Has the tipping culture of America gone way too far?

“I know you’re Irish,” snarled the bartender. “But tipping anything less than a dollar a drink is offensive.”

Right. I’d literally just asked Jenna, my holiday companion, to remind me how much to tip in a bar. Is it a dollar a drink? Or just a dollar? Just a dollar.

OK… maybe not. So I gave the the extra dollar because she clearly really needed that 80p*.  Oh and, as you probably are aware, I’m not Irish, and she knew that having just reviewed my passport. It was a well-rehearsed line to prompt “I’m sorry to offend, now please don’t offend me”.

I don’t have a problem tipping for good service, but this was the second time in a day that I’d been obliged to hand over cash to a surly server who never made eye contact.

Earlier we’d been for breakfast at a diner that a couple of local people had recommended (in fact, as we left there was a line of people waiting).  Three servers were on duty, and since we decided to sit at the bar, we encountered all three. And, all three were insanely rude. Not just to us, we heard them serve others, and it was pretty jaw dropping.  We were polite and gracious and it was returned with sarcasm and discourtesy. We still left more than a 20% tip solely to avoid the situation as described above. The British might seem tight with tips, but the last thing we want is to cause a scene.

[Edit: just wanted to explain how rude these waiters were. One went to ‘greet’ the guy sat next to me and just stood and stared at him with her eyebrows raised. So he responded “Oh, can I get an Americano?” to which she responded, very sarcastically: “Oh hi, how are you, Americano, sure.” When the other server cleared away our plates we both said thank you, to which she responded, in a passive aggressive “Mmm hmm!”.]

I know very well that the minimum wage is lower across the pond and that tips top-up the servers’ salaries.   Although having looked up the law, the minimum wage is $10.85 with a tip credit of $2.15 (what the employer can deduct per hour for the employee to recoup in tips, I think).  Given that very few of the drinks I ordered in New York cost less than $10, where is all the money going?

I realise how much of a stingy scrooge I might seem, but I honestly find the whole tipping thing very stressful. How much is enough? How much is too much? Do I tip a cashier? Do I tip my Airbnb host? It might been pathetic but even when reading a BBC America article written by an American for the sake of the English there’s so much etiquette: ‘buying over the counter is gratuity free, although you will see cheeky tip jars..’ Cheeky? Why? Aren’t they doing the same job? Getting the same pay? Help?!

Travel in America would be so much more enjoyable if they could just pay their staff appropriately for their jobs.  It’s not as though the service would suffer, and they might not have an excuse to be quite so rude to tourists any more.


*Not just because of her attitude, because she looked like a rough old has-been that needed a good blow-dry.