Thursday, March 29, 2007

A World Without Tipping?

Imagine this rich fat guy. Let’s call him Diamond Jim.

Diamond Jim knows you only live once and he wants to live in style. He is very particular in his demands and he only wants the best. When he goes to his favorite restaurant, he expects the valet to park his Cadillac in a special spot and to keep an eye on it. He expects the maitre d’ to seat him at his favorite table by the window. He makes special demands on the waiters.

The grubby socialist who sits at the dark corner table glowers at Diamond Jim in resentment. Why can’t he accept the normal service everyone gets? What makes him special?

After dinner Diamond Jim likes a waiter to serve him a cigar on the patio and even to light his cigar. Furthermore, Diamond Jim expects the waiter to stay with him to engage in conversation, and he demands that the waiter be a Christian-socialist-environmentalist because he likes to argue with fools as he smokes.

Do the valet, maitre d’ and waiters hate Diamond Jim? Quite the contrary, they love him; they even arrange their schedules to be working when Diamond Jim shows up. They do this because Diamond Jim tips like Frank Sinatra on New Year’s Eve. You see, Diamond Jim lives by the Spanish proverb: take what you want and pay for it. He pays for it.

Now, imagine the Senate has passed the Inspector-Van Horn Act, which outlaws tipping. Inspector and Van Horn, the Senate’s two most notorious communists, resent tipping because they think everyone should be paid the same for the same work. Tipping forces individuals to think about how much they should tip, which causes “fears.”

So what do the restaurant workers think of Diamond Jim now? They loathe him because he expects more work from them than the other customers, but they do not get any more money for it. Diamond Jim’s quality of life disappears because he cannot tip. The grubby socialist at the dark corner table cackles with glee because Diamond Jim has been brought down to level of everyone else.


This story, like all satire, exaggerates to make a point. Inspector and Gus Van Horn, I am fairly certain, would not advocate a law against tipping. However, they want restaurants to voluntarily do away with the practice.

An individualist, capitalist society is a horn of plenty, offering each individual many choices in every aspect of life. Each individual has the option of choosing his own values, no matter how different or fancy, as long as he can pay for it.

If 90% of the people like blue towels, the other 10% is not forced to buy blue towels just because it is the collective norm. Red towels or yellow towels or checkered towels might cost more, but if someone is willing to pay for them, chances are they will be produced.

Tipping is a force for individualism. Doing away with tips, like all egalitarian actions, penalizes those who want more than the average guy. It forces people with higher standards to accept the service that the statistical average are content with.

Those who have average standards would not be affected by being unable to tip. Collectivists would be delighted because everyone is treated the same.

Only the passionate valuers -- people who think about what they want and then go after it in every aspect of life -- only those people would suffer. Of course, egalitarians don’t care about those people.

Life without the ability to pay for individualized service would be a bit grayer than it is today. It would be one more step in the value-deprivation that is suffocating modern culture.


Inspector said...



My actual feelings on tipping are a bit more complicated than I think you think they are.

I'm obviously not being clear enough so I'll have to write up something.

Also, my polemic applies to pizza delivery specifically, where there is an explicit delivery charge (or an explicit statement that delivery is free).

More to come...

Inspector said...

By the way, "Diamond Jim" now has Van Halen's "Top Jimmy" in my head. :P

Galileo Blogs said...


I choose you (or Diamond Jim Brady) as my dining companion over Inspector. Okay, Inspector might be a good debating companion in a sober classroom, but over a beer at a good restaurant, fuhgeddaboutit!

Galileo Blogs

P.S. - Same applies for that discussion over a piping hot pizza delivered from my favorite pizzeria!

Billy Beck said...

A reading:


"At Monte Carlo, on a hillside pleasantly overlooking the vista of almost repulsive wealth represented by the Casino, the Hotel de Paris, and the yacht harbor, was a small, homeowned restaurant which had engaged the favor of the Commodore [James Gordon Bennett], as evidence by his return there for luncheon day after day. Needless to say, it was not the view. The management had been apprised of its august patron's identity and his preferences at table were known in every de luxe kitchen in all Europe. The mutton chops were superb.

One day, in mood benevolent, Bennett arrived to find every advantageous table on the terrace occupied by a group of serious drinkers, and the eating patrons, even the regulars, had been assigned to tables inside the building. The drinkers had the Commodore's approval; indeed he would gladly have made one of them, but his mind was set on mutton chops and he wanted them at his regular place, outside, in the shade and commanding the view. It wasn't available. The waiter was desolated.

Seeking the owner, who was cowering behind the cashier's desk, Bennett came to the point. Was the restaurant for sale? The proprietor could name his price but the deal must be consummated as of right now. It was and Bennett bought it on the spot. Ned Center, who was in Monte Carlo at the time, heard the amount involved was $40,000.

Armed with the authority of possession, Bennett threw the drinkers out and sat down to his mutton chops which the chef, a forethoughtful man, had had on the fire against just such a contingency.

Bennett was grateful and, after his meal, expansive. As a tip he passed along the deed of sale to the waiter who had served him, telling him the place was his to have and to hold just as long as he reserved a place every day for James Gordon Bennett and the same chef broiled the mutton. As an afterthought, he asked the waiter's name.

It was Ciro, and that is how one of the world's most celebrated restaurants, Ciro's of Monte Carlo, came into being."

(Lucius Beebe, "The Big Spenders", 1966, Doubleday & Co., Inc., chapter 6, "Magnifico Of Maxim's", pp. 147-148)

Myrhaf said...

That's quite a story!

Galileo Blogs said...

That story is charming! That and the "Diamond Jim" story capture what I think is the essence of dining out, whether it is a grand occasion or even to the local eatery where they know you. For Commodore Bennett, that local diner was grand, indeed.

Billy Beck said...

Beebe's book is easily available in better used book stores, and Amazon currently lists thirty-one copies available. I'm not crazy about his endorsement of, say, Gene Fowler's view of money ("Money is something to be thrown off the rear platforms of moving trains."). However, if one accepts the premise that "Everybody gets to go to hell in their own go-cart" (we're talking about freedom, here), then it really is very entertaining and informative of a time before the rise of American envy to its current cultural dimensions. I really enjoyed it, a lot.

"The operation of the Ponce de León [Hotel, St. Augustine, Fla.] was of a piece with its construction, namely the best of everything. [Henry] Flagler shared the philosophy of another great hotelier of his generation, Fred Harvey, that a hotel or restaurant was obligated to lose a certain amount of money to establish it as a bona-fide operation. The Ponce was crowded with fashionable guests and was losing money nicely when a new manager, unaware of its deficit policy, wired the owner in New York for permission to discharge the costly French chef and an equally costly dance band in the interest of economy.


(op. cit., chapter 14, "Game Preserve For The Rich", p. 348)

All in all, it illuminates an ethical attitude that really doesn't exist anymore in America, and I find that tragic.

Inspector said...

Low tech backlink for you, Myrhaf.