10 Things You Don’t Think About That Turned You Into a Bad Tipper

Steve Buscemi explains why he's ideologically opposed to tipping, and is thus a bad tipper, in 'Reservoir Dogs'
Steve Buscemi explains why he’s ideologically opposed to tipping, and thus is a bad tipper, in Reservoir Dogs. | Miramax Films

Want to start a fierce, but ultimately useless debate among family or friends? Forget Donald Trump — simply dive into the concept of tipping. Just about every American knows all about tipping: the idea that you give a little extra on top of a bill to someone who performed a specific service for you. You’re usually expected to tip servers at restaurants or valets and bellman at hotels. The very concept drives some people crazy. Others don’t give it much thought at all.
Some people even take pride in being very good tippers, while others will gladly tell you they refuse to tip outright. Most of us, however, just do it. We know it’s more or less a part of a given transaction, and when we go out to dinner, we assume we’re going to be paying a little more than the sticker price.
You can argue about tipping until the cows come home. It won’t change anything — at least not in the near term. In some areas, minimum wage increases are causing some restaurants to put in “service charges” in lieu of tipping.
Most of us don’t want to be bad tippers. We might not like the idea of tipping, but we also don’t want to screw over a server (who might be earning less than minimum wage). For that reason, we roll with it. But what if you’re unintentionally being a bad tipper? As it turns out, there are a lot of underlying factors that might impact your level of generosity.
Let’s take a look at 10 of those underlying or unconscious factors that might unwittingly turn you into a bad tipper.

1. What service are you receiving?

Valets stand at the ready
Valets stand at the ready. | Rochelle Brodin/Getty Images for De Re Gallery

We usually associate tipping with servers at restaurants. But there are many other professions that rely on tips to bolster their earnings. In fact, you might have been stiffing a lot of people that you should have been tipping — all without even realizing it. Some of the more common professions that are overlooked are tattoo artists, shuttle drivers, housekeepers, and movers.

2. The establishment matters

A Denny's employee holding breakfast
A Denny’s employee holds breakfast. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A report from FiveThirtyEight looked at the differences in the amount workers at different restaurants earned in tips. Although there are a lot of variables at play, the report ultimately finds you’ll have to work your ass off (and for a longer period of time) at Denny’s to earn roughly the same amount that you would at Eddie V’s. Think about it: You’re probably going to tip way more at a high-priced steakhouse than you would at Olive Garden. You might not give it much thought, but the venue matters.

3. Geography

Bakersfield pinned on map
Tips vary by location. | iStock.com/s-c-s

Yes, where you live, or at least where you’re receiving a service, has an effect on how much cash you’re shelling out. The analysis from FiveThiryEight dipped into this a bit. You are, in all likelihood, going to make more money serving tables in Washington, D.C., or San Francisco than you are in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for example. There are even analyses that look at which states are the best and worst. Spoiler: Alaska is the best, and Delaware is the worst.

4. Is there a ‘tipping wage’?

A boy holds cash on his face -- let's hope he's vaccinated
Some tipped employees receive a lower wage. | iStock.com

In some states (a lot of states, actually) there’s a special “tipped wage” for employees earning tips. This allows employers to pay employees less than minimum wage, with the assumption the amount they’re earning in tips will make up the difference. Knowing this might impact how much you end up tipping. If you know your server is making $15 per hour on top of tips, you might be inclined to tip less.

5. What day is it?

The day of the week also affects tips. | iStock.com/Kwangmoozaa

Have a case of the Mondays? Your server might also be experiencing a similar case of the blues — the big difference being there’s a direct correlation to the amount he or she brings home at the end of the day. Data looking at which days are best for those earning tips suggest Sunday mornings pay off big. That goes not only for those in restaurant roles, but at hotels, too, when everyone is checking out. The worst times and days? Before 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

6. Physical attractiveness

A couple place their dinner order
A couple place their dinner order. | iStock.com

Restaurant chains like Hooters exist for a reason. And the people who work at those places are there for a reason. It’s because attractive people tend to draw in customers and earn more tips. There are obviously a lot of subjective things at play when it comes to rating attractiveness, but research shows women who are younger, have larger breasts, and blonde hair are usually the winners.

7. What race is your server?

Business associates discuss options with their server
Business associates discuss options with their server. | iStock.com

Racial bias comes into play in many interactions. And when it comes to whether you’re a good tipper, there’s no exception. Studies have been published looking at racial discrimination and tipping, and perhaps unsurprisingly, black servers tend to get hosed. It’s unclear as to whether this same discriminatory pattern exists when it comes to other races, but we’ll surely see more research in the future.

8. Does the tipper’s race play a role?

A couple look toward their server
A couple look at their server. | iStock.com

Your own genetic makeup can affect how much you tip. There are a lot of sub-factors that ultimately impact this (socioeconomic background, where you live, etc.), but some of the stereotypes regarding people of certain races being bad tippers seem to hold true. Research from Cornell University has dug into this, finding this very issue has deterred certain restaurant chains from opening in some areas. This, too, doesn’t necessarily mean much in any individual interaction. But in general terms, some cultural factors might have shaped your views on tipping.

9. Political ideology

The podium on stage at Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's election night event
Politics might play a role in tipping. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

Do your personal political leanings have an effect on the amount you’re tipping a server or valet? Obviously, some people have deep-rooted beliefs about the free market that might come into play. But in the simplest terms, does whether you identify as a Republican or Democrat affect tipping? There isn’t a clear answer. But religious conservatives have come under fire for being bad tippers in the past. So, that’s a starting point.

10. How much money do you make?

A man lounging in a solid-gold bathtub -- possibly relaying that he's a bad tipper
A man lounges in a gold bathtub — possibly relaying that he’s a bad tipper. | Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images

There is research that suggests the more money you make, the less generous you are. This lack of generosity can be exhibited in any number of ways, and that includes tipping. Of course, there are plenty of generous rich people — but the research goes deeper. Wealthier people have also been tied to lower levels of compassion and empathy, too. Ironically, it seems the more you have, the less you’re willing to share (in some cases).