American Tipping Culture

tipping culture

Some of the most interesting videos that I’ve seen on YouTube are the ones talking about American culture. The reactions from people who aren’t American, when they learn about our tipping culture in restaurants is quite interesting.

Often it’s hard to see what is American culture, until we step out of it through travel or have it reflected back to us by someone who is not part of the culture. Many cultural practices we don’t think of as such, because they are so obvious and mundane. Like American breakfast culture.

I never thought of it as a thing until someone mentioned to me that Americans are the only ones who have specific breakfast foods. People in other countries will often eat any type of food for breakfast. For instance, I would never think of eating soup for breakfast. Or a salad. Weekend brunch is a different thing, because anything goes there.

But on a random Wednesday morning, I wouldn’t be eating chicken and rice with vegetables. To me that is clearly lunch or dinner food. Breakfast is hot or cold cereal, fruit, coffee, toast, eggs, pancakes, etc. But now I see that’s American breakfast. The more I think about culture, it seems that it’s those things you do, clothes you wear, music you listen to, words you use, and foods you cook, just because. That unspoken “just because” is culture.

There are reasons for it, but it takes some historical and sociological digging to figure out how that custom or practice developed over time. Like how Italian American food was created and is something very different from Italian food in Italy.

There is a long history of how tipping culture developed in the United States, which I won’t go into. But tipping is a very American thing and people from other countries tend to be shocked by it. Most Americans do expect to tip at a restaurant. But more recently Americans are becoming shocked that tipping keeps expanding to include everything.

One thing that surprises me is the amounts that people think are okay for tipping. I was brought up to believe that 20% is the minimum tip at a restaurant. If it’s bad in some way, then it’s okay to give less. But if it’s very good, then give more. As much as you can.

When my father was in college, he worked as a waiter, I think at a place on Beacon Hill, to pay for his expenses and to help his family. So tipping was very important to him personally. From when I was a kid, when we went out to eat, he always made a point of thanking everyone who waited on us and giving the tip personally. Shook their hand, looked them in the eye. He never just left it on the table.

I always thought that most everyone believed the same things, until I started reading comments where people thought that a 15% tip was okay, good even. That was and is still so shocking to me!

It took me until recently to realize that my family had a particular tipping culture. When going out in a group, often we don’t know what other people leave for a tip. Even if we do, we tend to not know their personal experience growing up with tipping and I don’t think that most people talk about it. Or do they? What do you think?

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