Friday, July 28, 2006

Tip YOU, buddy – and the tall, half-skim, no-foam mocha latte you rode in on!

I’ve managed to use the same shoe repair shoe for three years without an altercation. But this morning, the peaceful relationship fell apart.

While dropping off a pair of shoes, I noticed an oatmeal box on the counter with a slot cut into the cap and the words “TIPS FOR SHOEMAKER” pasted across what should have been a smiling Quaker’s face.

He wants a tip for what? Repairing shoes? Isn’t that what he’s charging for in the first place?

I swear, I’m not making this up! (For you New Yorkers who want to check it out, it’s the shoe repair place on 77th and Lexington, Northeast corner, next to the subway entrance. Maybe they're under new and lousy management.)

I thought the shoe repair price list is supposed to mean something. But maybe not.

So anyway, I left the shoe shop (without leaving a tip) and a block or two away discovered one of those fruit carts you see all around town. You know, the kind that pays no rent, competes with rent-paying small grocers, and sells fruit and vegetables of questionable quality, sometimes at a slightly reduced price and sometimes not.

And guess what? There was a plastic tray on the wagon with a sign next to it that said, “Tips Greatly Appreciated.”
Tips for what? For making an overhead-free and possibly tax-free profit by selling me a banana and not reporting the cash sale?


It used to be that only waiters got tips, usually 15%, for good service. Lousy service got them stiffed.

Of course, that was before the honorable job of bringing food to tables while it’s still hot (and making sure that the guy who orders rare gets rare) was degraded by talentless actors with attitude.

Now you’re likely to get something thrown at you if you don’t leave at least 15 percent. Actually, most of them are looking for 20 percent. You hear the apology, “Well, tips are part of a waiter’s income” – the implication being that tips have nothing to do with service. You walk in the restaurant, you owe the waiter. Take it or shove it.

Taxi drivers expect 15% or more, too – an incentive to get you trapped in traffic while the meter keeps ticking, or to take the long way around to your destination. It’s also an incentive to raise fares, not service. But that’s old news, too.

What’s new is, little by little, the entire planet is coming to expect a tip.


Who started this trend? Why, Starbucks, of course, which puts out a tip box on the counter so you can leave a tip for not getting served at a table. Instead, you have to stand on not one line, but two – the first to place your order and pay, the second to eventually receive what you paid for.

Even lawmakers expect to get tipped. In the old days, they called this kind of tip a “bribe.” These days, it’s a “campaign contribution,” but we all know what it really is.

If this keeps on going, you’ll have to “tip” the clerk at the drivers’ license bureau and the IRS man who comes to audit you.

You think I’m kidding? Once upon a time, deposed nobles had to tip the executioner to chop their heads off with one smooth blow instead of hacking them to pieces.


What’s most outrageous about all this is that employers like Starbucks are using the tip-for-no-service box to get you to pay employee salaries.

Starbucks “partners” can’t make it on the pathetic wage paid by the corporation that employs them. Especially not in an expensive town like New York. Meanwhile, the company raked in a$5 billions – that’s billions, bub – for the first five months of this year. A billion bucks a month!

So I guess we have to help subsidize the poor schlemiels behind the counter at Starbucks who get a meaningless title (real "partners" share the wealth, own the business, and don’t have to beg for tips) instead of a living wage.

I’ll tell you who else isn’t going to share the wealth. His name is Orin Smith. He’s the Chief Executive Officer and President of Starbucks. His annual paycheck, according to figures released by Business Week Magazine, comes to $3.7 million dollars. (Got that, you pathetic “partner?”)

And that $3.7 million doesn’t even include Orin's $89.4 million in stock options.

Hey Orin, why don’t you throw in 15 or 20 percent? I mean of your options and salary. That would help your "partner" wage slaves a lot more than a tip box. And you'd still have over $3 million a year to live on.


Before the Starbucks tip system spreads more and helps to continue making America as corrupt as a souk in Syria, here’s what you can do:

1. If you’re a consumer: Let the entrepreneur and shopkeeper who’s suddenly demanding tips know that if he wants more money, he can raise his prices instead of putting out an oat meal box. Mention that tip income is reportable to the IRS and ask if he has filed a tip income form. Let him know you'll be happy to obtain one for him next time you phone the IRS.

2. If you’re in Starbucks: Slip something that folds into the tip box – a note that says, “The best tip I can give you is, join a union.”

3. If you’re a an independent coffee shop trying to survive against the onslaught of the Starbucks Godzilla, hang a note over the counter that says:

They pays us a lot better than
those poor suckers at Starbucks.”

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