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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

'Tis the Season—For Temps and Tip Jars

Tip Jars? Bah! Humbug!

Published: Monday, December 7, 2009 - 05:00

As the holiday season approaches, there are several inevitable occurrences that will try our patience. Along with people jostling in lines, especially before dawn as bargain hunters await the opening of a store, the inevitable NASCAR-like jockeying in the parking lots, out-of-stock merchandise, and interminably long lines for Santa, we also have to endure the bane of temporary employees and holiday-decorated tip jars.

Let’s start with temporary employees. By and large most temps receive only perfunctory training. This is true not only during the holiday rush but also year-round. The theory is why spend time thoroughly training people who will only be employed for a short while?

In that regard, I’m reminded of a company that won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award several years ago, Pal’s Sudden Service, in Tennessee, a great food-in-a-flash chain restaurant. The company spends as much time training part-time and temporary help as they do permanent employees. When asked, “Why?” the response from president and CEO, Thom Crosby, was straightforward: “We train our temps and part-timers in the same manner as our permanent staff. Otherwise, if temps and part-timers remain on our payroll due to increased business, we end up with an untrained staff and customer service quickly deteriorates.”

That certainly makes sense; and that’s one of the reasons why Pal’s is the first organization to win the Tennessee Excellence Award twice.

And now, those tip jars.

At first these courtesy canisters were only commonplace at car washes. Now the jars are permanent fixtures at coffee shops, ice cream parlors, service stations, card shops, and delis. For the holidays these canisters are festooned with bright ribbons and ornaments. The message is clear: “I’ve waited on you for 35 seconds so I deserve a tip.”

Invariably the jar contains an abundance of singles and maybe even a five spot, which telegraphs to us that others found the service extraordinary and acted accordingly. I think it’s just a matter of time before the jars make an appearance at hospital emergency rooms as a way of getting moved to the front of the line.

On a recent cross-country trip, we stopped at a rest area in Indiana only to find a tip jar solidly anchored down in the men’s restroom. Now I’ve been in some high-class establishments where a restroom attendant hands you a towel, brushes down your suit, gives you a spritz of cologne and holds the door—and thus a tip may be in order. But in a highway rest area? Come on. Is someone changing my oil and rotating my tires while I’m inside?

Frankly, my message is this: Since when did I become responsible for increasing the minimum wage in your store; and what makes you think that you spending a few seconds with me should entitle you to a tip?

Think about it; this tipping practice is only effective if the clerk sees you depositing coins and currency in the jar. Maybe it’s just me but I have encountered some of the worst service in establishments that display a tip jar.

Tipping is a practice that is supposed to reward and single out exceptional service. Personally, I make it a habit to inscribe notes on the receipt such as “great food” and “exceptional service” when it is appropriate. I then tip accordingly.

Occasionally, if I have developed a good rapport with the waiter or waitress, I will ask them to rate their own service on a scale of 1 to 10. The feedback is usually priceless. Once I had a waiter who provided extraordinary service but when asked to quantify his service stated somewhat facetiously that he had performed poorly and would immediately enroll in a remedial waiter service course. His humor and personality got him a 25-percent tip.

If some of this makes me sound like the Grinch that stole Christmas, so be it. On the other hand, I’m still leaving cookies for Santa to ensure that he will return each year—so maybe I have succumbed to the tip jar mania myself.


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.


Tip Creep

I agree Bill - I find that tipping has grown ridiculously in the past 10 years or so. Not only do tip jars appear in more places, "someone" unilateraly decided that the formerly acceptable 10-15% in a restaurant is now 15-20% or even 20-25%. In addition, you are expected to tip for regular or even poor service now lest you look cheap. No tip is only acceptable when the service is particularly abysmal and you are trying to send a message.

The argument usually given is: "tips make up a large part of these peoples' incomes ". Well, they make up a large part of their income because people keep arbitrarily increasing the amount of an "acceptable" tip and besides, since when are customers directly responsible for employees' pay? I work at an airline; should I be pestering passengers to top up my salary?

RE: Tip Jars

Bill, if a proliferation of tip jars is your only annoyance worth writing about this Xmas, you are a fortunate man indeed.

Remember, today's temps are tomorrow's CEOs and politicians. How do you want them to remember our generation? "Keep Social Security? Whatever for? When *I* needed some financial help to get through a tough time, those people never even dropped a buck or two in my jar." Think of each dollar as a tiny insurance policy. Or an easy way to make someone's day...


Santa Needs a New Pair of Boots

Bill, I heard that Santa want's cash this year instead of cookies.

Sandra Gauvin