Paul Wachter wrote an interesting article for The New York Times on the curious customs of tipping: how it came to be and why we tip (even if the service is bad).
Economists have struggled to explain tipping. Why tip at all, since the bill is presented at the end of a meal and can’t retroactively improve service? And certainly there’s no reason to tip at a restaurant you will never revisit. “Using a rational and selfish agent to explain tipping, one reaches the conclusion that the agent should never tip if he does not intend to visit the establishment again,” Ofer Azar, the economist, writes. “Yet this prediction is sharply violated in practice: most people tip even when they do not intend to ever come back.”
The single most important factor in determining the amount of a tip is the size of the bill. Diners generally tip the same percentage no matter the quality of the service and no matter the setting. They do so, Lynn says, largely because it’s expected and diners fear social disapproval. “It is embarrassing to have another person wait on you,” the psychologist Ernest Dichter told a magazine reporter in 1960. “The need to pay, psychologically, for the guilt involved in the unequal relationship is so strong that very few are able to ignore it.” Ego needs also play a part, especially when it comes to overtipping, according to the Israeli social psychologist Boas Shamir.
Photo: Jeff Minton / The New York Times