It’s amazing how many perceptions factor into tipping waiters and waitresses, and how many of them are blatantly and mind-bogglingly sexist, and how people somehow manage to believe gender equality has already arrived. An examination of just this one job is enough to blow that away. My “data” will be anecdotal, because I can’t find any studies into the psychology behind how people tip men and women (probably because gender equality has already arrived, right?).
I used to wait tables myself, and we often debated whether women or men got better tips. There were a lot of supposed truisms about tipping psychology. We’d conduct little experiments, such as comparing the tips regular customers left waiters versus waitresses. These are the conclusions I came to, based on those totally unscientific experiments:
- “People tip the opposite sex more than their own because they’re sexually attracted to them.” Generally, people do tip the opposite gender a higher percentage than they tip their own gender. But it didn’t just apply to “cute” servers, as it would have if it was about sex. There are actually two reasons why this happens: women consider getting waited on by men a real treat, while men see male waiters as an uncomfortable shift from the status quo in which men control resources and exchange them for services from women. Women also tend to be over-awed if a waiter gets things halfway right, while being far more critical of the waitress who, in the words of one female customer “just does what I do all day long at home.”
- “Women are cheaper tippers than men.” Generally, women tip the same percentages as men, but because they order less food and alcohol, their checks are smaller. The problem is not that women are cheap. It’s that we need a better metric for determining tips than the “percentage of the bill” method.
- “People tip more if they’re attracted to their server.” I found this plausible, but we never found evidence to back it up. People tip hugely when they feel they’ve gotten outstanding service, when they feel sorry for a server (say, working late on a holiday) or just because they are a consistent big tipper.
Interestingly, I’ve been having some really lousy experiences with male waiters and male managers at restaurants lately. Why? Because they have tunnel vision: they only see the tables they’re looking directly at. I spent ten minutes on Saturday waving an empty drink glass high in the air at a manager and a server who never, ever glanced in my direction. And it’s a small restaurant.
This is not a biological trait. Lots of men develop the learned-automatic trait of looking around to see if anyone else needs anything. But women are typically conditioned from birth to do this. Boys are typically raised to concern themselves with how they’re going to get their needs met. Girls are typically raised to worry about whether they’re meeting other people’s needs. I know: I was raised like a boy, and I never got very good at anticipating people’s needs in a service environment.
Of course, the way people can look at examples like this and still think sexism has disappeared is that they simply frame everything they see in terms of certain comfortable assumptions.