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Thursday, February 02, 2017

Tipping As A Racist Act

"Tipping is actually one of the biggest hoaxes ever pulled on an entire culture."
"It wasn't considered slavery because we would ask our customers to pay tips, and therefore no one could say that they were being enslaved."
"And no surprise, but most of the people who were working in service professional jobs in restaurants and Pullman train cars were African-American."
"There's just nothing good about [the tip system]."
Danny Meyer, restaurateur, U.S.A.
"Tipping is actually one of the biggest hoaxes ever pulled on an entire culture," restaurateur Danny Meyer told Dan Pashman on WNYC's The Sporkful podcast.
Getty Images     "Tipping is actually one of the biggest hoaxes ever pulled on an entire culture," restaurateur Danny Meyer told Dan Pashman on WNYC's The Sporkful podcast.

Tipping for service is now widespread around the globe. Not necessarily everywhere. Tipping is not done, for example at all, in Japan. Perhaps with the understanding that anyone in a service job deserves a living wage, perhaps not. Could be that tipping in some societies is considered insulting whereas in Western countries where tipping is seen as a customer obligation, those in the service industry feel insulted if the tip is insufficiently generous.

But who might have known the genesis of tipping, and that it grew out of a wholly shameful enterprise? Danny Meyer, that's who. And as a result of his distaste for its inception, as a recognition that it has such an unsavoury past, he set about eliminating tipping as a social and financial-services-compensation custom in his restaurants; the burger chain Shake Shack and the Union Square Cafe in New York City.

For the uninitiated, Mr. Meyer explained how the practise of tipping began. In the United States, of course, where so many diverse customs begin and then spread elsewhere. But more to the point in the aftermath of the Civil War years when the industries associated with Pullman train cars and restaurants succeeded in petitioning the federal government to permit their taking on servers but not paying them a penny for their trouble.

Instead, the generosity of clients of the servers, expressing their appreciation through dispensing small amounts of cash constituted the living wages of people who were unabashedly conscripted into servitude as virtual slaves; an extension of the slave labour that the United States' 18th and 19th Century wealth was predicated upon, only given a whiff of respectability by general consensus.

So if the Civil War was partially based on manumission of black slaves, it was renewed by the tipping public filling the vacuum that employers of blacks left by failing to pay salaries to servers.

diner waiter sandwichesTipping is traced back to 17th century England.   Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

That may be the underhanded theory behind tipping in America, but it seems there's something awry in the narrative, since according to various documented sources, the emergence of tipping as a practise appears to have taken place in the 1600s, in Great Britain. Business Insider has this to say about tipping:
"The custom originated in Europe, and while its history is not entirely clear, it is commonly traced back to 17th century England. The word "tip" is speculated to be an acronym for "To Insure Promptitude," which was printed on bowls in British coffeehouses."
What is today considered a given started as a purely aristocratic practice — a mere "allowance" that the upper class would offer to the socially inferior."

And the strange thing is, being serviced appears still to strike people in a rather undemocratic manner that they are gentry and the servers are subservient, so in a kind of noblesse oblige inspiration, one tips the socially inferior represented by waiters. Evidently a 2014 study published in Sociological Inquiry discovered that customers in restaurants whether they were black or white reacted in a discriminatory manner while tipping, giving blacks less in tips than they would white servers.

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