Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Gratuitous Question About Gratuities

So I am in Lake Charles, Louisiana to give a talk tonight about Einstein and the wonderful lecture series folks have provided me with a very posh room at a hotel in town. I go down stairs for breakfast yesterday morning when the woman at the cash register asks me whether I want to put the gratuity on the room bill. I said no.

I had no problem with the lecture folks picking up the tab for my breakfast, meals were a part of the contractual understanding, but there seemed to be something odd about having them pick up my tip since that was something I was leaving in part out of expectation, but in part out of thanks to my waitress. Leaving a tip seemed to be not only the sort of thing that I needed to make sure was done, but the sort of thing that I had to actually be the one to do.

Hanno, on the other hand, argued (1) that tips are no longer thank yous but rather an excuse to limit the pay of wait staff and (2) the waitress' life is no different since she gets the same amount of money without knowing the source, so if she doesn't know the source, she can't feel slighted in any way and therefore there can't be a problem. If she doesn't care as long as she gets tipped, why should I?

We had a question a little while back about the ethics of having maids and whether cleaning up after yourself was something that merely needed doing or whether you acquire a responsibility to be the one to do it if you are physically able, and this seems a similar interest. There are acts like apologizing that I have to be the one to perform in order to have discharged my duty to do them. Accepting punishment is another. No matter how rich I am, I cannot rightfully pay someone else to do my prison time for me or to stay in my room without supper.

Three questions: (1&2) what belongs in this category and why? (3) Is tipping in there?