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More Stories About Tipping

(Photo: Jeff Turner)

Our latest podcast, “Should Tipping Be Banned?,” has stirred up a lot of response. Below are a few interesting e-mails from listeners. First one is from Spencer Doren:

Like Levitt, tipping makes me uncomfortable. He’ll be happy to know that Sushi Yasuda (my favorite sushi in NYC) doesn’t accept tips in order to stay true to Japanese tradition. In Japan, tipping isn’t practiced as it is considered rude.

A listener named Heather Rush doesn’t like tipping reform at all (and plainly didn’t know me back when I bussed tables, and worse):

As someone who has spent her whole life working in an industry that offers servers no job security, tolerates rampant sexual harassment, long unregulated work days and no fringe benefits, your suggestion that tipping should be banned because it’s unfair seems trite. Try standing on wet mats for 12 hours while enduring abusive customers, crooked managers, criminal owners, no sick leave, no unemployment and no job security and then I’ll listen to your musings on what the real value of a tip is to the people that served you dinner. Until your first bus-boy shift, however, perhaps you ought to research the real cost of service and why people are content to ignore the “unfairness” of an entire industry so long as their drinks and appetizers arrive on time.

The most expansive response to date is from Kasim Cody Sulaimana:

First let me give you a little background on myself.  I am 32 years old, Jamaican/Malawian male (so people view me as African-American when they see me).  My parents met while they were in graduate school and both of them are immigrants.  My father is a nuclear engineer and my mother was an economist.  I mention my father’s job because it influenced where I grew up.  I grew up for 8 years in Seoul Korea, 2 in New York, 2 in Malawi, 2 in Jamaica, 2 in Arizona and 2 in Chicago.  I also traveled a lot growing up. I  graduated from UoI with an Economics major and a comp sci/stat minor… and I also have a graduate degree in Health Informatics. I currently work at WebMD as a Product Manager.  Ok, so with that out of the way let’s get onto the info!
I was really listening intently to your podcast because it is something I had thought about constantly in college.  While in college at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, I worked at Jimmy Johns.  Jimmy Johns is essentially a fast food restaurant that sells subs.  I worked primarily as a delivery driver.  I was paid minimum wage, and the majority of my money would come from tips.  I did this for about a year.  One thing I was keenly made aware of very early on was that different races/genders tipped very differently.
Your podcast caught my ear when you were trying to figure out why sometimes Latinos and Asians show up tipping less than whites, and why they sometimes break even and I am pretty sure I know why.  (I have no statistical evidence to back me up so bear with me)  I would point to the groups within the racial group.  There is a big difference between an Asian (let’s say Korean) who is native first-generation from Korea, and an American-born one.  They do not share the same views on a wide range of topics and are almost night and day different.  The American-born one will generally share the same thoughts about tipping as American whites do in the U.S., while the native Korean will not.  Essentially the ones that have been assimilated into American culture (by birth mainly) share the ideas of tipping.
I saw the constantly at Jimmy Johns more so than the professional degree.  Middle Eastern doctors would not tip or would barely tip at all (the ones not from here) whereas their counterparts who were American-born would tip well.  College kids in general tipped me well.  The same went with Koreans.  Native Koreans would not tip, whereas the younger Koreans tipped just fine.  Within each culture there is that divide that separates what each does and each others view on tipping.
My father doesn’t tip unless he absolutely has to … and it took him awhile to get to that point (he is from Malawi).
In a summary, here is what I came to at Jimmy Johns (no stats to back it up, just what I saw)
1. Whites tip better than blacks by far.
2. Generally no extra tip for increased speed of delivery unless you get there really fast.
3. Decreased tip for really bad speed of delivery or faulty product.
4. On super large orders (over $300) it depends on which profession.  Doctors routinely gave $3 tips on a $500 order whereas delivering that same order to any other large group would net close to a $40-50 tip.
5. When dealing with minorities (Middle Eastern, Latino, Asian) it depends on if they are first-gen or native born.  Native-born tip nice, 1st-gens do not.
6. Lawyers tip well
7. Women tip me better than men
8. I’ve actually found that for well-off people, I am more likely to be stiffed on tip than I am by poor people.  Poor will still give me something  but it was very highly likely that the really well off would leave no tip.
In a nutshell I would challenge you to look at each subculture rather than the entire racial group as a whole.  I think your findings would become more consistent.  Thanks and I hope this helps!