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California Ranks Dead Last Among US States in Tipping. Why?

California Ranks Dead Last Among US States in Tipping. Why?

“I’m going to have to ask you to put your cigarette out.”

I was a college student working as a waiter at a Wisconsin restaurant more than twenty years ago when I sheepishly said these words. I didn’t like saying them, and was frustrated I had to. The guest, who was sitting with his date on the indoor balcony—the fanciest part of a very nice restaurant—had asked if he could smoke. I had told him no, smoking was not allowed. He decided he’d light up anyway.

My request to put out the cigarette didn’t seem to bother the man, about 40. He shrugged and grinded it out.

Minutes later I was taking a drink order in the bar when the restaurant owner walked up to me.

“Milty, I thought you told that couple on the balcony not to smoke,” he growled.

“I did! Twice!”

“Well they’re smoking again.”

Without another word, he stalked into the dining room, went up the stairs and barked at the couple. Cigarettes were hastily doused. Apologies were made.

There were no more attempts to smoke that night, but the guest clearly blamed me for his scolding. He was unpleasant and demanding, and at the end of the night he left me a buck as a tip on a nearly $200 check.

I share my experience to illustrate a point. Servers have to put up with a lot of stuff (to put it politely). It’s just part of the job. Sure, you get plenty of nice people as guests. But you’ll get rude and unreasonable ones too, and you have to manage them as best you can.

As a server, sometimes things are just out of your hands. Maybe the cook burned a steak, or maybe the bartender botched a drink order. Things will go wrong, and it’s your job to deal with it.

Serving tables was probably the second hardest job I’ve ever had. It’s stressful, chaotic, and more demanding physically than most people would believe.

Knowing this, I’ve tried to take good care of servers ever since, to tip generously even when my experience isn’t the best. This is why a new report on tipping caught my attention.

The survey, Toast’s Q4 2022 Restaurant Trends Report, breaks down tipping by state and major cities. The five most generous tipping cities of the twelve major metros analyzed were Cleveland (20.6%), Denver (19.8%), Salt Lake City (19.6%), Phoenix (19.5%), and Richmond (19.3%).

The lowest two cities? San Francisco (17%) and Los Angeles (17.5%).

It turns out that Californians generally are the worst tippers in the nation. A breakdown by states shows the Golden State ranks dead last in tipping (17.5%), far below the national leaders: Delaware (21.8%), Indiana (20.8%), Wyoming (20.8%), Kentucky (20.7%), and West Virginia (20.6%).

This invites a question: why do Californians tip so poorly?

It’s not because they are poorer. Data show the Golden State ranks in the top five in the country in median household income ($111,622). And while it could be that California suffers from an army of bad waiters and bartenders who deserve less tips, I’ll posit a different theory.

Year after year, reports show that the United States ranks at the very top in charitable giving. The years I cite are not outliers. The Charities Aid Foundation annually publishes reports showing the United States with the highest charitable giving score in the world (although the US recently fell to third, following the pandemic, which altered charitable giving).

“…people in the United States are so generous that their voluntary giving amounts to 10.2 percent of gross domestic product,” economist Daniel Mitchell noted a few years ago. “The only other nations that even crack 5 percent of GDP are the Netherlands, Canada, and the United Kingdom.”

Mitchell also noticed something else. People in the supposedly “compassionate welfare states” in Europe had the most dismal results in charitable giving.

“Voluntary social expenditure in major European nations such as France, Germany, Italy, and Spain averages less than 2 percent of GDP,” he observed.

More recent data show little has changed. Spain, France, and Italy all rank near the very bottom in charitable giving. (Germany is average, but still well below the US.)

Now, tipping is not the exact same thing as charity, but it’s similar in a key way: it’s voluntary. This gets to an important distinction between the political left and the political right.

In his popular 2006 book Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate ConservatismHarvard professor Arthur Brooks outlined the different ways conservatives and progressives viewed compassion and generosity. Specifically, Brooks noted that many progressives saw their support for social justice and welfare programs as a form of generosity.

“One of the greatest political hypocrisies of our time is the pious sloganeering about liberals in America being more compassionate than conservatives,” wrote Brooks. “Government spending is not charity.”

Brooks is right. State spending is not charity. It’s not generosity. Generosity requires choice, and it also requires something else: giving something that is actually yours.

“It is easy to be conspicuously ‘compassionate’ if others are being forced to pay the cost,” Murray Rothbard once famously quipped.

Many on the political left today fail to realize this simple truth, including people in deeply blue California (and welfare state supporters in Italy, France, and Spain).

Humans deeply desire to be compassionate, and it stands to reason that some are earning their “compassion high”—giving releases endorphins—not through charity but by voicing support for political policies that make them feel virtuous, including the minimum wage, rent control, and high taxes.

This is not mere conjecture. Brooks cites data in his book showing conservative households give 30 percent more than progressive households to charity. (The gap is even larger for religious conservatives.) A study funded by Google found an even greater funding gap, New York Times writer Nicholas D. Kristof has noted. More recently, a 2021 meta analysis published by the National Library of Medicine found that “political conservatives are significantly more charitable than liberals at an overall level.”

Again, are there some differences between tipping and charitable giving? Sure.

But can Brooks’ book and similar research help us understand why Californians are such lousy tippers? Perhaps. As someone who still sorely remembers getting stiffed with a $1 tip on a $200 check for telling someone to put out his cigarette, I think it at least demands some attention.

Republished courtesy of FEE.

Image credit: PxFuel, NC



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  • Avatar
    Jon Parsons
    April 13, 2023, 11:50 pm

    Many California cities now have as much sense of community as an international airport. In tipping much, perhaps, depends on the identification we have with those who serve, and the desire to help a poor legitimately working stiff like we would like to have been helped. In Palo Alto CA, for example, most (maybe 80% – no kidding) wait staff speak with a foreign accent of varying degree and at least 25% are "undocumented" according to California's own statistics. The limited English often interferes with establishing a deeper personal relationship in the brief encounter. Finally, many California cities now add on local quality-of-life charges of 8-10% which are like mandatory tips. When they make me tip forward I tend to lean back. And when I tip, I don't want my money ending up in Mexico or China.

  • Avatar
    April 14, 2023, 9:58 am

    I don't think comparing European countries to the USA with regards to tipping is correct. Many counties in Europe don't tip. The wait staff don't expect a tip. They are paid for their jobs. So of course statistics for such a comparison is invalid. Not to mention that the government taxes are much higher in European countries. I will tip when in the USA if the service is good. I won't even eat at a restaurant where there tip is mandatory.

  • Avatar
    April 14, 2023, 10:01 am

    There might be a correlation between wealth and conservatism. It's possible that individuals who hold desirable positions in society, such as being wealthy, influential, religious leaders, or occupying high-ranking government positions, are more likely to lean towards conservatism. Perhaps these individuals have the means to donate more easily compared to liberals.

    Additionally, I find Jon Parsons' comment about judging people based on their accent highly concerning. Judging others based on their accent can be harmful and unfair, regardless of whether someone is an immigrant or not. It's important to remember that such judgments can also be turned back against the person making them.

  • Avatar
    Richard Rider
    April 15, 2023, 4:19 pm

    Here's why THIS Californian is stingy with his tips:

    CA is one of only 7 liberal states where "tip" employees get a FULL minimum wage PLUS tips. The rest of the states have some sort of offset of tips against minimum wage.

    So in CA a waiter makes $15+ an hour minimum wage, which in turn is cranked into the price of a meal. THEN we hapless consumers are expected to pay 15%-20% on that inflated meal cost.

    BTW, for CA kids graduating with liberal arts degrees (what is in reality degrees in "Oppression Theology"), a job as a waiter in CA is often their best option.

  • Avatar
    Bill McCloy
    July 24, 2023, 4:09 am

    Wonderful articles on origin of transgenderism and tipping! I like your drop-down menu. One can easily choose from concerns of the day! OTT baby!


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