Monday, January 14, 2008

Tipping Woes

What I'm going to write about is a sensitive topic; something I've hesitated to write about for some time, for fear of being misperceived. But it's been something eating at me, so here goes.

As some of you know, I've had a job delivering pizzas for a few years now. I've never made a great living at it, but I'd always managed to get by and pay my bills. In the last few months, however, I've been making less and less, getting fewer and smaller tips, and now I'm having real trouble meeting my expenses each month. It's not just me; all the drivers in my store are reporting the same problem.

My store has an extremely large delivery area and I'd estimate that approximately 60 to 70 percent of our customers are black. This corresponds to my average stiff rate -- usually more than half my runs each night are to non-tipping customers. And I'd say that 80 to 90 percent of our black customers do not tip at all and this is true regardless of income level. About 75 to 80 of our white customers tip, while 80 to 90 percent of our hispanic customers are tippers. Most customers, regardless of race or economic level also decide whether and how much to tip before the driver even gets to their door.

I don't get it. Most of the black customers I deliver to are nice people who greet me in a friendly manner, are happy with their order and the service, and thank me politely at the end of the transaction. Yet very few black people will tip. And this is true regardless of the driver's race, as the black drivers complain just as much as white drivers do about being stiffed so often by black people.

It's not just a local thing, either. Google "Why don't most black people tip?" and you'll get results that indicate that this is a concern among tipped employees of all kinds all over the country.

I've concluded that it's not a racist thing, as black tipped employees are as subject to this phenomenon as those of other races are, nor is it something done out of spite or to express displeasure with the service. I'm guessing that there must be some cultural element to it. Perhaps it's the mindset of "Why should I tip someone for merely doing their jobs? It's up to the employer to pay people fairly, not the customer."

I understand and appreciate this viewpoint, but it's not that simple. By not tipping to make that particular statement, one is not punishing the business at all -- they make their money whether or not the customer tips and have absolutely no motivation whatsoever to pay employees fairly or do away with the tipping system. The one being punished is the poor sap making the delivery who depends on tips to make the majority of their living.

Secondly, the tip system exists so that the business can offer the food at a much lower price than they'd be able to do if they paid their employees a fair wage. The business wins, the customer wins, but the employee's fate is left up to chance; whether or not they have tipping customers.

In the pizza business, a fair wage would be to pay drivers similar wages that are paid to delivery drivers from UPS, Fed Ex, and the like, which would be starting around 15 dollars an hour in my area. And that's not even taking into account that pizza drivers must use and maintain their own cars, where UPS and FedEx drivers use company vehicles. But just imagine how much the price of pizza would go up if pizzerias actually did this.

So, it's obvious that the tip system isn't going away any time soon.

Getting back to the phenomenon of most black people being non-tippers, there's no way to politely broach this sensitive topic with my customers without appearing racist, so I'm hoping that maybe this entry will generate some useful discussion.
To read about this phenomenon from two black perspectives, go to:

Blackfolks blog: "Why Don't Black People Know How to Tip?"

The Hilltop: The Student Voice of Howard University: "Tips For Black People".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. I have supplemented my income waitressing for 7 years and have to say your affirmations are true most of the time.

Black and other servers alike groan when we see a sea of black faces in the lobby because it means most of us will have the most demanding, least tipping people for at least the next two hours. Not only do most tip less than 10% but also try to change the entrees, "Can I remove clams from the dinner, add trout? I don't want to pay extra for that!"

It seems they feel everything is owed to them.

I try to treat everyone as if they are guests in my home, regardless of race. Some are very grateful, sweet and tip 15%. Most do not. This is what confuses me: When the guests sincerely say, "Thanks so much, this is the best service we're had in a long time. We'll ask for you in the future." Pats me on the hand, "This is for you." Gives a 5% tip. I think, "oh please don't ask for me again. Come back when I'm not working."

When the tip is unacceptable, I usually don't say "thank you." I just look at them and nod. Often when I do this, and go to clean their table after they leave, there is extra money in addition to the previous tip. Maybe it's not an attitude problem, but a matter of educating everyone what is and is not proper tipping. All I can do is continue to do my best. I am thinking of going to work in a better neighborhood where the clientele is mostly white whenever I go in. Thank God for white and East Asian tippers.