Partners - Stock market, economic and political commentary by Patricia Chadwick

Tipping (One Way to Share the Wealth)

March 21, 2016
Patricia Chadwick, pchadwick@ravengate.com
At two separate recent hotel stays, one in Washington, DC, the other in Atlanta, I noticed a small envelope in my room on which was a printed suggestion that the hotel guest leave a gratuity for the housekeeper.

“Tipping the maid,” as I remember the custom from the 1970s, seemed to die out more than a generation ago, and I was struck by the return of that custom. I readily complied and look for more such envelopes at future hotel stays.

Which gets to the point of this blog. The practice of tipping often seems to be treated as an annoying obligation, instead of an opportunity to say a gracious “Thank you.”

That attitude allows people to tip meagerly if they were not fully satisfied with the service —for example, if the traffic was snarled, and the taxi ride took ten minutes longer than hoped, or if the hamburger at the packed airport restaurant was medium, instead of medium rare. But in neither case was the recipient of the tip (or lack thereof) responsible for the disappointing service.

I like to think of gratuities as a means of augmenting the income of some of the lowest hourly wage earners in our economy — waiters and cab drivers, bellhops and redcaps, manicurists and hotel housekeepers, garage attendants and delivery people — from pizza to furniture.

And let’s not kid ourselves — we all deem the services provided by these professionals to be of critical value in our lives. Imagine coming back to your hotel room, exhausted at the end of a day jammed with meetings, to find damp towels still on the bathroom floor. Think of your frustration at getting to the airport towing luggage and toddlers and not being able to do curbside check in. Try to fathom the horror of having to do your own manicure before an important client meeting or job interview or even a date.

It’s easy to argue that if everyone were paid a decent minimum wage, there wouldn’t be the need to tip. That’s the way it seems to work in other modern societies, you may say. But that argument won’t solve the problem that exists in our economy today.

Fortunately, in many cases, technology makes the art of tipping a breeze. Credit card use in nearly all taxicabs allows one, with the touch of a finger, to add a 30% tip to the fare. If the cost of the ride is $12.50 (for example), a 30% gratuity is just $3.75. The difference between that and the meager $1.25 of a 10% tip is real cash of $2.50 in the pocket of the driver, a nice increment to his or her hourly wage and hardly a burden to the rider. And the appreciative “Thank you” from the driver as you exit the cab will put a smile on your face.

Once upon a time, it sufficed to keep lots of one-dollar bills in your wallet for the ability to tip on the spur of the moment. But today, I like to think that “FIVE is the new ONE.” A dollar tip says to the service provider, “I have to do this even though I don’t want to,” while a five-dollar bill says, “Thank you so much; I appreciate your service.”

A one-dollar tip keeps the service provider at the poverty level, while if we all make the effort to be generous with our gratuities, we can be part of having a real and beneficial impact on a large segment of the hardworking people in this country.

Trickle-down economics may be scoffed at by many, but there is no better case of true trickle-down benefits than by generously saying “Thank you” with a gratuity that matters.

By the way, the word gratuity derives from the Latin word “gratias,” which means simply “Thanks.”

Let there be thanks that someone is doing a job I don’t want to do; let there be thanks that I can share my blessing of well-being with someone who can benefit from it; let there be thanks that I can help to improve the quality of life of someone I don’t know but do appreciate.


© Copyright 2015 Patricia W. Chadwick


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