Serious Reads: Keep the Change, by Steve Dublanica

Serious Reads

Reviews of food-themed memoirs, beach reads, and histories.

If there is one point of contention that haunts all patrons of the food service industry, it is tipping. Surely we've all contributed to lengthy online discussions of the proper percentages and conditions of a post-meal gratuity. Such conversations inevitably lead to anger, guilt, and expletives. Tipping stresses us out.

Unfortunately for the tipping-averse, the practice has come to permeate all aspects of the service industry. From doormen to taxi drivers to furniture movers, tips do the talking in many lines of work. Steve Dublanica, author of the blog and book Waiter Rant, sets out to untangle this imposing knot of transactions in his new book Keep the Change: A Clueless Tipper's Quest to become the Guru of Gratuities.

Dublanica starts off by emphasizing how huge an industry tipping has become in the States. The statistics he provides cite that more than 5 million Americans—3% of the workforce—work for tips. And their patrons fork over about $248 billion in tips each year. That's some serious gratitude. Of the service providers living off gratuities, a whopping 70% are waiters—many of whom make a salary below minimum wage, expecting to supplement it adequately with tips.

For many of us, tipping comes into play only in the restaurant or delivery setting. But Dublanica's book details his travels all over the country, exploring the various facets of society where palm-greasing is expected or beneficial. At a bar, he learns that bartenders expect up to 20% of the tab for good, attentive service—and for listening to your marital problems. Drop the concierge a fifty at the beginning of your stay and expect to get those sold-out theater tickets. And in Vegas, remember that a stripper always loses a cut of her per-dance rate to the house—so be sure to hand over a bit extra to keep her in business.

I found some of Dublanica's tipping expectations to be a bit over the top. As a former waiter, Dublanica holds himself and others to very high gratuity standards. While I understand his position, it is entirely imaginable that I would end up at a carwash without a few extra bucks on hand for the attendants. Perhaps in running to grab a cab I forgot to drop the hotel doorman a dollar. In situations such as these, or when you simply don't feel you've been given adequate service, I feel we can exercise personal discretion in our tipping tastes.

But at the end of the day, Dublanica highlights that tipping is all about "microscopic relationships." Your shoe shiner or hair colorist has mere moments to leave an impression and try to up their tip percentage. So be receptive. Be aware that the person making the bed in your hotel room may make well under minimum wage without your gratuities. And if you simply can't afford to hand over stacks of bills throughout your day, express gratitude to your everyday helpers with larger cash gifts around the holidays.

Dublanica's tone is engaging and this book is a fast, fun read. Sure, there's some questionable morality (he believes there's no differentiation between tipping and bribery), and his exploits can be raucous (ever wonder what to tip in a sex dungeon?). But I certainly started to reflect on the numerous ways that I've overlooked tipping in my own life. It can't hurt to at least consider how to better express generosity and gratitude for the service of those in some of society's least-appreciated jobs. And the next time you visit your favorite restaurant, you'll have no chance of the waiter spitting in your food.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves consuming and learning about as much food as possible. She blogs at Feasting on Providence.

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