The tipping trap

A few months ago my dad came to visit. Now, my dad is a cool guy, tolerant, chilled, a decent citizen. There are few things in life that can make him loose it.

Turns out that the American tipping system is one of them.

So here’s the deal: to start, my dad gets to Boston and due to the crappy Brazilian Real to American Dollar conversion he has to multiply the price of everything by 4. Four! A coffee on Starbucks (here he is again!), which is already pretty expensive for any average working American costs about the same as a bottle of Martini in Brazil: needless to say that my dad barely drank coffee during his visit.

So the guy is already freaking out about the fact that a bottle of Budweiser will cost him about 8 dollars (about 32 Brazilian Reais) and when he’s about to pay the bill, surprise, surprise!! It’s actually kindda $9,50, sir. Now, come on, just imagine you’ve had the most expensive beer of your life (you’re probably at the LA international airport right now) and on top of that, they charge you 6$ with no apparent reason.


I have to say, my dad is… assertive when it comes to money, so if he feels he’s being fooled, trapped or tricked he’ll go ballistic on you. And in this case, oh dear, he wasn’t’ happy. Not only about the absurdly expensive beer, but also about the fact that he felt the restaurant (hum… doubting if I should call the bar/all you can eat Peking duck buffet/ rooster fight joint on the corner of my street a restaurant) wasn’t being honest with him. Why say “Budweiser – $8”, why lie about it if they’re gonna charge you $9,50”

Seriously – what’s with that?

Ok, so let’s explain daddy one of the first lessons I learned when I first got to the US: the deal is that most times the price you see in restaurants, stores, rooster fight joints and any shop in general does not include taxes. So, for that Budweiser, taxes would be around 6%, which is about 50 cents. I don’t know why taxes are not included in the price, but they just aren’t. So you slowly get used to calculating an extra 5-10% on top of the price on the price tag. Ok. I can deal with that.

But then, besides that, when you go to any – and I mean ANY – bar, restaurant, café, diner, food-truck and any hipster food related establishment of the sort, automatically you’re going to include a 15% tip. It’s not you being super nice, it’s not to impress your date, it’s not because the waiter is a younger, hotter version of Colin Firth. Unless the service was complete crap, and I mean someone spitting on your burger, you having to wait for 2 hours to get seated or the sommelier offending your mom, this 15% is just standard.

And there’s more: even if you sit directly at the bar to ask for that bottle of Budweiser, you’ll have to pay an extra dollar for the immeasurable service of having someone opening the bottle for ya. A dollar. For EACH beer. Ouch.

So imagine how mesmerized my dad was when he realized that tipping IS expected 100% of the times but it’s included in the price of the food on… 0% of the menus. “Jesus Mary and Joseph!” (or something in Portuguese slightly less polite than that).

And you know what? I agree. I’ve tried to play devil’s advocate and explain how a waiter’s salary in the US is less then my 7 year old cousin’s weekly allowance, that these guys work super hard and they’re working to pay their school debt, that they could be stealing, they could be killing, they could be playing that peruvian flout on your 50min subway ride to the airport, but they’re not, they’re trying to build something with their lives, working to pay the rent.

But my dad’s argument is simple and pretty straightforward: the problem is, obviously, not paying so that waiters earn a decent salary but to leave out taxes and tips from the price at the menu. Why misleading the consumer this way, making people think something is gonna cost $8 and them stabbing them in the back (ok, we’re getting a bit emotional here) with a $9,50 bill? It’s just frustrating to always have to pay more than you had mentally prepared yourself to pay. Yeah dad, you got me there.

I’m spending some days in Australia and I have to say, I’ve recovered the joy of buying food. I see “Sandwich for $9” and I – wait for it… – pay $9. Coffee: $3,50. Here’s three-fifty. Hurray, the (eating out) Universe makes sense again!!!

“Glad to hear it, sweetheart, enjoy. Because you know, Boston is waiting for you. With tips, taxes… and, oh, a few months of cold, cold winter…”


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