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What's up with all those tip jars?

Tipping has spread to businesses, such as takeout restaurants, where the customer does all the work.

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Am I alone in taking pointed notice of all the tip jars that have blossomed on business countertops? From delis to pizzerias, Chinese takeout joints to barber shops, the word has spread like wildfire: If you put out a tip jar, people will fill it.

Well, maybe they will, but I have yet to be shamed (if this is the right word) into casting my coin into the tip jar fountain. Perhaps it is the scientist in me, but I try to reason the situation out like this: I call in my order to the Chinese restaurant. I drive there to pick it up. I pay the menu price. Why on earth would I pay more than they are asking for their product? Doing so strikes me as positively un-American.

Tipping used to be confined to service-oriented occupations: waitresses, taxi drivers, doormen. Now it has spread to businesses where I seem to be doing most of the work. Just recently I was in a general store where I roamed the aisles, collected my goods, brought them to the counter, and even packed them myself. I paid the cashier $23.97 and then noticed a rather ostentatious pickle jar by the register. It was brimming with coins and paper money. On its face was written, in large red letters so as not to escape notice, "TIPS!" The addition of that exclamation point seemed to push the thing beyond a suggestion toward the realm of subtle demand.

Sometimes the tip jar bears an explanation or justification of the recipient's need for the extra cash, such as the annotation, "For college." And then there was this cryptic one I saw in a service station: "For unanticipated expenses." Hmm. Don't we all have these?

All this reminds me of a little incident with an Internet retailer. On the order form after I had added up the total for goods and shipping, was an additional charge of $1, for "immediate replacement of lost or damaged goods."

There was no way for me to decline or eliminate this fee, so I called them. The pleasant woman at the other end of the line explained that the fee was a bargain because it would ensure my satisfaction with my purchase.

"Ma'am," I calmly began, "if I am not satisfied with this purchase, I expect you to remedy the situation in any event."

She removed the $1 fee.


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