15 December 2007

I'm Not Usually Cheap--No, Really! (Tipping)

Here's the thing--I'm put off by mandatory tipping. When service is good and tipping isn't assumed, I'm happy to tip and tip well. I often tip more than 20% for good meals when I get good service. But when there's an assumed tip, an implied tip, if you will, that just doesn't sit right with me. Tipping is supposed to be optional. And yet it's not. Not really. Think about it. It's not optional at all.

So, this week I took myself out for a manicure and pedicure. I do this maybe once or twice a year. This time I went near work and squeezed it in over lunch. I should say that I am the daughter of a professional manicurist (she retired after ~35 years) so my standards are reasonably high and I have a sense of when something is done right or wrong in this arena.

This was not a great experience. The tools weren't sterilized properly. They used tissue to separate my toes instead of the usual separators (not a hygiene issue but odd.) The workers chatted a LOT with each other in Vietnamese to the point where I wondered if I was perhaps in their way. The manicurist insisted on cutting my cuticles when I told her not to and she had the nerve to tell me she knew I didn't want her to but she felt it was better. She left me in between the pedicure and the manicure to spend five minutes waxing someone else's eyebrows without checking to see if I had time for this interlude.

I could go on. The point was, as I said before: this was not a great experience. I should have checked out the place more thoroughly before committing but, hey, what's done is done.

So, it comes time to pay and I'm trying to decide on a tip.

If you've been down this road, you know that you get the pedicure and then half-way through the manicure they suggest you settle up so you won't smear your nails trying to pay once the polish is on your fingernails.

The price of a manicure and pedicure is $35. ATMs give out $20 bills so most people carry around increments of $20. As it turned out, I didn't walk in with anything smaller than a twenty. I say all this because I believe they priced the manicure/pedicure combination as a small savings over getting them separately but also with the implication that they would get a $5 tip. Snarky but there it is. Normally, I would hand over $40 and say keep the change and that would be that. And, really, it's not a huge amount for a tip, it's around 14%.

This time, even with the myriad problems, I was prepared to give her the$5 if she didn't add insult to injury and assume she was getting it automatically. Here's how it went down...

She says it's time to pay.

I say "$35 for manicure and pedicure, right?"

She says "Yes."

I hand her two $20 bills.

She takes them and pauses--a long pause--and looks at me, waiting.

I look at her, getting irritated but holding her look and smiling.

What can she do? She gets up to get me change.

At this point, I think "If she brings me five singles in change, I'll still hand them all to her for tip."

She takes her time, as if annoyed, and brings me a single $5 bill.

She hands it to me. I take it and look at it pointedly. That's it, then: less tip. I look at her, smile, and say "Could I have change, please?"

She pauses but, again, what can she do? She takes the $5 and brings me five singles, not quite meeting my eyes this time. So there you have it. She could have brought me the singles the first time but she chose to bring me the $5 bill. I put down three of the singles on the table and put the other two in my wallet.

I realize I'm taking some risk here. After all, she hasn't finished the manicure and she can do a sloppy job, but she doesn't. She rushes but she does an okay job and that's that.

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