Tipping Point

The perpetual panics about tipping seem to me fundamentally misguided. Tipping partakes of the gift economy; gifts must announce themselves as freely given and incommensurable or they are not gifts. The underlying reciprocity must remain implicit, or the cultural meaning of the gift is lost. Judged, then, as market exchange designed to compensate severs and induce them to provide better service, the tip cannot help but be found wanting. It is not of that realm. The tip stands as a social practice of ritualized gratitude and respect. It does that job well enough, but so can other social practices, as long as the relationship is defined clearly enough that other signals of sufficient reciprocity can flow between the strangers who meet for a meal.