The History and Impact of Tipping

In today’s world, tipping is a common practice in many countries, especially in industries like hospitality, food service, and transportation. But have you ever wondered how tipping came to be and what its social impact is? Let’s take a journey into the origins, significance and impact of tipping.

The Origins of Tipping:

Tipping has a long and varied history. Its origins can be traced back to Europe in the 17th century, where it was customary to give a “vail” or a small sum of money to servants or tradespeople as a gesture of gratitude for their service. The practice gradually spread to other parts of the world and evolved over time.

One theory suggests that the word “tip” originated from the phrase “To Insure Promptitude,” where customers would give money in advance to ensure good and prompt service. Another theory traces its roots to the British taverns, where customers would give extra money to the waitstaff to ensure a better pour of their drink.

The Origins of Tipping in North America:

Tipping in North America can be traced back to the late 19th century. At that time, wealthy Americans traveling to Europe encountered the practice of tipping and brought it back home with them. Initially, tipping was seen as a way to show appreciation for exceptional service, but it quickly became expected in various service industries.

One significant factor in the rise of tipping in America was the abolition of slavery. After the Civil War, many former slaves entered the workforce as servers and other service workers. Tipping became a way for employers to avoid paying fair wages to these workers, as they could argue that tips made up for the lower salaries.

The Social Impact of Tipping:

One of the most significant impacts of tipping in North America is its effect on wage disparities. In many states in America, tipped workers, such as restaurant servers and bartenders, are paid a lower minimum wage with the expectation that tips will make up the difference. This system often results in lower overall earnings for these workers, particularly during slow periods.

In Canada:

Servers in Canada no longer receive the lower, subminimum or “liquor servers” wage – they are now paid minimum wage. Quebec is the only province that still has a different, lower minimum wage for servers.

When dining out, it is customary to tip between 15% and 20% of your pre-tax bill, however most payment machines calculate the tip percentage using the total bill, which includes taxes – this means that you’re tipping on the taxes as well.

Some customers have shared that giving a 15% tip may seem rude to the workers, and just end up using the tipping prompt on the payment machine, which usually starts at 18% and could run as high as 30%

Dining aside, tipping extends to various service industries, such as hairstyling, spas, hospitality, taxis, tattoos and has extended further to coffee shops and bakeries. Consumers are now saying that they’re feeling “tip exhaustion” as a result of being asked to tip for almost everything.

Food for thought: Given that Canada (except Quebec) increased the subminimum wage for servers to minimum wage, is tipping still necessary?

Cultural Differences:

Tipping practices vary widely across cultures, leading to confusion and discomfort for travelers. In some countries, tipping is expected and even considered offensive if omitted, while in other countries, it may be seen as unnecessary or even insulting.

Power Dynamics:

Tipping can also create power imbalances between customers and service workers. When servers know that their income is partially dependent on tips, they may be more motivated to deliver attentive and friendly service to customers, leading to unequal treatment based on economic status.

Potential for Bias:

Tipping may also perpetuate biases based on factors such as race, gender, and appearance. Studies have shown that servers’ race, gender and looks can influence the amount of tips they receive, highlighting underlying societal prejudices.


Tipping has a complex history and social impact. While it can be a way to show appreciation for good service, it also contributes to wage disparities, power dynamics, and cultural norms. As consumers, it’s essential to be aware of these issues and consider the broader implications of our tipping habits. Ultimately, striving for fair compensation and equitable treatment of service workers is crucial for addressing the challenges associated with tipping.

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