People who work in restaurants will tell you: tips say more about customers than about the service they get. All those people who say that tips are a way to reward good service and punish bad service? Sorry, but that’s not how it works in practice every day in restaurants across the country. Instead, tips are all too often used as weapons to force women to accept sexual harassment. A few of those women detailed their worst experiences for the New York Times:
There was the young server at a burger joint in Georgia, Emmallie Heard, whose customer held her tip money in his hand and said, “So you gonna give me your number?” She wrote it down, but changed one of the digits.
There was the waitress in Portland, Ore., Whitney Edmunds, who swallowed her anger when a man patted his lap and beckoned her to sit, saying, “I’m a great tipper.”
And at a steakhouse in Gonzales, La., Jaime Brittain stammered and walked away when a group of men offered a $30 tip if she’d answer a question about her pubic hair. She returned and provided a “snappy answer” that earned her the tip, but acknowledges having mixed feelings about the episode.
If you don’t believe restaurant workers when they say that tips aren’t about good service, the research agrees with them—and shows that tipping promotes racial inequality:
… good service does not motivate tipping decisions as much as people think, said Michael Lynn, a professor of consumer behavior and marketing at Cornell, who has spent years studying why we tip.
“The evidence just isn’t there that the desire to reward good service is driving most tipping decisions,” he said.
Instead, Professor Lynn said, customers are more likely to tip waitresses who are large-breasted, slender and blond, according to research he published in 2009. White servers are tipped more than people of color, according to his research.
And when tipped workers are paid a subminimum wage of $2.13 an hour—which has been the federal level for more than two decades—it only increases their dependence on tips.