American Tipping is Rooted in Slavery

There was no tipping in America before the Civil War. And it was during the 1920s — the second rise of KKK since Civil War ended — when all the anti-tipping laws were repealed in America. You could say tipping is how those Americans who lost the Civil War managed to legalize an aristocratic-like power over their now-emancipated servant class.

The abrupt end of slavery in America meant white supremacists shifted tactics to find ways to deny livable wages to non-whites. They also sought to under-fund or block taxation to reduce the social services (education, healthcare) for those they had just denied a livable wage. These two economic tactics became the foundation of America’s tipping culture that survives to this day.

Some in America saw the dangers and worked to shut-down the anti-democratic tipping culture, arguing correctly how it violated American values. There were numerous anti-tipping laws in the early 1900s. Here you can see some of the views of tipping in America at that time:

“Tipping: An American Social History of Gratuities”, by Kerry Segrave, p. 6

The KKK was reborn in 1915, however, and had massive impact on American culture pushing things like the racist prohibition laws (1920 to 1933). No surprise then, by 1926 the white supremacist lobby had repealed anti-tipping laws.

One of the most powerful arguments, seen here in a 1916 rebuke of Americans worshiping aristocracy, is how tipping culture is so obviously incompatible with democracy.

“Ethics of Tipping: The Test of Democracy” by William Scott

This 1916 analysis is confirmed by a Paris Food History blog recollection of where and why tipping culture was invented…French aristocracy and corruption:

These are all examples of an aristocrat giving a gratification to various workers […] It is unlikely on the other hand that diners in taverns and the cheaper cabarets gave tips. This was an obligation for aristocrats – or, probably, those who wanted to emulate them. And it even extended to those in the prison which most often held them: the Bastille. […] Everywhere you eat, submit without a murmur to the tax of the tip. It is illogical, absurd, exorbitant, vexatious […] In 1856, August Luchet described the tronc in which all tips were gathered: “a cylindrical metal safe, split on top.” He also wrote that (not unexpectedly) distribution of the collected tips was not always to the advantage of the servers; some owners found various pretexts for redirecting or appropriating some portion of the funds.

New York, arguably modeled on Paris at its hey-day, has now become the epitome of the “aristocrats in a prison” culture as described above.

This was nicely documented just last year by Lynne Truss as she visited from Europe

…tips are not niceties: give a “thank you” that isn’t green and foldable and you are actively starving someone’s children. This is not only demeaning for everyone; it also makes you feel, basically, that you are being constantly taken…

She’s not wrong. The economics of tipping look to be a disaster for everyone involved. The Economic Policy Institute explains that poverty rates of tipped workers is nearly double other workers and three times more likely to be on food stamps:

Tipped workers — whose wages typically fall in the bottom quartile of all U.S. wage earners, even after accounting for tips — are a growing portion of the U.S. workforce. Employment in the full-service restaurant industry has grown over 85 percent since 1990, while overall private-sector employment grew by only 24 percent. In fact, today more than one in 10 U.S. workers is employed in the leisure and hospitality sector, making labor policies for these industries all the more central to defining typical American work life.

In other words, by tipping, you are pushing less money into a tax pool while at the same time driving the person tipped to need more tax-funded assistance. It’s quite literally a means for aristocrats to appear good in a fleeting personal moment, while actually keeping poor workers in a place they can’t escape.

This shouldn’t be news to anyone. For ten years already we’ve had quantitative data to support what all these arguments above are saying.

The data at this point shows that tipping has become the norm in America as a legalized method to keep non-whites poor in an anti-democratic push for white nationalist aristocracy, and it doesn’t really serve any other purpose.

…98 percent of [21 million Americans eating out] leave a voluntary sum of money (or tip) for the servers who waited on them. These tips, which amount to over $20 billion a year, are an important source of income for the nations’ two million waiters and waitresses. In fact, tips often represent 100 percent of servers’ takehome pay because tax withholding eats-up all of their hourly wages. The income implications of tipping make it a major concern…weak service-tipping relationship, I argued, raises serious questions about the use of tips as a measure of server performance or customer satisfaction as well as the use of tips as incentives to deliver good service….weak relationship between tips and service quality at this level of analysis undermines the use of tips as a measure of customer satisfaction and an incentive to deliver good service.

This also has been described by psychologists in similar terms:

Empirical evidence suggests that tips are hardly affected by service quality…people derive benefits from tipping including impressing others and improving their selfimage as being generous and kind…. Whether the social norm of tipping increases social welfare depends crucially on the question whether tipping increases service quality. Although service quality is generally high, which could lead us to think that tipping is the incentive that causes waiters to provide excellent service, the analysis above shows that the sensitivity of tips to service quality is so small that tipping is not likely to be the reason for the high service quality. Consequently, tipping, at least in restaurants, does not seem to improve social welfare and economic efficiency by improving service quality

Again, just to be clear we’ve seen for over a decade studies have repeatedly proven “tipping was not significantly related to servers’ or third-parties’ evaluations of the service.”

Tipping really should be treated as an insult and disrespect, when you think about what’s going on.

I remember one night on a work trip in Copenhagen I asked a waitress if I could leave a tip and she angrily replied “I am paid a reasonable salary for my work and I am good at it. I go to school for free and get healthcare for free. This isn’t your corrupt greed-driven American system. Tips are rude.”

She was right, there’s no actual link for tipping to better service when you look at the data so my tip in her country made no sense because they have no aristocratic aspirations or need to perpetuate an economic disparity. She wasn’t desperate for an aristocrat to keep her afloat. Since she and I were in a balanced professional engagement, an amount already was settled and handing her a few bills was an insulting gesture.

Taking pride in your work and doing a good job don’t actually come from tips, as restaurateurs explain themselves.

In any workplace, everyone is required to perform well, and tips have nothing to do with it.

We see scientists report that tipping in America is racist by design, perpetuating the aristocratic aspirations of pre-Civil War Americans, and does exactly what the KKK had hoped it would.

The data show very clearly that African Americans receive less in tips than whites, and so there is a legal argument to be made that as a protected class, African American servers are getting less for doing the same work. And therefore, the institution of tipping is inherently unfair.

It is inherently unfair because that is what it was always intended to be, if you accept the argument that it was a loophole for perpetuation of white nationalist policy.

What tips have to do with is a Civil War started by white aristocrats to perpetuate and expand human slavery. Despite losing that war, white supremacists have found numerous ways to maintain programs designed to disadvantage non-whites. That is how American tipping is rooted in slavery and should be abolished.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.