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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

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