Tipping: let’s not

This entry was inspired by Wait But Why’s unsurprising blog post on the necessity of tipping (linked below). In the lead in on Wait But Why’s Facebook page, he says

Tipping is about making sure you don’t mess up what you’re supposed to do.

I call his blog post unsurprising because he admits to having once been a server. He claims he was “undertipped” — but I disagree that undertipping is a real thing. I disagree with the tipping system in general, but we’ll get to that. Lots of things make no sense:

Pricey restaurants

When I was in grad school, a fellow grad student told me that he had spent years as a waiter at a high-end restaurants making $100K per year (tax-free). He reported only enough of his tips to make it appear that he was making minimum wage. It was hard for him to leave that lifestyle behind — he only worked dinner hours and was free to party and sleep in the rest of the time.

Sure, he was providing a needed service. But was his work really of more value to society than, well, that of most people? The median income of an American worker is far below $100K, after all. And if your meal at a cheap restaurant costs $10, but a meal that took similar efforts on the part of the waiter cost $100 at a fancier restaurant, does the fancy waiter really deserve 10x the tip?

Claims that waiters rely on tips

According to US Federal law on tipped workers:

If an employee’s tips combined with the employer’s direct wages of at least $2.13 an hour do not equal the federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must make up the difference.

Though the rest of his article seems … if not well researched then at least researched … his claim that in the case of some tipped workers, “customers are in charge of paying the professional’s salary”. He even goes on to emphasize that for waiters and bartenders:

Your tips are literally their only income.

That is literally not true, unless the businesses they work for are violating federal law.

In what sense can we agree that service workers “rely” on tips? Only in the sense that they are gambling on their salaries: counting on the tipping system to get them more than minimum wage. Because, I’ll say it again, minimum wage is guaranteed by federal law. Even if a tipped worker doesn’t receive a single cent in tips, he will make the maximum of federal/state/local minimum wage, and furthermore, it will be his employer that pays the difference, not the customer — as it should be!

The entitlement

Now that we know tipped workers are guaranteed minimum wage, let’s examine the entitlement. I’ve gone to dinner with foreigners here and let them refuse to tip. We’ve been chased out into the street by angry servers asking if they did something wrong. I’ve been told “the standard tip is 15%” when I had paid the check separately and was intending to leave the tip on the table. I’ve had discussions with people who have been tipped workers, and the attitude is that customers “owe” them at least a 10% tip — and that’s the low end that’s supposed to be reserved for totally crap service. The blog post below claims that it’s never acceptable to tip below 15%.

Why do tipped workers believe they deserve a certain amount? A simplistic answer is that the broken tipping system in America has given them that expectation. It’s the norm to tip. There’s social censure if you don’t. People call you cheap and waiters follow you down the street. But is it reasonable for a service worker to expect more than minimum wage? Most service positions don’t require much in the way of specialized skills or education. They are not any more demanding or dangerous than other minimum wage jobs (WalMart workers, for example). There isn’t a shortage of willing waiters. Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems silly that they should expect more than minimum wage. And if they could get it with their skill set, I’m sure they would work elsewhere — where the salary was guaranteed. Yet, they willingly work for tips — probably because it’s easy to underreport them when it comes time for income taxes.

An alternative

Just don’t tip. There should be a business card that people leave in place of adding a tip. One that says more or less:

Your service was [Excellent Good Fair Poor], but in any case, I don’t tip because your wage should come from your employer, not the customer. If you believe your wage is unfair, you should take it up with your manager.

Maybe there could also be a link to some kind of Anti-Tipping Society with more info on politicians/labor unions/etc that they can become involved in to demand a fair salary that doesn’t rely on tips.

Remember: if you believe that it’s the restaurant’s responsibility to pay the tipped worker and not yours, then you shouldn’t tip – because the restaurant only has to pay $2.13 an hour if you decide to be Mr. Moneybags and leave a generous tip. That’s right — the restaurant paid your server $2.13 while you paid $20 for that $100 meal. Why on earth should you be paying 10 times as much as the actual employer? Why should someone with no special skills or education be making $100K/year, tax-free? Everyone who tips is contributing to the problem we have today. I think the only way to motivate anyone to change this system is to stop tipping.

Everything You Don’t Know About Tipping


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The sharing economy

In my closet, there is usually a box. In that box, there are more boxes, all nested in one another like Russian dolls, but with their tops open. The smallest box is stuffed with old air pockets, used padded envelopes, tattery tissues paper and druggie-sized ziploc baggies. Why? Why, you may ask. For just one reason:

I am a hoarder.

There. Now you know. The basest fear in a hoarder’s heart is that she will discard something and then need it later. It hurts even more when I can remember having once had the perfect thing and giving it away. The motivation to keep things is this:

I have it now. If I get rid of it and I need it later, I’ll have to find it AND pay for it. How inconvenient!

This mentality, in its extreme cases, leads to the homes you see in A&E’s Hoarders.

What has helped me immensely in the last few weeks is the discovery of the sharing economy with sites like Yerdle.  (No, I don’t work for them. I’m just a rabid fan.) It’s very reassuring that if I give away, say, my old jewelry box, then I one day desperately need another, I can probably find one on Yerdle and “pay” for it with the points I’ve accumulated. It’s also a nice idea that something I like but never use could be very useful right now to someone else. It isn’t pure altruism though. Far from it. Here are some things I’ve managed to get for free (and their retail prices):

Crate and Barrel down queen duvet insert ($259)
Apple 85W MacBook Pro charger ($79)
Farberware roasting rack ($38.88)
Stainless steel compost pail ($22.99)
Fashy warmflasche/hot water bottle ($18.95)

I almost feel bad because the things I’ve given away were largely worthless. Like old clothes, toys and costume jewelry. I’ve always found it funny that those things cost so much at the store, but have so little value on resale. Even a $200 cashmere sweater won’t fetch more than a few bucks at a garage sale. I’m not going to bother with buying things at full retail price anymore when I can avoid it. Clothing, utensils, bakeware, dishes — most household goods, and even some nice furniture can frequently be found for free. Why spend money to make retailers even richer? With all the money saved on these items, I can feel better about splurging when it matters to me. Like on travel or Apple products.

I also attended a Peerswap the other evening. While I did bring a sack full of old clothes to give away, what I came home with (a North Face jacket, a J. Crew blazer and button down, 2 H&M sweaters, etc) was worth a lot more. More importantly, I’m sure I’ll get more use out of my haul than the items I gave away.

I guess that’s part of the point: we have limited storage space, and limited time to use all the things we own. So why not try to give our unused things a better life? I like to imagine the rainbow slinky I know delighting a child again, like it once delighted me.

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I like to tell people that I’m a lucky person. The most common response to that is “I don’t believe in luck” or Ben Franklin’s quote

“I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it”

Okay, cute. So if I work really hard at a job, I increase my chance of winning the lottery? That’s the sort of luck I’m talking about: something improbable but good that happens to to a person by chance.

Things like finding a DSLR or a twenty dollar bill in the street. But I’ve never won anything on a large scale. Maybe I should prove that I am lucky? Should I buy a $150 raffle ticket for the house shown above?

I mean, the expectation value would be zero with a ticket price of $44.44 if the house (valued at $4 million) were the only prize and if 90,000 buy tickets (that is the upper limit for the number of tickets sold). But the math is more complicated because there are 1800 prizes total, and you can purchase multiple raffle tickets for a discount (3 for $400, 5 for $550). The website says there ends up being an at least 1/50 chance of winning something.

Okay, tell me what to do.

Photo credit: SF Dream House Raffle


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In defense of Abercrombie & Fitch

The internet was outraged at a few comments the CEO of A&F made in 2007 about wanting to sell his clothes to thin people. His comments fall under the category of things which are logical to think and act on, but taboo to say. Of course he wants the thin/popular kids to wear his clothes: that’s basically free marketing. But America is currently on a “love your body” and “fat acceptance” kick (understandable, given that 70% of American adults are overweight or obese) so he should’ve known it’d be naughty to say it.

Me? I’m not thin. I’m not tall. I do not, in any way, resemble an A&F model and I never have. Except maybe the hair. But still, A&F has been one of my favorite clothing brands for more than 10 years. Here’s why:

1. Soft — whatever their ethics or lack of them, the clothes they make are soft. I like the feel of their fabrics against my skin. Sometimes, they sell cashmere. And it was some of the best cashmere available at that price point.

2. Fit — I’m Asian. I don’t really have breasts. A&F makes clothes for people without breasts. Most of their tops look downright pornographic if you’re larger than a B cup.

3. Attention to detail — It isn’t only the fabric and the cut, but even the tiniest details like the ribbon lining the collar on the inside look like they’ve been carefully considered. And the buttons and ribbons. And the colors. The colors are divine. No one does pastels like A&F.

But even the rest. A fat blogger (I think she identifies herself as such) did a photoshoot of herself in the style of A&F ads [linked below]. It was meant to show that fat people are attractive too, but I don’t see why this assertion matters. Some brands do target fat people. Others don’t. It seems like a deep insecurity that fat people, especially fat bloggers have. They bristle at the thought that anyone might find them unattractive. Rather than trying to contradict, it seems better to just accept that some people don’t think they’re attractive and it doesn’t matter.

You tell me — do her photos ‘prove’ that fat people are attractive too?

‘Fat’ Abercrombie Ads

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Push Back

I was at a Beethoven & Schubert chamber concert on Saturday night, and I arrived a few minutes late. There was already a line of other latecomers and the attendant told us she’d let us in between movements. Then a Jewish man slid up, right against the door, and started wheedling to get in. The attendant told him the same as she told the rest of us “when the movement is over.” He didn’t move to the back of the line. Instead, he stayed pressed up against the door, certainly inside the attendant’s personal space bubble.

When there was a moment of silence, he put his meaty hand on the door of the auditorium and opened it. The attendant stopped him, and he started arguing with her. “You said we could go in between movements. The movement is over now.” I think she meant between pieces, when there would be a bit of shuffling of musicians and stage setup. She held her ground though, and closed the door.

“Can I slap him?” N asked me.

“Please do.”

So N gestured at the line, “Sir, we have all been waiting.” The Jewish man smiled and nodded, “mmhmm.” He didn’t move.

I followed up, “Maybe you should get in line like everybody else?”

Then the attendant actually defended him, “Oh there’s no line here, it’s open seating.” This made no sense. If there were tickets, then lines wouldn’t matter. But without them, the best seats would go to whoever gets inside first.

I didn’t let him ruin my evening, but decided I should blog about it. Society would be a much worse place if we encourage his pushy behavior by letting him slime his way to the front of the line, or force his way into the concert hall in the middle of a piece. Instead I think we should push back. People like this don’t care about glares or disapproval. They need to hear “no” from people who have the authority. They need to be told to wait in line like everybody else.

In my ideal world, we’d all stand up to these people whenever they tried their creepy “social engineering” methods for getting ahead. We would all chime in and say “wait in line the rest of us.” We’d all do our part to prevent them from getting what they’re after. We really should not encourage this kind of behavior. Let’s show them that being pushy gets them nothing but disdain. Let’s push back.

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Copperplate practice (January 2014)

Here we are, this month’s practice. For comparison here is last month’s.

I think my flourishes are surer and less wobbly. The trouble is that I’ve run out of lessons to imitate, and have resorted, variously, to quotes from Taylor Swift, Robert Louis Stevenson, Miley Cyrus. Oh, and I even included a particularly fun-to-write name of a friend. This month, I even did an entire page of quotes from Nietzsche — that was fun but not as pretty. I can post that too if anyone wants to see.  My favorite capital in copperplate is W. N is very nice too, though.

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Marlise Muñoz

Marlise Muñoz is a pregnant woman who is being kept on life support against her and her family’s wishes because of the Texas Advanced Directives Act which states, in part,

A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.

Her doctors have already declared her brain dead, and their reports claim that the fetus (14 weeks gestation at the time of Marlise’s death) is already so deformed that sex cannot be determined.

Today, I’d like to try to figure out who benefits from the law. It isn’t Marlise herself. She was an EMT, and her husband claims that her wishes were clear: she didn’t want to be kept on life support. It isn’t her family. Her parents and her husband want to honor her wishes, and her parents even expressed an interest in overturning the current law. It isn’t the hospital. Though there is some profit to be made on keeping her in her current state, the reason given by the hospital sounds like it’s based on the fear of legal repercussions if they don’t.

I think that covers all of the parties who are directly involved. Does it benefit society? It’s hard to see how a law that overrides a woman’s wishes for end of life decisions can be generally positive. In this case, it isn’t even clear that the child’s best interests are being served, since a brain-dead body cannot properly regulate hormone levels (or other factors necessary for the normal development of a fetus). A society in which we are forced to use legally dead women to incubate fetuses sounds less than ideal — I think we can all agree to that.

Who does benefit then? Why is this law in place? Apparently, laws of this type were a response to advance directives (living wills) — an attempt to appease the Roman Catholic Church. Now it begins to make sense. Rather, it becomes clear that it shouldn’t be a law. Laws apply to everyone, regardless of religion, so they should be formulated on principles that are not based on religious beliefs.

When I talk to people from western Europe, they think it’s quaint that being an atheist is something worthy of discussion. The way that I think it’s quaint when someone from Kansas thinks that being gay is a big deal. This is an example of why the discourse on religion still matters here. American atheists have to live with religiously motivated laws that benefit no one!

More info on this topic:

Pregnant, and forced to stay on life support (NYT) 

Marlise Munoz On Life Support Sparks Controversy And Lawsuit (Huffington Post)

Brain-Dead Marlise Munoz’s Fetus Is “Distinctly Abnormal.” (Slate)

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First day of my life

I was recently introduced to a cover of one of my favorite songs:

Compare it to the original.

Here’s what the cover said to me:

I’m so high, what are these lyrics, whatever who cares, lol. Woo, look at my pretty guitar, and isn’t my voice so mellow? Bet you wanna sleep with me now, huh girl? Yeahhhhh you do!

Contrast it with my impression of the original:

i really can’t sing. and i’m ashamed of my voice. but i really mean this so i have to force myself to drink, to get drunk. even then i know can’t just say it, i’m too shy. so listen.. and, i’ll… i’ll close my eyes and sing it to you.

What do you think?

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This is my cat. She actually does go crazy daily. Usually after a long nap or something under the couch. She rushes from room to room with a crazed look in her eyes and either attacks or acts terribly frightened of legs.

The text says:

C is for Cecilia the cat, who snorts coke under the couch and comes back crazy

Please see here for other entries in this series and/or an explanation.

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It’s not wrong

Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer makes the following argument that it’s wrong not to donate to charities that save lives:

•First premise: Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad.

•Second premise: If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so.

•Third premise: By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important.

•Conclusion: Therefore if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong.

In the second part, he argues that in order to refute his conclusion we have to find some flaw in reasoning. These are my objections.

First premise – These things are not necessarily bad. If they are happening to someone I like, they are bad. If they are happening to people I do not personally know, they are neutral. If they are happening to people I dislike, they are good.

Second premise – Sure. But ‘nearly as important’ can only be defined by me. The life of someone I do not know is not as important to me as even the tiniest pleasure in my own life. How can it be? I don’t know them! Whether they live or die has no bearing on my life at all. People are dying all the time. It’s what people do.

Third premise – Not at all. Everything I do with my money is more important than that. Because it benefits me or people I care about. That is more important to me than saving lives of people I don’t know.

I mean, it’s fine if you want to live a stripped-down no-frills life and donate every spare cent to starving people. But it’s also fine if you want to keep that money to buy a vintage Porsche or to spoil the hell out of your girlfriend with every pair of Miu Miu stilettos she glances at. Just as no one would seriously argue that it is wrong not to spoil the hell out of your girlfriend, no one should argue that it’s wrong not to donate to aid agencies. It isn’t right or wrong. It’s just a difference in what each individual values.

Is It Wrong Not To Help (part 1)

Is It Wrong Not To Help (part 2)

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