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tipping in Israel

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legal warning: The information here should not be understood legally as financial advice. If you believe anything on this site is in error, please contact me. I am always open to corrections, new ideas, and new opinions...

When I first came to Israel, I was a generous tipper.  I used to tip cab drivers, barbers, and, of course, waiters and waitresses.  But as I became more Israeli, my tipping habit became less and less frequent, reserving tips almost exclusively for waiters and waitresses.  But isn’t there a good reason for tipping?  Should I go back to the American way?

Some say that tipping rewards and encourages good service.  This is true, but in the overwhelming majority of service industries, no one gets a tip.  If a worker works well, he or she can receive a raise or bonus, but it is up to the boss to decide.  Perhaps the industries in which we tip are different, because the workers make much less money.  That’s a good argument.  But then, would one consider using tzedakah money to tip a waiter?  What about waiters who make more money working at nicer restaurants?  Finally, why does the waiter get a tip and not the busboy or the cleaning crew?  Although I do like the idea of giving my tzedakah to one who already works, I doubt one could  consider tipping the same as giving tzedakah.

Moreover, there is a problem I call the Jersey effect, where tips do not really benefit the waitresses as much as they should.  In places like New Jersey, waiters and waitresses are allowed (or at least when I was in High School) to receive less than half of minimum wage, the logic being that the tips will make up for the unpaid wages.  In this case, the business owners are benefiting and, in reality, taking some of the tips from the waiters.  So even if you hold by the tzedakah theory of tipping, realize that in places like New Jersey, sometimes less than half of what you give it actually going to your tzedakah; the other half subsidizes and employer to underpay his workers.

Another tipping theory is that tipping allows one to communicate his or her likes and dislikes to a service oriented industry.  If one thinks the service was fantastic, one will tip more; if one thinks the service was lousy, one will tip less.  But economically, we communicate our likes and dislikes by choosing whether or not to be a repeat customer.  So why do we need this additional method of communication?

So as a matter or principle, I am against tipping.  I would rather a system where the market rewarded every service industry like everyone else, with regular compensation.  But I do not live on principles alone; since we do live in a society where tipping is preferred, I tip around 15% at restaurants, 10% if the service is lousy, 20% if it is fantastic (I choose these numbers because the math is simple).

There are some circumstances where I have learned not to tip, for example, after negotiating a price.  I have had more than one cab driver / barber get upset and tell me “why do you bargain down a price and then pay more in the end?  Are you just trying to upset me?”

Have your tipping habits changed in Israel?

PS – never upset a man who about to cut your hair.  It never works out in the end


  1. Genius says:

    You’ve bargained with a barber? I hope all the terrible haircuts I’ve gotten in Israel aren’t a reflection of the aggression the barbers feel towards you.

  2. great post – i have been in israel 26 years. i tip according to israeli standards. i give tzedakah according to jewish standards!

    arnie draiman (home of the tzedakah adventures!)

  3. Joguy says:

    When I worked at a restaurant on Emek Refaim here all of the tips were added up at the end of the night and 10% went to the kitchen. The servers then added up their total hours and divided the 90% remaining of the tips by the total number of hours all the combined servers worked. That gave us an hourly wage and however many hours each person worked is the percentage they got.
    This had a few issues I didn’t like:
    1 – This relied that all the servers were honest and I believe created an unecessary sense that servers might withhold or claim they got low tips when they did not.
    2 – Senior servers enjoyed the luxury of sending junior servers home if the restaurant was not busy. There is about 1-2 hours of cleanup at the end of each day. So if it was a busy night the senior servers would send the juniors home so they could earn those extra 2 hours which would be paid at a relatively higher hourly wage. If of course it was a slow night, the junior staff was “allowed” to stay to clean up while the senior staff went home early. (As an aside, the owner of the restaurant guaranteed us we would make at least minimum wage if we didn’t make it in tips (which we almost always did)).

    Sometimes tipping can’t be on a percentage. What if you and I order in the exact same pizza to our home equidistant from the shop, except I load mine up with fancy toppings so my pizza is 30 shekels more while yours is plain. The delivery driver should get an extra 3-5 NIS for his tip simply because I prefer toppings? For him it’s the same work. Same thing if I order from an expensive place, for the delivery guy he gets 5-10 NIS for the trip and doesn’t matter if I ordered 5 pizzas or 1 can of soda.

    I admittedly low tip when service is bad. However, I feel like it rarely helps and the waiters just say oh those Americans (though I am Canadian) are so cheap and never tip or some other nonsense. We always made up something to justify a tip, and there was even the option to ask the manager to force a tip on the bill at 12% if you were worried they were “cheap British folks” or what have you.

    The question then remains how do I go about telling the waitress at the fancy 120 shekel a plate restaurant that I get a chance to rarely take my wife to, how to do her job as to not blow the service and ambiance of the effect we’re trying to create? Is it really so hard to learn to check your table every few minutes before they order to see if they are ready to order? Is it so difficult to bring water even when they don’t ask for it? Once the food arrives, it’s so hard to ask to make sure it’s okay? And do I really have to ask you to refill the water jug if it’s empty there for 10 minutes, you can’t figure out it’s not nice to leave an empty jug on the table?

    If the food is lousy you can always speak to the cook or send it back to the kitchen to send the message, but how to do it for the waiters? It’s really a shame on the owner of the restaurant for not training the staff properly and not enforcing good guidance I suppose.

    I always feel like when I low tip as the service was lousy that I’m like running out of the restaurant to avoid the confrontation.

    What do you do, people? What do you do?

  4. joguy says:

    are you supposed to tip the bag boys at the grocery store? i always feel like i should, especially if they actually put the right things together in the right bags and didn’t squash things…

  5. chaim duss says:

    “Moreover, there is a problem I call the Jersey effect, where tips do not really benefit the waitresses as much as they should. In places like New Jersey, waiters and waitresses are allowed (or at least when I was in High School) to receive less than half of minimum wage, the logic being that the tips will make up for the unpaid wages. In this case, the business owners are benefiting and, in reality, taking some of the tips from the waiters. ”


    If owners take tips from waiters they can be fined.

    Maybe you should try working in a restaurant for low -wages and tips some time and see how you feel when some demanding shmendrick yid leaves 5% or less to feed him and his brats.

    • jonnydegani says:

      Hi Chaim and welcome. Allow me to explain my point. When the owners just lower the wages and tell the workers that they’ll make it up in tips, economically speaking that is the same as taking the tips and paying them fair wages. For example, lets say that a waiter earns $50 in tips a day. In New York, this waiter also earns a salary of $100 a day (arbitrary amount, just an example), so he leaves at the end of the day with $150. In New Jersey, the waiter is allowed to be paid much less, let’s say only $50, so he leaves at the end of the day with only $100. The justification for the lower salary in New jersey is that the waiter can earn $50 less because he’ll make it up in tips. Were there no tipping at all in New Jersey, then the bosses would have to pay a full salary of $100, but since there is, they can get away with $50. Either way though, the employee would be earning $100. In this respect, it is the bosses, not the waiters, who benefit economically from the tips.

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