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I was thrilled to see the volumes of comments on yesterday’s post asking if tipping a server is a moral obligation. Needless to say, people passionately disagreed with one another and no single answer has been found.

Here is a comment from someone on Facebook who adroitly summarizes the “yes” position. [Be advised, there are some curses in the post, a topic we have talked about before.]

“I don’t give a shit who you are. If I am busting my ass to provide you with good service you should be tipping me. If you can’t afford to tip, then you can’t afford to eat out. Period.

Servers work hard for their tips, and not getting tipped is really fucking shitty. You should tip your tattoo artist, your hair stylist, your cab driver, your server. Anyone doing YOU a service. I tip exceptionally well when I go out to eat unless the service was unbearably terrible. Because I know what it’s like to be so nice to someone and they not tip.”

My response to this post is very basic: I work really hard too and there are very few services that are more important than educating people. So, doesn’t that mean that I should get a tip, too? Wouldn’t students get better service and more personal attention if I knew, at the end of the semester, that there would be a big wad of cash waiting for me? Wouldn’t repeat students get even better teaching if they tipped me first time around?

To a certain extent, Adam Smith, the father of modern capitalism thought so. He wrote that increasing the “honorary” of a teacher increased his or her performance, because people naturally wanted to make more money.

There are three obvious arguments against tipping professor. The first is that the teacher has power over the student and the students’ grades would be at risk if no tip were given. But actually, it seems just the opposite. Wouldn’t tipping be an outstanding way of making up for being a lame student? “The less one reads, the more one pays,” seems a good way to equalize outcomes. Besides, servers also have power over the customer. They can make the customer wait a long time, bring the wrong food, spit in their food, and so forth. This is less power, but meals are a lot less expensive than a college education.

The second is that teachers should treat all students equally and tipping disproportionately advantages the rich. But this is true of food service too. Expensive restaurants, extra special service, higher quality food,…these are all the purview of the rich. And, of course, it’s not like there isn’t precedent for this. Only a select few get to go to the most expensive colleges. Maybe it’s okay that only a select few get most of my attention.

The third objection is that servers don’t make enough money and professors do. This was a major part of the debate: since servers make so little, it’s up to the customers to pay the difference. But how do you define enough? (This is also a topic we’ve covered on this blog.) I have debt; I could use things I don’t have. My daughter is going to need a very expensive college education and I have to pay for all the tips I give at Shing Ya. I certainly don’t have all the money I need. So, shouldn’t it be the students’ responsibility to make up the difference just as it is the restaurant customers’ obligation to pay the servers’ bills?

In short, if I am to be persuaded that there is a moral obligation to tip servers, it seems a very short trip to being persuaded that I, a professor, should be tipped as well. Unfortunately, it is illegal for me to accept gratuities, so I can’t. But this brings me  to another question: how can we claim America is a free country if my students can’t buy better service when they want it?

7 comments on “Should you tip your professor?

  1. River Song says:

    I think if you claim that is is morally reprehensible for people not to tip their servers because they are providing friendly service to you then it goes without saying that people should tip anyone who provides a service. I have two jobs: one involves slicing deli meat for a sub shop completely behind the scenes and the other invovles working with mentally disabled clients. Both of these are services and yet no one would ever DREAM of tipping me at my sub shop job. Because I'm behind the scenes. But without me slicing all the deli meat for the shop NO ONE would have anything to put on their sandwiches. However people would never claim that my service is the same as a server or a cook's job is the same as the waiter. And yet they are all services. Yes some people get paid better than others, but the idea behind tipping is supposed to be a reward, yes? Then why don't we reward everyone who provides a service to us?

  2. Great comment River! In essence, you seem to be asking why servers are regarded as the most important part of the restaurant. I think it is worth asking why servers have different pay plans than everyone else. Should all people in the restaurant be paid the same way (if not the same salary)?

  3. Anonymous says:

    You didn't answer the question.

  4. My job is to ask the questions. I want YOU to answer them.

  5. River Song says:

    I think in a restaurant setting where one can easily get a job as anything but upper management then everyone should be paid the same. I think its a bit different in an expensive restaurant where one needs years of experience as a chef to cook but I think cooks in places like Applebee's and Perkins are often overlooked. I have only seen people complain about the cooks at these places. If the food isn't right its their fault and the servers. Otherwise, the cook is invisible.

  6. “servers don’t make enough money and professors do” — so, perhaps full-timers shouldn't get tips, but adjuncts should. . . . .?

  7. That's a good question. Is it just about the money? Is there is threshold below which we should tip? If so, adjuncts would certainly qualify (but so would many many others).

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