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Op-Ed: No One Should Have to Tip Anyone, Ever

Tipping rankles travelers almost as much as seat reclining. Or maybe even more. People who don’t tip make headlines. And whenever we publish a tipping piece here on SmarterTravel, we receive a gratuitous amount of emails. There are generally two opposing arguments on the issue, with more moderate travelers occupying various levels of tipping confusion or indifference in the middle.

I have a friend who worked for many years as a waitress in a busy diner in Philadelphia. In solidarity with the often-abused service people of the world, she insists on leaving a minimum 20 to 30 percent tip, always. She will grab masses of crumpled bills from her purse and drop them on the table like a gilded age tycoon. No math required! When I traveled to Ireland with my friend, she persisted in her habit, even though most of the restaurants we visited included a service charge in the bill. Having walked in the wait staff’s shoes, she couldn’t stomach leaving a table devoid of cash.

File my friend in the pro-tip category. (I’m there with her.) On the other side of the coin, there are those for whom tipping is a loathsome curse. For these anti-tippers, it’s not about money. It’s about principle, or so the argument usually goes. In an email to SmarterTravel, reader Rick. L had this to say: “After finally arriving at the hotel, some clown expects me to pay $2 a bag to move my things 50 feet to the desk! Not only do I not tip them (or let them take my stuff), it’s almost impossible to keep myself from going medieval on them. When you show up at touchdown and grab my stuff from the overhead compartment and take it to the hotel, then you can expect a tip.” Woe be unto the service person who must interact with Rick.

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There’s a wide diversity of attitudes about tipping; for that reason, a stranger’s living wage shouldn’t be up to the customer. When businesses pass the responsibility to subsidize service workers’ meager paychecks onto the anonymous masses, things don’t always go as planned. There are those who refuse to tip, and those who tip huge amounts to compensate for the customers that refuse to tip. Plus there are those travelers who get a little confused in some situations—be it a first-time stay at a luxury hotel or a dinner in a destination with foreign tipping customs—and make mistakes. The outcome is that service workers don’t receive a regular, reliable income.

Luxury cruise lines do tipping right. While almost every non-luxury cruise line automatically adds recommended tip amounts to cruisers’ accounts (you can opt out of these or change the amount), many luxury lines just factor tips right into base fares. For example, Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, and Silversea Cruises do this. Luxury cruisers can tip extra for good service if they want. But tips aren’t expected, and the tipping factor is essentially cut out of the experience (although you pay a premium for this).

But luxury hotels? You’ll have to make it rain at properties like the Ritz-Carlton, where the two-dozen hotel employees who wrestle away your bags, hold open doors, and perform a choreographed acro-dance welcome ceremony expect ample small bills. That’s because the Ritz, along with many hotels, restaurants, non-luxury cruises, tour-guide operators, airport shuttles, spas, cafes, and cab companies, has dishonest pricing. The base rate is a lie. The tipping tradition is a convenient way for service businesses to advertise base prices that look much lower than they actually are.

In an ideal world, we would get rid of tipping altogether. According to some scholars, the practice of tipping in the West started when members of the upper classes doled out little bribes to servants who went beyond the typical call of duty. In view of that, some argue that tipping is a practical incentive for top-notch service. But if the practice really worked as effective motivation for better customer care, wouldn’t businesses that have honest pricing—like those luxury cruise lines—have terrible service? They don’t, because they can manage their employees fine without your 20 percent. And so can every other service business. Fair gratuities should be included in costs everywhere and forever.

What’s your take? Should tipping be incorporated into base rates?  

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(Photo: Tip via Shutterstock)

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