University professor explores prejudice in tipping culture


Tip jar at Taipei Cafe located at 512 E. Green St., Champaign. Waitresses and waiters are often paid below minimum wage and depend on tips from customers to sustain their livings.

By Haipei Wu, Staff Writer

Juliana Georges, waitress at The Bread Company, can’t help but feel a little annoyed whenever customers leave without tipping.

As an employee whose salary is lower than the minimum wage, Georges said she needs the tips because her salary alone wouldn’t be enough to support her living in Campustown, and because she needs the acknowledgement from the customers that she’s done a good job.

“When you go into a restaurant, you should know tipping is part of that,” Georges said. “I would serve you to the best of my ability, and I expect to be tipped well.”

However, a study by University researcher Sara Clifton suggests waiters and waitresses may be better off without the tipping.

“Because customers can choose how much they want to tip, they sort of have the waiters on their leash,” Clifton said.

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Clifton said she would like the tipping system to go away because it reflects sexism, racism and classism.

“Tons of studies have shown that people who aren’t white, male and attractive get lower tips, and it has nothing to do with the service quality,” Clifton said. “So for me, it’s just like an antiquated, ugly practice.”

Clifton said when the tipping system was introduced to the U.S. from Europe a hundred years ago, it was originally established as a form of charity given to the lower class.   

“The tipping system is like saying we are both acknowledging that I’m higher class and you are lower class,” Clifton said. “And you need to be kind, sweet and subservient to me because I’m the one with the money and you are the one that needs the money.”

The tipping system today is even worse than it was a hundred years ago,  and Clifton said she believes the conventional tipping rate constantly increases.

“The rate increased from 15 to 20 (percent) in the last 30 years. It’s because we all think we are generous people, and a little more generous than the average,” Clifton said. “In order to be consistent with that internal recognition, we have to tip more than what we think the average tip.”

Clifton said it is also unreasonable that people are expected to tip in many places where they receive almost no services.

“There are coffee shops that tell you to tip after your order,” Clifton said. “You are expected to tip simply because of social convention.”

Clifton said she thinks the tipping system could go away in the U.S., just like it did in Europe, as many restaurants already replace the ordinary tipping with an automatic 20 percent service fee on the bill.

Lucky Dhanoa, manager at Ambar India Restaurant, said he thinks restaurants tend to have more customers when they don’t require tipping.

“People prefer to get their meal cheap, and we understand that,” he said.

Dhanoa said he seldom feels bad when his customers leave without tipping.

“We don’t ask customers to tip,” Dhanoa said. “But if some customers want to show appreciation for the service, their tips are more than welcomed.”

Lauren Leonatti, manager at The Bread Company, said her restaurant has abandoned ordinary tipping, in which waiters and waitresses receive tips from the table they served.

“Our system is brought by the Swiss owner,” Leonatti said. “Here the waiters’ tips are split based on how many hours they are in, and we also split the tips with the kitchen.”

Leonatti said she thinks The Bread Company’s system is better than the conventional tipping system.

“It’s really about the community. People don’t need to steal tables from one another when they know somebody is going to tip well,” Leonatti said. “It becomes the best interest of everybody to take good care of all the tables.”

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