Thank You for Holding the Mayo

Guilt tip– gratuities left to avoid feelings of guilt in situations where tipping is not required but difficult to decline under the expectant gaze of (non) service workers

Tip creep– a sneaky move made by a business, specifically a minimal or (non) service provider, to pressure consumers into dropping extra cash in a bucket, regardless of quality of, or receipt, of, services.

I decided not to have children around the time tip jars started popping up in casual dining spots and carryout pizza joints. It’s the same every time; an Italian guy who looks much older than he is, tosses my dough in the air a few times and hands it’s off to the kid that looks like a school shooter, to pack sloppily in a cardboard box and send me on my way to burn the roof of my mouth. If I just drop my change in the bucket or draw a zero with a line through it on my receipt, I leave fearing I may not be invited back. Coffee shops, food trucks, fast food peddlers and farmer’s markets have also perfected the tip creep. Rather than agonize over what services are actually provided, I leave my guilt tip whenever someone is looking; But why? Why do I feel that pang of guilt every time I collect my sandwich or make eye contact with a barista? I know that employees in entry level jobs, who are paid low wages, need the extra money for gas, tuition and beer, but I question whether businesses are taking enough responsibility for the people they employ. I present my discourse from the point of view of someone who’s been on both sides.

 I was inspired to write this staring into a see-through cooler holding prosthetic mush meat, at Jersey Mike’s, a sub-par sub shop that may as well have a sign on their glass display case that reads, “This is what 7 years’ worth of sodium looks like.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against fake meat and I’m definitely not against tipping. I just don’t like the way this Garden State imposter is going about taking my dough. Before my sandwich is even glued together, I push my plastic money into the slot and I’m asked whether I’d like to leave a 10,15 or 20% tip for the person who sliced a loaf of bread and asked if I wanted a drink – which I always decline, saving them the trouble of actually having to move. When I tap one of my brightly colored options, they ring a bell, letting everyone within earshot know if I passed or failed their moral test. If I press the (smaller than the rest) “no thanks” button, the bell sits idle. While collecting dirty looks from everyone, I’m left to wonder, as a non-tipper, if I’ll actually get that squirt of deli mustard I requested (God forbid my Sicilian uncle heard me desecrate my classic Italian hero with a condiment other than oil and vinegar; he’d break my kneecaps.)

As a partially committed high school student saving for junior college tuition, no one offered me a percentage of anything while working at the Walmart of sit down dining, Golden Corral, an all you can consume feeding trough that is far more entertaining than it is delicious. I hustled. I refilled your Mountain Dew before you even knew you were about to suck its lights out. I wrestled with hungry, sleep deprived, ill-behaved mothers for high chairs and booster seats. I cleaned anonymous vomit while babysitting your 6 children so you could hit up the fried chicken bin for the 5th time. As a confused server/busboy/janitor, I was paid the minimum wage and was lucky if your party of 8 misfits left a crusty dollar bill behind to stuff into my smelly –and usually empty, apron.  

At an upscale bowling alley in Los Angeles (yes – upscale bowling alleys are a thing,) I witnessed tipsy, young-ish hipsters fumble platinum American Express cards as they stared awkwardly at the tip line on their receipt, avoided eye contact with me, turned to their bowling partner and asked, “Am I supposed to tip?” The answer was almost always “I don’t know….bro.” That the alley didn’t accept cash was a great example of tip creeping and the guest’s guilty fidgeting and eventual surrender was a great example of guilt tipping. As a manger, the only tips I was allowed to accept were warm, stinky, bowling shoes, but I watched in amazement as our pretty, scantily clad, sexually forward, “hostesses” left every Saturday with at least an extra c-note in their pocket. It was immaterial that their job consisted of pushing buttons on a machine that did all of the work for them.

So I ask, who is really paying these employees’ wages? Many people live on tips and little else, but, when did that begin to include anyone who says, “Pull around to the next window, please,” with a shit-eating grin and a sour attitude? I know from experience that is impossible to live on minimum wage and I doubt the possibility of making an extra dollar or two, per hour, would excite this new generation of baristas who’ve become used to shoving a $50 bill in their apron at the end of a six hour shift. 

Recently, after purchasing a box of thin mints and paying with my debit card on a Square device, I was asked how much I’d like to tip a 7 year old Brownie Scout. The cookies, though delicious, were my tipping point. It’s time for businesses to man up and pay their employees a living wage, eliminating these, not-so-voluntary gratuities, so I can pay 6 bucks for my black coffee and be on my way without feeling guilt and wondering if a 2 year old is going to starve or if a freshman will drop out of college due to an inability to pay for her textbooks. On the flip side, if tip creeping and guilt tipping existed 20 years ago, I might be the one refilling your Mountain Dew tonight. 

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