Groucho Marx in A Night at the Opera: Do they allow tipping on the boat? Steward: Oh, yes sir! Groucho: Have you got two fives?Steward: Yes, sir. Groucho: Well then, you won't need the ten cents I was going to give you.In a more contemporary movie, Reservoir Dogs, Steve Buscemi tells a mob boss he won't tip at a restaurant, because no one does at McDonald's, and those kids work just as hard.Should you tip when you're on a cruise? Opinions differ. What about a furniture place that advertises "free delivery"? Howard Stern's sidekick Robin didn't, and calls came in that she was cheap, prompting Stern to declare, "I always tip everyone, because people know I'm rich. And I don't want them saying I'm cheap." If you are buying a $6 coffee at Starbucks, why is there a tip jar at the counter?I was on a bus in New York that had three different signs informing riders that tipping was welcomed.Andy Rooney has complained about tipping, saying, "Even when the service is bad, I still end up leaving a tip."
In 1991, Sports Illustrated asked clubhouse men who served visiting baseball teams to name the most generous tippers. San Diegans Dave Smith, Kevin Mitchell, Fred McGriff, and Tony Gwynn all ranked near the top.
As a child, I saw bathroom attendants who waxed shoes. Now, in clubs and restaurants, they stand by with a towel, or a variety of colognes, mints, and hairsprays. I wash my hands, watching from the corner of my eye. Do I give the guy a dollar, just for handing me a towel?
In January 1989 in Connecticut, a waiter stabbed a patron who left a $2 tip on a $50 bill.
In Tio Leo's Mexican restaurant, a waiter wrote at the bottom of the bill the correct amount to leave for a 15, 18, or 20 percent tip. I liked that. It does the math for you and is a reminder to cheapskates.
I asked ten locals, with professions that involve tipping, to give me the scoop.
Sandi Masori, owner of Balloon Utopia, makes balloon animals for various events. "I have a tag that says, 'Suggested tip $5,678,945. Thank you!' It makes people laugh but reminds them, I work on tips. Everyone knows you are supposed to tip waiters, and they get taxed 8 percent because of that. When I worked in Japan, I had something made that explained balloons cost money, and tips were preferred. When I worked the streets in countries like Hungary, Holland, Korea, or Thailand, I learned to say 'Thank you' in those languages. When I work a restaurant, they don't pay me. I'm strictly working for tips. But I've done some parties in Rancho Santa Fe, and they pay me well to be there. I will refuse tips from their guests."
What was the best tip you've ever received?
"I've gotten a few $100 tips. In Israel, I got 200 shekels, which is about $50."
What was the worst tip?
"Obviously, not getting a tip happens to everyone. The worst was when a guy was with his wife and child. He joked about my badge suggesting a tip. He said, 'Today's your lucky day.' I said, 'Oh yeah! Did you win the lottery?' He had me make something, and he didn't tip. His wife went to the bathroom, and I was at another table. He called me back over. I thought it was to tip me. Instead, he asked me to make him something else. Still, no tip. The guy before him gave me an $18 tip, which made me less angry. Because of this, I made a book with prices. I can do a poodle in 30 seconds, but it takes 20 minutes to do a three-foot SpongeBob, and the balloons used are expensive. If I didn't have prices, I would lose money."
Who are the best tippers?
"In Israel, it was Russian kids on dates. At Casa de Pico, when it was in Old Town, I found tourists tip better than locals. The tourists from Arizona are the best tippers."
Do you notice a difference in tipping between rich people and working class or between different races?
"Yes. Rich people are worse. They don't value workers. They think of you as just a babysitter for their kids. It's hard to say they are cheap, because a party I might do in Del Mar, they pay me well to be there. But when they come into the Red Robin, they might not even tip me. Or they give their child a dollar to hand me before I've even started some sword, which uses more than a dollar's worth of balloons. Blue-collar workers seem to be the best tippers. With race, I think cultures just do things different. Mexicans from Mexico don't tip. But if I tell them a price for something their kids want, they'll pay. If I tell them I work for tips, I usually get a single dollar for an entire table. With African Americans, I either get an amazing tip, or I get nothing, like I owe it to them. I can tell by the way they are talking to me that they feel this way. I'm Jewish, and I want to tell them, 'Look, my people were slaves, too.' Everyone is worse, the closer you get to Christmas."
What professions out there are you unsure of yourself when it comes to tipping?
"Flower girls downtown, taxi drivers, and skycaps. They check you in at the curb but no longer help take the bags out of the car. Birthday party entertainment. This one affects me as a mom and entertainer. Caterers, and grocery-store baggers who walk you out to the car. They aren't allowed to accept tips."
If you don't get tipped, what do you do?
"I thank them and walk away."
Sandi goes on to explain that tipping may be discretionary, but if she's doing a complex design, and it takes more time and is creative, the person should tip accordingly. She adds, "A poodle takes me 30 seconds. I did a big tiger once that was over eight feet tall and four feet wide. That took me 90 hours."