Earlier this week, the big viral video showed the employees at a used car lot abusing a pizza delivery guy. It's on YouTube, but here's a SFW version.

Apparently, the delivery guy thought it was a "keep the change" situation when the employees handed him two twenties and two fives for a $42 delivery. (The second five implies that the tip would be around $8, because otherwise there would have been only one five.)

Anyway, the way the employees overreact, you'd think the poor delivery guy had raided their bank accounts. It's an interesting exchange that illustrates what I observed previously: that tipping is a barometer of character.

In a previous post, I identified undertipping as a red flag that a colleague might be a jerk. My opinion was (and is) that the minimum tip for waiters and waitresses should be 15 percent, regardless of the quality of service, and more if the service is exceptional.

Not entirely to my surprise, some people became furious at the idea that undertipping was jerky. These negative comments fell into two categories: 1) "Tipping shouldn't be necessary," and 2) "I want to punish the server for bad service."

Let's look at both these justifications carefully.

The "tipping shouldn't be necessary" excuse is, IMHO, slapping a high-minded veneer atop small-minded penny-pinching. The excuse allows cheapskates to pretend they're doing something noble by not participating in a practice they find offensive.

However, since tipping is the system that's in place, all that fancy justification is really just a way to feel good about oneself when saving a few bucks by stiffing the server.

Similarly, the "I want to punish the server for bad service" excuse also cloaks itself in fake altruism. In this case, undertipping supposedly helps servers realize that they need to improve their performance.

However, "bad service" is almost always "slow service," which usually isn't the server's fault. When servers take a long time to bring food or don't fill water glasses quickly enough, it's usually due to understaffing, which is bad management.

Punishing a server for slow service is like kicking a dog to punish its owner. When you add the fact that waiters and waitresses are often paid a minimum wage of $2.13 with the expectation they'll receive tips, undertipping seems just plain mean.

I admit that sometimes I've run across surly servers. However, in my experience, the best way to deal with surliness is to smile and cut the server some slack (and still tip), because you just don't know what the server might be experiencing in life.

I'm not bringing this up to pretend I'm superior. Rest assured, I have my share (and more) of personal shortcomings. I'm bringing the tipping issue up because it's a specific case of a general rule about the people you meet at work and elsewhere. That rule is:

Your character is defined by how you treat people when 1) treating them badly entails no consequences, and 2) treating them fairly or well is inconvenient.

For example, workplace bullies are being jerks because that makes them feel powerful and because they know they can get away with it.

Aggressive drivers are being jerks because they cut people off knowing that there will be no consequences and that they'll arrive where they're headed a few seconds sooner.

Content pirates are being jerks because they steal the work of creative people knowing that they won't be caught and that buying that same content would cost a few dollars.

Similarly, undertippers are being jerks because they accept service knowing that tipping is part of the deal and then save a few bucks by stiffing the server, who has no recourse.

Please note that I'm not saying that any of the above are jerks all the time. I am saying, however, that all those behaviors are signs of a character flaw that could probably use some self-awareness and belief adjustment.

Published on: Jan 21, 2015
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