The recent brouhaha over Uber's changing policy on gratuities nudged me past the tipping point. The "all-inclusive" ride-providing company now allows drivers in certain states to solicit tips, and the news is being viewed as the thin end of the wedge by some people. To preserve the sanctity of the "frictionless Uber experience," they feel compelled to stand their ground and not be pressured by "tips appreciated" signs, even when service is excellent. If they don't, God knows what might happen. Uber drivers everywhere could get uppity and expect a little extra!
There are few people I find as irritating as those who jump on a high horse claiming allegiance to some principle when, in fact, they're just cheapskates. I say, tip everyone who provides a service, friction or no friction. And by the way, since when did carrying cash become such a burden?
No matter what the expectations, I'll be damned if I'm going to be served by someone who makes less than me and not give them something extra. That's why I always tip, even in countries where I'm told it's not customary. I tip at all-inclusive resorts, because anyone who cleans hotel rooms performs a service that far outstrips their hourly wage, no matter what it is. And I tip people at the buffet table. Why wouldn't I? It puts something extra in the pockets of people who need it, and it results in faster tray refills when I need them. In Australia, some people look at me as if to say, "Crikey, what the bloody hell is this?" but I don't care. They can chalk it up to my being a crazy Yankee and go buy themselves a meat pie.
In Japan, tipping may not be the custom, but I do it anyway. Once I was staying at a nice hotel in Tokyo. Every morning at breakfast, the same young man waited on me, and every morning I tipped him. Somehow, he got it in his head that I couldn't face the day without carrot juice; he went into a panic one morning when he learned the kitchen was out. He disappeared, and came back 15 minutes later with a fresh one. At that point I didn't have the heart to tell him I've gone whole decades without it. Maybe I would have received the same attention without the tips, but I'll never know. I can say that I've never regretted leaving a tip; the only remorse I've felt is when I think I should have left more.
I know there are plenty of arguments against the tipping economy, including its implicit bias and how it enables employers to do the wrong thing where wages are concerned. Those are real problems, but in my mind they should never be used by closet skinflints as excuses not to tip.
An old Nora Ephron comedy, "My Blue Heaven," offers an interesting perspective on tipping. Steve Martin plays a smooth Mafia middleman who's sent into the Witness Protection Program. In one scene, he orders a drink on a plane and tries to tip the flight attendant. After she refuses it on company policy, he quietly slips the money in her pocket and says to the FBI agent accompanying him: "I tip everybody. That's my philosophy. Actually it's not tipping I believe in, it's overtipping."
It's a great line. I wish more people would adopt that philosophy.