Do I Really Have to Tip?

Now that we use credit cards to pay for coffees and ice cream cones, I’ve gotten used to seeing payment screens that show tip options. I consider these tips income transfers (from me to workers) rather than gratuities for services rendered. (Does scooping ice cream really require a tip?) Still, I was shocked recently when I used a credit card to pay for a carpet cleaning service and was shown tip options from five to 20 percent. It was uncomfortable to press “no tip” in front of the workers. But the service cost $700, so even a 10 percent tip would have raised the price significantly. I think these payment systems bully consumers. What do you think?


You’re asking, at heart, how to feel good about yourself while participating in an economy that denies many workers a living wage. Of course, you don’t set the pay for ice-cream scoopers or carpet cleaners. And it’s common among those who prefer not to think about our complicity to conclude that companies should pay their workers instead of relying on us to tip them. I see that point!

Spoiler, though: Most companies don’t seem to be in a big rush to pay their workers any better. So, what should we do? I suggest some research on wages, generosity (in keeping with our means) and carrying cash. Remember: You don’t have to tip as a percentage of sales. You can also knock yourself out with letters to C.E.O.s!

For ice-cream scoopers who likely earn minimum wage, for instance, I generally tip a dollar or two. I’d prefer that minimum wage was sufficient to live on. I also recognize that if workers were paid more, my ice cream cone would probably cost more too. I’m OK with that. I bet most people would be.

Now, consider service workers like carpet-cleaning technicians, who earn an average of $15 an hour. It would be hard to live on a salary of $30,000 in my area. So, under most circumstances, I would give them each $20 at the end of the day. You don’t have to! But let’s be real: The problem with income inequality — and particularly in the service industry — is not the payment screen.

A Gift Return Trap

When our twins were born, we were given generous baby gifts by many people, including my mother-in-law. Now that the twins are getting older, they are outgrowing the strollers, baby clothes and car seats. So, my husband has been selling gifts that were given to us by his side of the family to buy new things that we need now. The problem: My mother-in-law recently asked us to return the bigger-ticket items she gave us so her daughter can use them for her baby. (Note: My sister-in-law isn’t pregnant or in a serious relationship.) I was taken aback by her request. Gifts are gifts, right?


I am going to break one of my cardinal rules by assuming a few facts not in evidence. (It’s the only way I can make sense of this story.) Your mother-in-law has likely discovered that you are selling her gifts. Why else would she ask for them now?

And you are being a little disingenuous by ignoring the sentimental value of baby gifts from a loving grandmother. As a general matter, you’re right: Once given, gifts are yours to do with as you please. But if baby gifts have no emotional value, why aren’t you selling any from your side of the family?

Now, you lay the responsibility for these sales at your husband’s feet. But I suspect you agreed with his plan. So, speak to his mother together. Tell her (again?) how much you appreciate her gifts. Acknowledge that you’ve been selling them as the twins outgrow them. And assure her that the twins are told, with each new purchase, that their grandmother bought it for them. Maybe this will smooth some ruffled feathers.

Pool Party Planning

My wife and I, both fully-vaccinated, are hosting our son’s third birthday party at my in-laws’ house. The party will be held outdoors at their pool. The other guests will be a few family members who are also vaccinated. My wife’s sister initially said that she and her family would not attend because one of her sons is immunocompromised, and they are being extra cautious. Now, the sister is asking that my wife and I show her negative Covid test results before the party so she can feel more comfortable attending with her children. Her reasoning is that our son has contact with a teenage babysitter (also vaccinated) for two hours a week. The babysitter attends school in-person, so my sister-in-law thinks our son may have a risk of infection. Am I wrong to think this is an unreasonable request? It’s our party!


Very few of us are epidemiologists — though many of us have played one for the last 15 months. You and I can’t properly evaluate your nephew’s health risks. But we can be extra empathetic to a mother who has probably been under extreme stress with an at-risk child.

Say, “We’d love for your family to come to the party! But we’re not qualified to assess the risks to your son. If your pediatrician recommends testing in a situation where everyone is vaccinated, we’ll be happy to.” Think of it as a small mercy.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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