To Tip or Not to Tip – Tip Jars in Odd Places

by Darwin on September 17, 2009

In this installment of “To Tip or Not to Tip” where I examine the odd places I’ve been seeing tip jars show up, I ran into three tipping etiquette situations this weekend at a Casino where I wanted to solicit your feedback on a) who to tip and whether a tip is appropriate in a particular situation and b) how much to tip. In my last edition on oddball situation tipping etiquette, I looked at how tip jars are showing up everywhere from when someone makes an ice cream cone to some other situations that you’ll surely encounter soon if you haven’t already.  If you’re wondering why you’re reading about a casino on a personal finance site, I haven’t been to one in years and it’s something my friend and I used to do when we were in college.  I’m fully versed in the edge the house has over gamblers, standard deviation and the fact that over a long period of time, you will lose more money than you win, unless of course, you can count cards and overcome standard deviation, which very few people can actually do.


Tipping Etiquette for the Uncommon Situation

Tip the Dealer? – The dealer is an oft-tipped worker, but oddly, the tips increase dramatically when the table is winning and the tips are paltry when the house is raking it in.  What’s particularly odd about this from an economic standpoint is that the dealer actually has no involvement in whether patrons win or lose.  Cards are a game of chance.  On one hand, you may have a fun, outgoing dealer who just happens to be dealing a bad run of cards and receives no tips.  On the other, you may have a dull, boring, slow dealer who happens to be dealing a great run and when someone changes out $1000 in chip winnings, they drop a $100 chip for the dealer as a tip.

So, the quandary here is two-fold:

1) The dealer has no influence over your winnings and you’re basically tipping them for luck, which is out of their control.

2) The objective of going to a casino is to leave with less money than you came with.  It is a financial endeavor.  By tipping, you’re putting yourself further in the hole.  When I go out to dinner, I automatically factor in 20% to my assumed cost and I know that tips are how servers derive the majority of their earnings.  A dealer gets paid a standard hourly rate from the casino.

Personally, I haven’t always acted “rationally” (economically speaking) and have tended to tip when I walk away from a winning run and don’t tip when I’ve exhausted all my chips and decided to take a break.
Tip the Buffet server? – This is another non-obvious tipping situation.  As mentioned earlier, I get the 20% tip for normal service in a sit-down restaurant.  What about when you go to the hotel restaurant and have a voucher for a buffet breakfast?  The server seats you at a table and brings you OJ/coffee and says, “Go help yourself to the buffet”.  What kind of tip does that warrant?  Certainly not 20%, right?  I mean, at a sit down restaurant, a server’s running back and forth, taking orders, bringing out food, cleaning up the appetizer plates, chit-chatting and more.  Here, it’s a 1 minute exchange.  Without known tipping etiquette for this situation, I left 10% of the bill.  Thoughts?

Tip the Omelet Guy? – OK, now this one’s getting to be a stretch, but I kid you not, after being seated by our server and pondering how much I’m supposed to tip her when I’m getting my own food, I was then confronted with a tip jar at the omelet station.  One of the buffet options was to tell the omelet preparer whether you want onions or sausage in your omelet and he cooks it up for you.  He was cooking three at a time and was churning them out at a rate of probably 6 every ten minutes.  So, with a steady line, about 36 per hour.

Now, there’s a tip jar in front of the station.  There were a couple dollar bills in there.  Admittedly, I did not tip him.  The economics of this situation just don’t seem to warrant a tip to me.  First of all, he’s already getting paid a steady hourly rate.  Since people don’t carry change around with them in general, and unless someone’s breaking change, it looks rather cheap to drop a quarter in a tip jar, let’s assume the minimum tip is $1.  At 36 omelets per hour, if everyone’s tipping a dollar, that’s an extra $36/hour in tips.  Let’s assume he’s making $10/hr as his base rate.

Extrapolating into a full time job (which admittedly, the hours don’t support, but perhaps he has a similar night job preparing something else),

That would be $90,000/year for making omelets!

Aside from the fact that I don’t think I should feel obligated to tip the omelet guy, I also don’t think the role warrants tips to earn a living wage like a standard server or bartender does.

What are the most uncommon places you’ve encountered tipping situations?

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1 JoeTaxpayer September 17, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Many people don’t drop into every tip jar.
The issue is this, you tip or not, before you eat the omelet. Not all omelets are tip-worthy.
Times are tough, everyone has their hand out these days.
.-= JoeTaxpayer´s last blog ..The State of Healthcare =-.

2 Kevin September 18, 2009 at 7:03 am

I hate that so many registers now print receipts and ask you to fill out the “tip” and “total”… c’mon I don’t need to tip someone who rings me up for a couple donuts and coffee. Let’s get back to where tipping is primarily based on actual serving someone. In those cases, I’m very generous w/ tipping!
.-= Kevin´s last blog ..Euro Pacific China Mutual Fund Announced =-.

3 Mark Wolfinger September 19, 2009 at 1:17 am

“Cards are a game of chance”

I could not disagree more. Almost every game can be mastered and those who play better, win more often.
.-= Mark Wolfinger´s last blog ..VIX Graph. September 18, 2009 =-.

4 Darwin September 19, 2009 at 9:32 am

It’s common knowledge that the house has a statistical advantage in every game where you play against them. Otherwise they wouldn’t offer it. Blackjack is the only game whereby you can swing the ~1.5% (depending on particular rules of that casino) house edge to ~1% edge to the player via card counting. Over hundreds of hours of play, a player or team of players can overcome standard deviation and make some decent money. The reality is the movie “21” probably made more money for casinos than it lost because it drew a lot of new players trying to count into the casino, and they failed.

If you’re talking about Caribbean stud, craps, etc., the house has an enormous edge and no matter how good you think you are, over long spans of time, you will lose – it is a mathematical certainty.

5 Amber September 25, 2009 at 4:22 pm

I believe the question of whether or not to tip is based primarily on the base salary of the worker and secondarily on the amount of service they actually provide me. I also tend to drop small amounts of change in a tip jar from my cash exchanges, mostly to avoid the inconvenience of spending a bunch of pennies.

For instance, I used to work in a coffee shop. Base salary was around $6/hr, which is obviously not enough to live on by anyone’s standard. With tips, especially during the holidays, we could take home up to $10/hr, which is much more reasonable (but still depressingly low). If someone didn’t tip, it didn’t bother me unless they ordered a bunch of work-intensive things, like the frappuccino-like beverage we served or a cappuccino (it takes a long time to make that stupid foam). No one paying with a credit card ever leaves a tip, which is probably affecting the tip-dependent industries.

People I tip:
-Car wash people (no way they’re making much above min. wage)
-Hairdresser (don’t want to make these ladies mad – they have my hair in their hands)
-Taxi driver (work pays for this. if they seem to have ripped me off, I give them much less – somehow I feel obligated to tip taxi drivers)
.-= Amber´s last blog ..My Guy =-.

6 Damon Day October 4, 2009 at 4:17 am

I agree that the tipping thing has actually gotten a little out of control. My problem is that I don’t like to feel obligated to tip someone. I certainly don’t mind tipping if I am getting good service, but it should never be an obligation.

One place I am actually a little uncomfortable is Cold Stone. If you have never been there, the ice cream is the best ever. But if you tip them, they all stop what they are doing and sing a song. It is actually a little embarrassing. All of the stores do it, so it must be a Franchise requirement.

I swear sometimes the look on their faces when they get a tip is like OH Crap now I have to sing in front of all these people. 🙂
.-= Damon Day´s last blog ..Debt Help – Who can You Trust =-.

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