I recently read an article in the New York Post, suggesting that the average person in New York City pays more than $3,300 each year in tips.

I don’t have data on average New York salaries.  But is a New Yorker, who’s making $45,000 per year, and paying income taxes amounting to $12,000 actually giving 10% of their salary away on tips?

As far as I understand, tipping became prevalent in England, first, during the 1700s.  But since then, it has become much more quintessentially American.  Here in Singapore, if I tried to give a taxi driver $5, he’d look at me in confusion.  I tried it once with a $2 bill, and the driver refused it…not because it was a small amount, but because it was such a large amount.

North American tipping is no longer based on a meritocracy, and I find it annoying, especially in the United States, where tips are socially mandatory.  If a waiter does a great job, I have no problem shelling out 10-15% of my bill.  But when they’re rude and ineffective, I don’t think they deserve a penny.  Paying them, out of custom, doesn’t promote better service.  And in tipping cultures where it’s nearly socially mandatory, few people “stiff” others for lousy service.

I did read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, about the plight of low-wage Americans.  And I sympathize with anyone having to work so hard for $8 an hour.  But a tipping culture, rather than a tipping meritocracy, will weaken a country, not strengthen it.  It will weaken the service industry from a desire to strive and perform.  It will serve as a mindless tax for the masses, shelling out double digit percentages of their annual salary each year, and it will breed complacency with employers who ought to be paying higher wages in the first place.

Outside North America, wages aren’t necessarily higher.  But tipping is based more on merit than custom.  Do you agree that North America (especially the U.S.), needs to change?  Have you had any bizarre experiences, related to tipping?