THE “TIPPING” POINT – Bo, at your service? / by Bo Gerard

Although I am a fair tipper, I have never liked the whole idea of it.  It has always seemed to me that if you work hard, you should be getting paid a living wage, and you should need no additional monetary incentives to do your best work.  And in the case of the service industry, it seems as long as we agree to keep tipping, restaurant owners will continue to pay ridiculously low wages.  So what good is tipping anyway?


Tip is an old word, and it has nothing to do with either acronyms or the act of attempting to influence quality of service. Although the word has many meanings, both as a verb and as a noun, the use of the term as it applies to monetary rewards to servants, dates to the 1700s. It first appeared in this context as a verb (“Then I, Sir, tips me the Verger with half a Crown” from the 1706 George Farquhar play The Beaux Stratagem) and was first recorded as a noun in 1755. However, the use of tip to describe the act of giving something to another goes back to 1610. Tip slipped into the language as underworld slang, (rogues' cant), with the verb ‘to tip’ (meaning ‘to give to or share with’) being used by shady characters as part of the then-current secret lingo of petty criminals.


Having been on the receiving end of tipping for 40 years, my experience is that sometimes the client is tipping to merely show appreciation - possibly you have succeeded their expectations.  But, there is a darker, more psycholoically  complex side to tipping, whose investigation could easily fill a book.  Sometimes tipping is about power and status.  There have been times when it was clear that the tip was less about appreciation and more about the tipper’s own benevolent superiority.


When I am doing strolling magic at a large function, I regularly refuse tips. (I have developed a polite and funny way to do it.)  In a hope to distance myself, in the eyes of the guest, from those in the service sector at the event (waiter, bus boys, parking attendants), I try to impress upon the appreciative guest that I am getting paid a great salary, and that their enjoyment is all the additional thanks I require.


I was recently given the largest tip of my career (hundreds of dollars) by a client who hired me to do an after-dinner show in her home.  Unfortunately, they kept me waiting for an hour and a half past the scheduled show time, and when they came into the show room, they were obviously quite drunk.  They then proceeded to talk loudly, text, and heckle me during my show.  Now, I love money as much as the next guy, but I will never work for that client again.

And if you’ve made it to the end of this blog, and you are a performer, I have a question for you.  Have you noticed that you are more likely to be offered a tip from a low/middle income client, than you are by a very wealthy one?