Blacktops

Anyone who’s ever worked in the restaurant business will know exactly what the title of this post means.

Basically, it’s a denigrating [sic]  term that waiters (of all races, by the way) use as shorthand to describe a table of Black customers.  What “blacktop” means is that the servers are highly unlikely to get a tip from that seating.

Black people don’t tip.  (As always, that may not be 100% accurate but, as the bookies say, it’s the way to bet.)

Insty brings it home with this post, and I, as a two-year veteran of Ubering with well over two thousand trips driven, can attest to his friend’s conclusion.  (And bear in mind that about 80% of my annual business comes exclusively from taking executives to the two Dallas-area airports, which means that mostly, the tips are going to be part of the expense account.)

As a one-time statistician, I unconsciously collect data from my own experiences, and I’m going to present Kim’s Hierarchy Of Tipping (in an Uber context) and digging into my experience, here are the percentages of people who tip, by category.

  • White men:  70% — close to 90% of my tip revenue comes from White men, of all socio-economic classes
  • Chinese / Japanese men:  50% — but it’s a tiny number, so the actual revenue is insignificant
  • White women:  25% — and their tips are much smaller than the mens’, and younger women hardly tip at all
  • Indian men:  5% — and that only from the few Indian guys I pick up on a regular basis
  • Older Black men:   5% — if they’re executives, otherwise 0%
  • Younger Black men:  0% — unless  they’re in food service i.e. waiters (see below), in which case it’s about 2%
  • Indian / Black / Chinese women:  0% — I think one  Indian woman once gave me a $2 tip (on a $40 fare).
  • Young White guys, mostly waiters, cooks and bartenders:  close to 100%;  why?  because they understand the value of tipping.  When a young guy tips me $3 on a $4 fare, I know what that represents, and it has nothing to do with percentages.

Here’s the thing:  tipping your service provider isn’t just about the money, although that is important.  What tipping does show that you the customer value  what I as your service provider has given you, and it gives me an incentive to keep providing a good service.

I’ll spell it out from my own perspective.  I get up at about 3.15am and log in to Uber at about 3.45am, working until about 9am.  I provide a courteous, smooth, knowledgeable and (sometimes) entertaining trip, every time.  There’s free water on offer, a phone charger if needed, and I even load and unload my customers’ suitcases.  If a customer has forgotten something like a phone or passport, I stop the clock and turn the car around to fetch it.  I monitor the traffic reports so I can take a different route to avoid congestion.  I keep my car spotless (inside — on DFW roads, I’d have to wash the outside twice a day to keep it as clean).  And on that topic:  it’s not some cab company’s heap that I’m inviting you into, it’s my own personal car.

If I published the compliments that a few (maybe 80 or so) customers have left on my profile over the past two years, you’d think I’d made them all up.  (“Best Uber ride ever!”  and “Great conversation!” are the most common.)  I don’t provide good service;  I provide fantastic  service.

Yet very few people tip.  My tip percentage of total net income is 4.74% (and that is a hard number, because it’s Tax Time).  About a third of what a waiter makes.

And I have to tell you all that if one day I decide to chuck it all in, it’s because excluding White men, people in general are ungrateful assholes.

29 comments

  1. It’s my understanding that a lot of the service industry is underpaid, with the expectation that the tip they receive is part of their salary. I think that’s BS, but I do understand some people don’t have a choice and I always tip for good service. But then again, I’m an older white guy.

    My only two issues is 1) tipping in advance of service (doordash, pizza delivery, etc.) and 2) the newish expectation that 20% tipping is normal for ok service. Sorry, but 15% for good service, 20% only for exceptional service is still my baseline.

    1. The severe underpayment meme came from when there was an allowance for tipped personnel to be paid less than the minimum wage – don’t know if it still applies as I left the “Hospitality Industry” 2 decades ago. Now, we have Min/Wage people making $15/hr with benefits.

    2. 15% is excessive except maybe for extremely exceptional service.
      5-10% is the norm here, and that’s for service that’s at the very least better than average.

      Problem is many people these days expect to be tipped 20-25% for serving you with a scowl on their face, dumping plates on the table that had been standing under a heat lamp for 20 minutes, in a restaurant that’s got plenty of empty tables so they aren’t overworked.

      I’ve stopped tipping completely unless service is better than expected, and my expectations these days are not high, but still there’s rarely an opportunity to tip and when I do it’s mostly rounding up the bill and no more because the service was ok but nothing special…

      If Kim provides the exceptional service he claims (and I don’t doubt he does) that’s the kind of person who’d get a 10-15% tip from me. But that’s as far as I go for any tipping.

    3. In high-end dining, tips are big money. Some years back, a waiter at one of Chicago’s top restaurants (at least one Michelin star, maybe two) sued for his proper share of the tip pool – the claim was IIRC in six figures.

      A friend of mine defined the typical range of tip scale as follows:

      Adults tip 10%

      Jews tip 12%

      White men tip 15%

      Republicans tip 20%.

      Bear in mind that anyone can be a Republican.

      1. I sometimes like to run what-if numbers. So the wife and I went to a higher end restaurant (at least higher end for us) and end up with a $150 tab for two meals, plus wine and appetizers. Service was excellent, so a 20% tip added $30 to the bill. All told about an hour and a half at the table.

        So this (very good) waiter can probably manage 4 tables at once. Assuming comparable meals and tipping, that’s $120 in tips in 1.5 hrs, or $80 per hour. Now assume that that rate only applies during peak periods, maybe 4 hrs per day. Five days a week, 50 weeks a year, we’re looking at $80,000 just in tips. Even if he splits some of that with kitchen staff and such, he’s making good money working part time.

        Sometimes my brain just runs with stuff like that.

  2. Do race and sex come into it from your side? As in if you were a black female, would women and black people tip more?

    1. Nope. According to the Son&Heir (who has run the front end), Black servers get nada from blacktops, too — and complain just as loudly about “cheap-ass bastards”,

  3. Ayup.

    There is nothing better than seeing them light up when they get a good tip. Tipping well is part of the chivalric code and an honourable way for a man to honour himself.

    It’s racist as hell but I don’t care. I tell the cab companies that I want a white driver and a clean car. I’m right up front with it too; I tell them that if they send me some smelly vibrant in a dirty car, I will refuse it. If they give me any static I hang up the phone and call someone else. I’ve had those mutts try and shaft me too many times and it’s not worth the hassle. I don’t care what anyone says, vibrancy and diversity has been a terrible thing for that industry and has driven the wages and service level into the toilet.

    It is what it is.

  4. I always tip, even if I have had bad service, (sometimes things just go wrong), if I have had deliberate terrible service, I get into a row, because they need to be told.
    Here in the UK the norm, when people tip is about 10%, I always try and make it 15-20%, not because I am particularly nice but because I understand that people are not working for love but for money, money that they need to live on, (it’s a good thing I understand that as I have people employed in my business). But as Don Curton said I am an older white guy and I was brought up that it is the proper thing to do, along with opening doors for ladies, letting them go first and getting out of the way of people carrying things and even helping ladies down stairs with prams or pushchairs.

    1. And thus you perpetuate the bad service.
      Rather than rewarding people to go the extra yard (yes, I’ve lowered my expectations, no longer expect a mile) you reward them for not even trying to be polite and offer service with a smile.

  5. This was a topic of conversation a lot in my early marriage. (My wife is black, her first husband she was married to for like 2 years was as well, I look like I stepped out of an SS recruiting poster, or at least I did when I was younger.)

    Anyway, one of the things that she hated about her Ex is that he was a crappy tipper and basically refused to tip white people because, well he was racist against white people, and any other – non-black people (and an A-hole generally, he was tight tipping blacks too.) She told me that when they went out, she would look for an excuse to go back in and leave a tip when he refused, that kind of crap. It is definitely a thing with some of the crowd.

    That said, my wife was for a long time a random tip generator. Sometimes not enough, sometimes too much – the problem? Well she cannot do quick math in her head (although very good in an accounting way, not at all in an abstract way). I told her some quick tricks to get an approximate answer, which helped (she would try to calculate it exactly too, which is obviously harder and not necessary). Also, these days there are calculators on phones and some bills even let you tip by % vice absolute amount, which is handy. I suspect that the issue with poor tipping by females may relate to that, at least partially.

    You did not mention what to my experience was the worst tippers. Back when I waited tables in deep dark 1980s, if a crappy tip was to be had, it was from old people, particularly old people who were using any kind of discount. They would be demanding, often rude, and then tip for crap or not at all. It was a semi-up scale restaurant, and we did not get a lot of black customers, but I do not remember them being crappy tippers as whole, although certainly in specific instances, particularly if they were young, but the young people tipped crappy anyway regardless of race/sex.

  6. I always tip well (but as noted I’m an old white guy). For instance, I may stop in a local bar and have three or four happy-hour price beers (for Yuengling, typically $2-$2.50 a pop here in PA), so I maybe spent $10 and I’ll leave a $5 tip. My baseline for drinking draft beer is a buck per serve, plus an extra buck or two. It goes up if the service is very good (and it’s amazing how often I get very good service from people who’ve served me before. Go figure). For meals, unless the service is awful, I tip 20% and round up. I also don’t fault the server for things that aren’t his/her fault (like my steak isn’t cooked the way I want it, that’s the cooks fault, not the poor schmuck who carried it from the kitchen to the table).

  7. So for someone who doesn’t have regular occurrence to take an Uber, what is considered an acceptable tip? I know how much people in service jobs rely on tips as a part of their income and I want to reward good service (since that too seems to be increasingly rare).

    1. You can always see whether the driver made an effort, or if he was just delivering you like a parcel.
      Uber drivers typically get about 40% of the total fare paid. So if the fare you paid was $25, the driver gets $10. If he made an effort, give him 50% of that amount, i.e. $5 in this example. If he was just going through the motions, give him 10% of the total fare.

      If you’re not expensing the fare via your credit card, give it to him in cash. (I know: NOBODY uses cash anymore. Well, everybody should. I always carry about $40 in singles, fives and tens when we go out to eat so that I can tip the waiter in cash. That came from the Son&Heir — “Always tip servers in cash, even if you think it’s a PITA.” It’s the only way you can be sure that the person who gave you the service gets the reward due.)

      If you’re expensing the ride, get an idea from your boss or the accountants what you should tip for outstanding service, and give them an example or two. Then tip to the max for good service, half that for indifferent service, and nada if the guy was an asshole.

      1. I ALWAYS tip in cash, if there is a service surcharge on the credit card bill, I delete it, you never know if the staff get it, (I have been a waiter and a barman long ago and often you never see sight nor sound of that service charge)

  8. I was always taught that tip was not a word but an acronym TIP. This stood for “To Insure Promptness.” In French, of course, the word is pourboire literally for the drinks.
    I’m an old white guy and I tip well, the guy who delivers the pizza or Chinese or in a restaurant, $50 to the roofers who did our house in July, the people who took our stuff to storage and brought it back during our house renovation. I haven’t used Uber or Lyft but I will remember your admonition if I ever do.

    1. Historical note: in 1859, France (the Second Empire) came to the aid of the Kingdom of Savoy, which was fighting to expel Austria from Italy and unite the country. The French-Savoyard army defeated the Austrians, and Savoy became the Kingdom of Italy. In return, Savoy ceded two chunks of border territory to France: what is now the department of Haute-Savoie in the Alps, and Nice, on the Riviera.

      Napoleon III referred to this cession as his “pourbouire”.

  9. Last evening, I participated in another monthly FREE cooking class at the Advent church in Eugene Oregon.
    The ladies charge SQUAT for these classes.
    Out of the goodness of their hearts, they plan menus, purchase supplies, print recipes… and they do it all for FREE.
    Then, after class, they are in the kitchen cleaning.
    A ninety-minute class easily requires eight hours of work.
    Last evening at the close of class with sixty liberal progressives as attendees with me, the donation basket had around six dollars in addition to my sawbuck.

    I owned a restaurant for ten years.
    I tip the fueler at the gas-station.
    I tip the kid checking my air pressure at Discount Tires.
    I tip the bus-girls at the Taiwan buffets.
    And if my cow-orkers leave me alone to sulk and brood in peace, I bring chocolates as a token of my appreciation.
    Wealth stuck in the credit union is stuck.
    Wealth needs to be exercised.

  10. Another Old White Guy so I try to tip well. Often 20% if I’m in a hurry and don’t want to figure out what half of 10% is to get to 15.

    I also try to take into account what is within a server’s control. (A friend and I once lectured a manger who tried to blame all of the issues with our meal on a waitress working her first shift, in front of her, on the basic principles of leadership and taking responsibility. Followed up with a long e-mail to his corporate office. We made sure the (untrained) waitress got a large tip, in cash, out of sight of the manager)

    However, I despise places that automatically add a “gratuity” to large groups bills. I know it’s more of a hassle for the staff, but in too many places I’ve been it seems the staff takes the auto-tip as an excuse to back off from their A game. In those cases I pay it, but will speak to the manager if the service was crap and let him know I won’t come back as long as they practice quasi socialist billing, and will be sure to tell my friends about it.

    If the service was better than what the forced tip implies I’ll leave some extra cash on the table and speak to the manager to let them know that IF I come back, it will be in spite of their policy but because of their staff.

    If I get crappy service I’ll leave something like a penny or a dime, just to let them know I’m not blowing them off but purposely insulting them, and will speak to management if I have time. And probably won’t go back.

    I’ve gotten the lecture many times of how servers “depend on tip money”. My response is that they should act like it’s important enough to actually earn it.

    1. places that include tips in the bill up-front, I purposely strike through the amount and recalculate the price without tip, then either don’t tip at all or leave something on the table in cash.

      It’s not up to the restaurant to determine how much I should tip, it should be up to me based on my assessment of the service provided.

    2. > I despise places that automatically add a “gratuity” to large groups bills.

      While I understand why you would despise it, this is added because large groups *tend* to be a much bigger work load consuming one or more servers time. They tend to stay longer, and (especially if they’re splitting the check) tip less.

      A service person lives by their tips (well, used to), and averages their tips across all of the tables they serve. When you bring in a large crowd you’re consuming a larger portion of that servers time and if the tip is bad you might ruin their night and/or week.

      1. I know and understand the reasoning behind why places do that. Please read the rest of the comment describing how, in my experience, many (not all) places take that forced gratuity as an excuse to not worry about how their service is.

        And my final comment about how,if you depend on tips, act like it’s important to you to earn it, not as an entitlement.

  11. Tipping is a “short cycle feedback loop.” Or, at least, it should be. What pisses me off about tipping is that, first, “it’s expected,” and no one seems to understand the structure of tipping.

    “It’s expected” means, simply, that tips are always supposed to be forthcoming; outstanding service, really crappy service, everything in between, a substantial tip is always expected.

    Sorry, no.

    “Understanding the structure” means there’s a reason you got a 25-35% tip; there’s also a reason you received a 5% tip. The first is recognition of effort, expertise, attitude and accomplishment and is encouragement to continue the practice. The second is an educational opportunity, a chance to examine how you’re doing the job and decide if you’re happy with it or maybe you should seek a different career.

    The drive to lowering costs through self service hasn’t helped; when you use the self checkout at Home Depot, self service pumps at a gasoline station (specifically, please note “gasoline station” vs “service station”), or the “team treatment” (4 guys at the tire store tackle your rotate-and-balance, one per wheel, so who gets the tip?) have, finally, convinced customers we’re not customers but the product to be consumed by the corporation (think Amazon: corp brass has stated, publicly in front of witnesses, that Amazon is tickled pink to forego profits on merchandise sales, the goal is breaking even, so seller access to the buyer is what Amazon is counting on for profitability; you’re not the customer, you’re the product.).

    I always tip, and am glad to offer the encouragement of a good tip, as well as the education accompanying a poor one. My practice is to hand cash directly to the recipient, and in the case of a low tip explain why it’s low, and if your performance is worthy of a considerably larger-then-usual-percentage tip I’ll also mention your excellent performance to the manager or owner. Hint: If you’re my server and you see me walk to the coffee pot and refill my cup myself, don’t expect a sawbuck; if you’re management and you see me do that, not apologizing for the poor service and barking “customers aren’t allowed behind the counter” guarantees both a letter to corporate and my never darkening your doorstep again. Unfortunately, it’s usually a wasted stamp, as corporate increasingly doesn’t give a shit as long the manager works cheap and location profit percentage is at least average.

  12. At some point tipping transformed into split-salary-payment by the customer and I mostly threw in the towel. When I tip someone it is because their service went above what I believe the norm should be. If you simply bring my food to the table and drop it off and I never see you again, you get nothing additional. But in the overall, I don’t tip because I simply do not avail myself of service where tipping normally occurs, I just stay the fuck home and therefore avoid much of the irritating and true last sentence: “…people in general are ungrateful assholes.”

  13. Tipping at anyplace but a restaurant has always stuck me as an archaic relic of an economic system that no longer exists. I actually like that some restaurants are doing away with tipping in favor of paying their employees a reasonable (and predictible) wage for their work and having prices that similarly reflect the actual costs and reasonable profits needed to keep a business afloat.

    The practice of tipping seems to me to be something that is rooted in the days when you had the Lords of the Manor who had all the money and the serfs and peasants, who were glad to work extra hard in the hope that the Master would toss them a shilling or two for their efforts. It doesn’t reflect a reasonable exchange of goods and/or services between equal participants in an economic system, which is probably why it has all but gone away in everywhere but the food service industry.

    I don’t tip the mail man or the trash man because I presume that they get paid salaries that reflect their actual worth to their employer (whom I DO pay.) I’d probably tip the paper boy if I subscribed to a newspaper, but I don’t. Other than food servers, the only people I tip regularly are the baggers at the commissary where I shop because I know they work for tips ONLY. I can’t remember the last time I took a taxi and I’ve never taken an Uber or Lyft so I can’t comment on that WRT tips.

    The difficulty of tipping for many people (including me) is not knowing the “unwritten rules” that say you’re supposed to tip this person X% or that person Y%. Why make it so complicated? An exchange of goods or services doesn’t need to be complicated by this set of shadow-rules. Most of our European counterparts get by with little, if any, tipping. Ditto for other parts of the world. If younger people (AKA the “millennials” that us old fogeys like to complain about) are getting away from the culture of tipping, I say good riddance to this anachronistic practice.

  14. I just left a $15.00 tip on a $33.00 pre-sales tax tab.

    Left $15.00 on a smaller tab last night.

    When I travel, I peel off 10’s and 20’s to the cabbie or Uber driver, to the bellman, etc.

    I have never received a tip, but only because bus boys didn’t share in tips.

    The chicks were tip-earning waitresses, while the young men were minimum wage bus boys.

    I tip bus boys directly.

    I don’t just tip very heavily, I thank the service providers for their work, get to know something about them, wish them well with their pursuits, etc.

    And don’t even get me started about my tipping for lap dances and happy endings – just kidding, of course.

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