is Exhibit A for many people. Since those rants, I can't tell you how many times I've been asked in restaurants by friends and acquaintances about how much I'm tipping. I've had strangers come up to me telling me that they have watched me across the restaurant and walked by my table after I've left to see what kind of tip I left behind.

I don't mind. If you scream at people about something you better back it up. But no worries, for years my minimal tip has always been $3.00 for meals, like a breakfast for one, under $10.00 and $4.00 for meals between $10 and $20. For bills over $20.00 I tip at 20+%. I'm no saint. Just emotionally traumatized from years of working as a server in the restaurant industry....

Well, in the comments to my blog post last year (which really wasn't a rant about tipping but about how Christians replace humanity for religiosity) an anonymous commenter thought that my characterizations about tipping were unfair and suggested that we examine the empirical literature to see, empirically, if Christians are poor tippers. Interestingly, there is a nice little literature on tipping behavior in economic and psychology journals.

For example, surf on over to the BPS Research Digest blog (H/T Daily Dish) and read about some recent research done by Stephen Saunders and Michael Lynn on the motivations behind tipping. Why do we tip? From the article:

One explanation for why we tip is that we're trying to encourage good service in the future. However, Saunders and Lynn found no evidence that people who used a car guard more were more likely to tip, as you'd expect if this were their true motive. By contrast, perceived service quality was associated with both the likelihood of giving a tip and the amount tipped, thus suggesting that participants were using tipping as a form of reward. Similarly, those who said they thought it was important to help others in need tended to tip more (although they weren't any more likely to tip), suggesting altruism was another motive. Finally, social norms were a key factor - participants who said their friends and relatives thought it was important to tip were more likely to tip themselves...
As best I can tell, looking through some abstracts, there hasn't been a study published examining if Christians--particularly during Sunday lunch--are worse tippers than non-Christians. I've actually kicked around ideas about how to do this myself.

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5 thoughts on “Why do we tip?”

  1. Well, this is just more anecdotal evidence, but when I was a busboy, then server we NEVER wanted to work on Sunday afternoons. Unless friends from church showed up at my table I usually got <10%. There was Sundays when I got less tips than from the small crowds of regulars who came on Tuesday to Friday.

  2. I'm with Josh. I never liked working Sunday lunch -- horrible tips and large groups who sat forever and made no attempt at all to clean up after their kids. Waiting tables was the catalyst for me to reevaluate my Christian witness through tipping. And just in case anyone is still wondering, leaving a tract is not an acceptable substitute for tipping.

    The best tippers were big groups of drinkers, other servers, and college girls with their dad's credit cards. Next were my regulars, also those whom I enjoyed serving the most -- real conversation and appreciation. I would double my tips on a Friday or Saturday night with one 8-top if the waitstaff from the restaurant next door came in after work for drinks.

  3. I think tipping certain professions has come to be taken as a social norm--and the wages these people get aside from the tips are probably lower in expectation of tips. If food service staff were paid adequately without tips, it wouldn't really be an issue. Of course, the cost of the meals would be raised to cover the added overhead, but then everyone would be paying an equal amount more than before. So even Christians would have to be generous!

    I expect that the experiences of James and Josh are pretty typical--and that is not a good sign. It's really too bad that we Christians seem to have such a struggle with living generous, loving lives.

  4. No question IMO: the best tippers are people who have worked in food service themselves, Christian or otherwise. For me, the motivation is commiseration and a sense of camaraderie.

  5. My wife was a server and has said the same thing. I'd go so far as to say it's a better tithe/offering to give leave a big tip on the table after Sunday lunch than to write a big check and put it in the plate on Sunday morning.

    By the way, we've just joined you in Abilene, by way of California, so we'll help bolster Sunday tipping percentages here! :)

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