Hot Tips

If you live in the United States, you’re familiar with a curious mathematical ritual that takes place at the end of every restaurant meal—it’s time to tip, with all the stress the process entails. How much should you leave? Who's getting that money? Is it enough? (And will you look like an idiot if you start counting on your fingers?) Unlike many other countries, where people tip by rounding up to the nearest ringgit or krona—or don’t even tip at all—it’s become standard in the U.S. to leave an extra 20 percent of the bill's total for your server. But how did we get here? How did tipping, a practice with roots in feudal Europe, become so ubiquitous in the United States while nearly disappearing from its home continent? And what does the abolition of slavery in the U.S.—and Herman Cain—have to do with the sub-minimum tipped wage of $2.13 today? Is tipping fair—and is there anything we can do about it?

An angled shot of a coffee shop counter, with swizzle sticks and a straw dispenser flanking a glass jar with some cash inside. A small sign sticking out of the glass jar reads "TIP"
Image by Marco Verch, Creative Commons 2.0

Episode Notes

Saru Jayaraman and Forked

Saru Jayaraman is an attorney and the director of the UC Berkeley Food Labor Research Center. She launched One Fair Wage as a national campaign to end all sub-minimum wages in the United States and is the author of Behind the Kitchen Door (2013) and Forked: A New Standard for American Dining (2016). Her organization has published a number of studies on the implications of tipping before and during the pandemic, which you can find here, alongside an easy form to ask your elected officials to eliminate the sub-minimum tipped wage. She and her team have also created High Road Restaurants,  a site specifically geared towards restaurant owners.

Mike Lynn

Mike Lynn is a professor of consumer behavior and marketing at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. Mike paid his way through school by waiting tables and bartending, inspiring his lifelong research interest in tipping—he’s written more than 70 research publications on the topic.

Natasha Van Duser

Natasha Van Duser is a bartender in New York City. She was interviewed for this article on sexual harassment in restaurants during the pandemic.

Andrea Borgen Abdallah

Andrea Borgen Abdallah is the owner and general manager of Barcito, a restaurant serving casual Argentinian fare in downtown Los Angeles. As Andrea puts it, “Barcito is my day job. No Relief No Rent is my side hustle. A more equitable and sustainable hospitality industry is my motivation.”

Josh Lewin

Josh Lewin is an award-winning chef based in the Boston area, where he runs two dining venues with his partner, Katrina Jazayeri: Juliet, a casual fine-dining cafe, and Peregrine, an Italian islands-inspired restaurant, both of which operate on a no-tipping, living-wage model.

Katrina Jazayeri

Katrina Jazayeri is a designer, beverage director, and restaurateur who opened Juliet and Peregrine with her partner, Josh Lewin. Prior to entering the food and beverage world, Katrina worked at a social enterprise incubator and led urban health initiatives, which inspired her commitment to equity, access, and career development within restaurants.

A screenshot of the tipping scene in Reservoir Dogs, where Joe is picking up the pooled tips from the table and asking who didn't contribute.
Still from Reservoir Dogs: "He don’t tip? What do you mean you don’t tip?" Thanks to Geoff Manaugh for the tip ;)