How Did Tipping Get Started?
A tip, or gratuity, is a small amount of money given voluntarily as a token of appreciation for a service rendered. According to Webster's Dictionary, the word "tip" is also considered by many to be an acronym: T.I.P. - "To Insure Promptness" or "To Insure Prompt" service. We tip our servers as a way of thanking them for good service. We might also leave a very low tip, or no tip at all, as a signal that the service was terrible.
But how did tipping get started in the first place? Why don't employers just pay their employees a regular wage and increase their prices to make up the difference? In some places, they do, but so many of us (especially in the U.S.) are so accustomed to leaving a tip for good service that we end up leaving our servers money anyway -- sometimes embarrassing them in the process! In places where tipping is expected, it is usually done in order to encourage the best service possible from servers.
There are several theories about where tipping came from. George Foster, a professor of anthropology at U.C. Berkeley, researched tipping in the early 1970s and found that the word "tip" or "gratuity" often was associated with "drink money," seeming to imply that the customer was buying the server a drink to have later as a way of saying thanks for the good service. Foster's theory was that the customer was trying to prevent making the server envious of his own ability to sit, drink, and be served.
Another theory follows the use of the word "tip" in the 17th century. The word was used as a verb to mean "hand it over" or "to give." This follows suit with the stories of feudal lords throwing gold coins as "tips" to the peasants in the street to ensure their own safe passage.
The TIP acronym we mentioned earlier, "to insure promptness," has been said to come from 16th century coffee houses in England. This idea is challenged, however, because some say acronyms weren't even used until the 1920s.
So, it appears that the history of tipping is as unclear as the modern practice itself. When else do people pay additional money for a service for which they've already paid, without negotiating the amount up front? The multi-billion dollar tipping industry thrives on just that.