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With new minimum wage laws taking effect in various parts of the country, some restaurants have instituted no-tipping policies. By eliminating tips and raising prices by an equivalent amount, some owners say they can spread compensation more evenly among servers and kitchen staff while eliminating bookkeeping hassles.

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In this country, it’s hard to imagine walking out of a restaurant—or hair salon, or nearly any type of service business at all—without leaving a tip. But that makes us different from many other places. In a paper for the Journal of Consumer Research, marketing scholars Michael Lynn, George M. Zinkhan, and Judy Harris considered why tipping is much more common in some countries than others.

The researchers looked at an international tipping guide, considering which of 33 service professions were customarily tipped in 30 different countries. The United States had 31 tipped professions, the most of any country. It was followed closely by Greece, Argentina, Spain, and Portugal. In New Zealand and Japan, only a few of the jobs were tipped, with the Scandinavian nations of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway close behind—all with less than 10 of the 33 professions expecting tips. Other nations fell between the two extremes.

Lynn, Zinkhan, and Harris attempted to find connections between the tendency to tip and the cultural characteristics of the countries, employing a commonly used classification system invented by Dutch social psychologist Gerard Hendrik Hofstede. They found that comfort with power disparities and hierarchies was connected to a tendency to tip, something they had predicted on the theory that tipping reinforces customers’ power over service workers.

But other predictions about the connections between culture and tipping didn’t hold up. Countries that value communalism over individualism, and those that put an emphasis on avoiding uncertainty, were more likely to use tips. Those findings went against the researchers’ initial expectations.

One interesting finding was that Japan was an outlier in all the comparisons. The researchers argue that something outside of their model seems to drive the country’s strong no-tipping norm. They suggest this outside factor could be the emphasis in Japanese culture on repaying debts, which is so strong that doing a favor for a stranger often represents an unwanted imposition on them. Lynn, Zinkhan, and Harris suggest the implications about gratitude and indebtedness involved in the practice of tipping represent exactly the kind of dynamic that the Japanese prefer to avoid.

For anyone interested in the connections between culture and tipping, an interesting test will be how customers and workers react if more restaurants in the highly pro-tipping US choose to ban the practice.


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Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Dec., 1993), pp. 478-488
Oxford University Press