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The justice of gratuities in San Diego

I perform a service. I deserve a tip.

Groucho Marx in A Night at the Opera: Do they allow tipping on the boat? Steward: Oh, yes sir! Groucho: Have you got two fives?Steward: Yes, sir. Groucho: Well then, you won't need the ten cents I was going to give you.In a more contemporary movie, Reservoir Dogs, Steve Buscemi tells a mob boss he won't tip at a restaurant, because no one does at McDonald's, and those kids work just as hard.Should you tip when you're on a cruise? Opinions differ. What about a furniture place that advertises "free delivery"? Howard Stern's sidekick Robin didn't, and calls came in that she was cheap, prompting Stern to declare, "I always tip everyone, because people know I'm rich. And I don't want them saying I'm cheap." If you are buying a $6 coffee at Starbucks, why is there a tip jar at the counter?I was on a bus in New York that had three different signs informing riders that tipping was welcomed.Andy Rooney has complained about tipping, saying, "Even when the service is bad, I still end up leaving a tip."

In 1991, Sports Illustrated asked clubhouse men who served visiting baseball teams to name the most generous tippers. San Diegans Dave Smith, Kevin Mitchell, Fred McGriff, and Tony Gwynn all ranked near the top.

As a child, I saw bathroom attendants who waxed shoes. Now, in clubs and restaurants, they stand by with a towel, or a variety of colognes, mints, and hairsprays. I wash my hands, watching from the corner of my eye. Do I give the guy a dollar, just for handing me a towel?

In January 1989 in Connecticut, a waiter stabbed a patron who left a $2 tip on a $50 bill.

In Tio Leo's Mexican restaurant, a waiter wrote at the bottom of the bill the correct amount to leave for a 15, 18, or 20 percent tip. I liked that. It does the math for you and is a reminder to cheapskates.

I asked ten locals, with professions that involve tipping, to give me the scoop.


Sandi Masori, owner of Balloon Utopia, makes balloon animals for various events. "I have a tag that says, 'Suggested tip $5,678,945. Thank you!' It makes people laugh but reminds them, I work on tips. Everyone knows you are supposed to tip waiters, and they get taxed 8 percent because of that. When I worked in Japan, I had something made that explained balloons cost money, and tips were preferred. When I worked the streets in countries like Hungary, Holland, Korea, or Thailand, I learned to say 'Thank you' in those languages. When I work a restaurant, they don't pay me. I'm strictly working for tips. But I've done some parties in Rancho Santa Fe, and they pay me well to be there. I will refuse tips from their guests."

What was the best tip you've ever received?

"I've gotten a few $100 tips. In Israel, I got 200 shekels, which is about $50."

What was the worst tip?

"Obviously, not getting a tip happens to everyone. The worst was when a guy was with his wife and child. He joked about my badge suggesting a tip. He said, 'Today's your lucky day.' I said, 'Oh yeah! Did you win the lottery?' He had me make something, and he didn't tip. His wife went to the bathroom, and I was at another table. He called me back over. I thought it was to tip me. Instead, he asked me to make him something else. Still, no tip. The guy before him gave me an $18 tip, which made me less angry. Because of this, I made a book with prices. I can do a poodle in 30 seconds, but it takes 20 minutes to do a three-foot SpongeBob, and the balloons used are expensive. If I didn't have prices, I would lose money."

Who are the best tippers?

"In Israel, it was Russian kids on dates. At Casa de Pico, when it was in Old Town, I found tourists tip better than locals. The tourists from Arizona are the best tippers."

Do you notice a difference in tipping between rich people and working class or between different races?

"Yes. Rich people are worse. They don't value workers. They think of you as just a babysitter for their kids. It's hard to say they are cheap, because a party I might do in Del Mar, they pay me well to be there. But when they come into the Red Robin, they might not even tip me. Or they give their child a dollar to hand me before I've even started some sword, which uses more than a dollar's worth of balloons. Blue-collar workers seem to be the best tippers. With race, I think cultures just do things different. Mexicans from Mexico don't tip. But if I tell them a price for something their kids want, they'll pay. If I tell them I work for tips, I usually get a single dollar for an entire table. With African Americans, I either get an amazing tip, or I get nothing, like I owe it to them. I can tell by the way they are talking to me that they feel this way. I'm Jewish, and I want to tell them, 'Look, my people were slaves, too.' Everyone is worse, the closer you get to Christmas."

What professions out there are you unsure of yourself when it comes to tipping?

"Flower girls downtown, taxi drivers, and skycaps. They check you in at the curb but no longer help take the bags out of the car. Birthday party entertainment. This one affects me as a mom and entertainer. Caterers, and grocery-store baggers who walk you out to the car. They aren't allowed to accept tips."

If you don't get tipped, what do you do?

"I thank them and walk away."

Sandi goes on to explain that tipping may be discretionary, but if she's doing a complex design, and it takes more time and is creative, the person should tip accordingly. She adds, "A poodle takes me 30 seconds. I did a big tiger once that was over eight feet tall and four feet wide. That took me 90 hours."


Mike Donovan delivers pizzas for Domino's in Mira Mesa. Drivers are paid $1.20 per run for mileage, but it's been the same for years, even with gas prices going up. Papa John's pays 65 cents. Donovan explained that the restaurant's delivery charge doesn't go to the driver, which many customers mistakenly believe. He says, "I hate the fact that everyone tips in a restaurant, and all they do is bring you the food. Maybe you get a refill on your Coke. We have to go out in the rain looking for an apartment, or trying to figure out how to get into a gated complex, or being stuck in rush-hour traffic. And we still get stiffed on tips, or someone says, 'Keep the change' when it's only 35 cents."

What is the best tip you've gotten?

"Usually it's delivering to a party. It's that dynamic, of everyone throwing money into the pot; people are in a good mood. I've had times where I end up with a $20 tip out of that. Once I had an $8 order, where someone gave me $20 and told me to keep the change."

What is the worst?

"Aside from busy times, in the rain during football season, and getting stiffed, I once had a disabled person not tip me. When he placed the order, he wanted a lot of extra stuff. Napkins, peppers, and things like that. The guy wanted me to bring it into his house, place it on his table. I had to go back to my car and get all the extras he wanted. I didn't get a tip from him."

Who are the best tippers?

"People partying."

Do you notice a difference in rich people or between races?

"I delivered in Rancho Bernardo, and the tips weren't better than Mira Mesa. I don't buy into the myth that poor people tip more. It doesn't make sense. Ultimately, people that make more money have more to throw around and will tip better. When I deliver on the Miramar Base in the barracks, sometimes the grunts tip well. The higher-ranking officers sometimes didn't tip for shit. I have found that black people don't tip. There might be one out there that does. I'm not talking about you. But you need to talk to your brothers, because they just don't tip. On the radio they talked about a university that did a huge study, and it showed that blacks are bad tippers. They were right."

What professions are you not sure about tipping?

"Skycaps and bus drivers. I tip generously when guys wash my car. They're putting a lot of work into it."

If you don't get tipped, what do you do?

"I will ask, 'Was there anything wrong with the service?' Sometimes they say no, and I say 'Oh,' and then walk away. It's not like that helps. It's never gotten someone to open their wallet back up."

Mike goes on to explain that when he delivered flowers, he rarely got tips, but that didn't bother him.

"I figured the people receiving the flowers didn't order them or weren't expecting them. So I don't expect a tip. But what bothers me about delivering pizzas is the fact that someone who should tip doesn't, and someone who is less likely to, since they live only a few blocks from Domino's, might give you a big tip. There's no logic behind it."


Sexy Lexy Lilix is a stripper at the Body Shop off Rosecrans. She's been "dancing" for six months. She says she hates when guys have excuses for not tipping. "They will say they just got there and don't have any change. Or they say they didn't see me onstage. They are sitting there staring at my pussy, and then they don't tip. I hate that."

What is the best tip you've gotten?

"Someone gave me a $100 tip once."

What is the worst?

"Not getting a tip. You are dancing naked in front of them for a few songs, and when you go around to collect tips, they conveniently leave."

Who are the best tippers?

"I don't know. Some guys will be dressed up and you think they have money, and they don't tip well. You can never tell." Another stripper walked by and told me military guys suck.

Do you notice a difference among wealthier patrons or different races tipping a certain way?

"I don't really want to get into that."

What professions are you not sure about tipping?

"I don't know. I tip most workers. I don't know about anyone else. If someone does a job for me, I tip them."

If you don't get tipped, what do you do?

"I'll say, 'Did you see my dance?' It's a nicer way of asking for the tip. Then I usually tell them to be sure to tip the next girl."

I've heard some stories about dancers only working for tips, or just getting minimum wage. Others have said they have to pay for "stage time." When I ask about this, Lexy doesn't give me a straight answer. She does tell me she wants to get into holistic medicine when she finishes school.


Howard Clayton has been a limo driver for 25 years. He said it's fun to watch people rent the limo and how they act completely different after lots of drinks. He says, "And the more people drink, the bigger my tip usually is. I think they lose track of money. Tipping is also an act. You learn to take care of people, and they take care of you."

What was your best tip?

"I've gotten a $300 tip for working eight hours, for eight people."

What's your worst tip?

"There have been two or three times where I didn't get a tip. Cheap people might tip $10 to $20 for an entire night."

Who are the best tippers?

"In general, it seems East Coast people are better tippers."

Do you notice a difference in races? Do poor people tip better than rich people?

"Poor people don't rent limos. It's hard to say, regarding the race of the person. It all depends on their personality, and I don't think race plays into that."

What professions are you not sure about tipping?

"Masseuses, valets, hotel luggage people, and maids."

If you don't get tipped, what do you do?

"What can you do? I can't peel out of there in a cloud of smoke and burning rubber. I've found, though, that when you do little things for clients, they're happy. Helping ladies out of the car, cleaning the glasses, or whatever might make them feel more comfortable."


Christine Fleming has been a hairstylist for 20 years in Scripps Ranch. She says, "I was having a conversation about tipping with my husband the other day."

What was your best tip?

"Probably during the holidays. I've gotten really big tips for Christmas. Usually, since I charge a man $30 for a haircut, they'll give me $3-$5. I charge females $40 and will get $5-$10. If there is a chemical service involved, it can be $5-$20."

What was your worst?

"Well, about 3 percent of my clients don't tip. Although, at holidays, some of those people give me gifts. They are showing their appreciation that way."

Since Christine rents her space and can charge what she wants, I tell her it's not the same as someone working at Fantastic Sam's, where they get paid every two weeks and count on tips. She can charge what she wants. Christine agrees and says, "It is weird when someone is an independent contractor, and I never get offended by not being tipped. I do hate when I am somewhere and I pay the amount and am asked, 'Do you need change?' They assume the change is going to be their tip, and it's often way too much."

Who are the best tippers? Does it help that you are in a neighborhood like Scripps Ranch, instead of Logan Heights?

"Well, Scripps is nice. I don't know if you'd think about starting a business in Logan Heights, but I'm sure the barbers that work there are tipped. Even if it's the bare minimum."

Do you notice a difference in races, or the amount of money someone makes, determining how much they tip?

"I don't find that at all. From what I hear, a lot of rich people aren't the best tippers."

What professions are you not sure about tipping?

"I haven't thought about it. I'm a really good tipper at restaurants. I'm not sure if you tip gardeners at your house, or the cleaning lady."

If you don't get tipped, what do you do?

"I'm not bothered if I don't get tipped. I don't automatically expect it. I'm always grateful when someone does. Even if they don't, I'm still happy to have their business."


Eduardo Bayao has been a parking valet for a year, on Prospect in La Jolla, right near George's on the Cove.

What is the best tip you've ever gotten?

"A $20 bill."

What is the worst?

"Not getting nothing. It was during the day, and I had to run a long way to get the person's car."

Who are the best tippers?

"La Jolla residents seem to tip good. Working in La Jolla probably helps."

Have you noticed a difference in races, or class of people?

"I don't know about the different people. When people come to La Jolla, I think they know they are going to spend money. They are going to these restaurants, and so...the type of people coming here, most of them have money. Sometimes, you have a rich person that doesn't tip, or someone that doesn't have a fancy car, they give you a nice tip. It's hard to tell sometimes. I've heard other people complain about certain races, but I've never experienced a problem with any other races."

What professions are you not sure about tipping?

"Yeah, my insurance. The other day, I left my keys in the car and I called them. They came and opened the car, and I forgot to tip the guy. I didn't even think about it until he was leaving."

If you don't get tipped, what do you do?

"We charge $7 per car to park, so I understand that some people won't tip us, because we already charge them to park their car. Often, only one or two dollars is all we are tipped."

The manager comes over and tells me, "We did put a sign up that said gratuity is appreciated, because a lot of people don't know they should tip."


I talked to the owners of the Flower Box in Sorrento Valley. They didn't want to be named but had a lot of opinions on tips. One owner, the man who does most of the deliveries, answered most of my questions. He said, "There is a difference between someone carrying a pizza or two a little ways, or loaded flowers that you have to present just right, you can't break the vase or anything. If the pizza guys get tipped, I don't know why we don't. It's beyond me."

What's been your best tip?

"I got one yesterday, a guy gave me two bucks. I've gotten only a handful of tips in my career. And I'm out there with lots of flowers, and I have to hurry. And sometimes they stop me and say, 'Wait a minute,' and they are spending three or four minutes looking through their purse, to hand me a dollar. I'd rather they just keep it and let me go do my next delivery."

What is the worst tip?

"Well, 99 percent of our deliveries, we don't get tipped. And, they are getting flowers. Someone out there thinks they're special. I had a delivery today, I had to go back three times. The address was wrong and the woman was just 'Here, give me my flowers!' I wonder how much service they want. It wasn't even worth a buck tip to them. One time, I carried something that weighed almost 250 pounds. I asked if they had a dolly. They didn't. I got three Mexicans that were out there to help me carry it on something. We had to wait, because the dentist in Del Mar wasn't ready to put it down yet. Not only did we not get a tip, but they were upset, because they thought it would be bigger."

Who are the best tippers?

"Maybe men. The majority of flowers go to women. The majority of pizzas delivered probably go to guys, and they usually tip the drivers. And men tip better when they are with women, at a restaurant or something."

Have you noticed a difference in race, or class of people?

"Nobody tips when they come into the shop," says the lady preparing a bouquet. "Aside from saying, 'Keep the change.' The less wealthy seem to be the ones that tip better."

What professions are you not sure about tipping?

"I don't know...I tip the hairstylist. Maybe a furniture delivery I wouldn't tip, because they might charge $20, so I don't think it's necessary."

If you don't get tipped, what do you do?

"I just move on to my next delivery. Since most people don't tip me, I'm not surprised by it. I really can't figure out why that is, though. The excuse I hear is they didn't know the flowers were coming. You didn't know Valentine's Day was coming? You didn't know you'd get flowers on Mother's Day? Come on!"


Nan Lam works for Finesse Nails in Kearny Mesa. She does pedicures, artificial nails, spa-chair manicures, facials, massage, and waxing. She's been doing this since 1998. She told me, "Some places have their employees working on commission, so you get 50 percent of what is charged. We have reasonable prices, so tips are really appreciated. It is different if the owner of a small salon is charging a lot. In those instances, you might not tip."

What is the best tip you've ever gotten?

"One hundred fifty dollars for a pedicure and wax. She was really satisfied and very nice. She was late and gave me $50 first. Her cost was $58, and when I finished, she gave me another $100. It helps that she was very well off."

What was your worst tip?

"Somebody not tipping would be the worst. But I've had times where people come in for a waxing and they've just been to the gym. They haven't showered and stink, and they don't tip. It's also frustrating when someone demands a lot. They want nails a certain way, you do that, then they change their mind and want something else. You spent so much time with them and don't get tipped."

Who are the best tippers?

"People in the same profession, or service industry. Waitresses, hairstylists, hotel or catering; those professions all tip well."

Is there a difference in races and how people tip? Being Vietnamese...do you get tipped more by Vietnamese women?

"Vietnamese don't tip. It's not part of the culture. They are a third-world country, so unless someone was raised here.... My parents might tip a dollar if they get their hair done, but that's it."

Asked about other races, she says, "Generally, black people don't tip. I've been tipped on occasion, but usually not. I hate to say that, though. It makes me sound mean. And even if someone doesn't tip me, I'm happy they came in."

What professions are you not sure about tipping?

"Clothing alterations. I don't usually tip unless it's a holiday and I've been going there for a long time. I wouldn't tip a housekeeper either."

If you don't get tipped, what do you do?

"I don't do or say anything. I still thank them for coming in. You get some people that tip really well and some that don't tip at all. It ends up averaging out."


I tried to talk to ten different cab drivers, but none of them were game. I guess they only talk if the meter is running. A few claimed their English wasn't strong enough. A few others thought it would hurt business. One said, "No camera, no photos! You leave, now!" When I saw the pedicabs nearby, I approached them.

Mehmet Alkanlar and his girlfriend Merlin Turginmaz are here from Turkey and have only been riding a pedicab for three days. They work downtown near Horton Plaza and charge $5 per person for short distances, but for more than three or four miles, it is $15.

I asked about their best tips and Mehmet said, "Two hours ago, I picked up an Indian woman -- a software engineer -- and I'm studying that. We talked about software and stuff. She bargained very hard. I said $10 for Radisson, but she wanted a ride for $5. Then she said $7. We talked and argued. I told her my living expenses, for one day here, is $50. I need to make that in a day. When we got there, instead of just giving me $10, she handed me $50." Merlin said, "I'm not as lucky as him [Mehmet]. My best tip so far was $4."

Worst tip?

"Mostly people don't tip, actually."

Do certain people tip better than others?

"Well, people going to or from the big hotels, they usually tip more. The locals don't seem to use the pedicabs much."

Does race factor into tipping?

"Most people taking the pedicabs are...I don't want to say, but mostly, African Americans don't seem to use the pedicabs."

What professions are you not sure about tipping?

"Actually, we are students and are trying to save money for school. So even waitresses, we just have to think more than twice if we want to tip them or not."

What can you say to someone, if you just peddled up a steep hill on a hot day and they don't tip you?

"No, no, no! We don't say anything. They don't have to tip us. Not at all."

As we were talking, a woman was staring at me. She said, "I'd love to be interviewed. I have a lot to say about tipping." I asked her what she did, and she told me she was a hairstylist. When I told her I'd already talked to one, she told me she worked in Hollywood and on film sets and TV shows. I got the tape recorder rolling.


Karin Vonderwische has been a hairstylist for 32 years. "I worked in England, Denmark, Norway, and America. I did hair for MTV in Los Angeles and some film and TV. Now I'm down here. And tips play a big factor in my profession, determining where you'll work. People will drive from Santee all the way to Encinitas or Leucadia to work, because the tips are so much better."

What was your best tip?

"I got a $100 tip for a regular man's haircut. Oh, John Candy once gave me $500, on the set of Going Berserk. And he insisted that I eat before I leave, too."

What is the worst tip?

"Nothing, of course. When I did hair for stars, and they didn't like the hairstyle, they just wouldn't pay me. That's even worse, because I'm not paid or tipped. On the set of Mike's Murder I finished at 5 p.m. and then Debra Winger wanted me to do her hair. I spent two and a half hours on it, and she hated it. She went into her trailer, got upset, and I wasn't paid for that extra time."

Who are the best tippers?

"The working class is the best. I can also say things about where people come from. Different nationalities have a difference about tipping. People in northern Europe don't tip at all, and they expect a fabulous job. That's in Norway and Denmark. In England, people give tips. Just a minimum amount. When I worked in Beverly Hills, I made the most in tips. You would be surprised, though. The stars are not the best tippers, even though they make the most money."

Is there a difference among races?

"Oh, definitely. And areas of town. A hairdresser in Chula Vista will hardly make anything in tips. But in Oceanside, where all the military guys are, you might be doing $2 haircuts, but they make $200 or $300 a day doing those. They give a lot of tips, but the other Oceanside residents don't tip so well. I think Caucasian people are more used to tipping than other races. The poorer the people, the less they tip. Let's say a Mexican person comes into my salon, and they see other people tipping; they tip too, because they want to be like everyone else."

If you don't get tipped, what can you do or say about it?

"I always ask people if they are happy. This weekend, I did a teenager's hair. The father went to go shopping, and when he came back he was so mad. He had told me what he wanted, but his daughter said something different. He was furious, but he still tipped me. It can be awkward, but usually the receptionist will say, 'Is that the amount you want to put on your card, or would you like to add a gratuity to that?' I have her handle it, so I don't have to."


Tracy Ibarreta is a cartoonist and psychic medium. She started for the Bonita Vista High School newspaper but ended up working at Downtown Disney. She said, "Thanks to that job I was able to build my speed to draw one black-and-white caricature in one minute, per person. With color, it's about five minutes. I did private events at Disneyland, California Adventure, and many other places. I moved back to San Diego and have drawn for For Rent Magazine and many other events. In between, I'm at Balboa Park on a donation/tip basis, because permits are free. I am not allowed to say an exact dollar amount, but I can suggest a tip range. I average $5-$10 a person, which is a fourth of what they charge at most theme parks. I do my readings in North Park, but I don't push tipping as much there. Some readers leave money out as a hint, but I chose not to. I sometimes get $5 or $10. When I draw, I hate it when people try to pay per page. It's okay for one person, but if five or six people are on the page, it's the same time and effort as if they were drawn on separate sheets. I also hate when I'm showered with good comments but left with a tip that says otherwise."

What is the best tip you've gotten?

"A woman visiting from Phoenix gave me $40 for drawing her two sons. That blew me away. She praised my work and said I deserved it. I've gotten many $20 tips, too."

What's your worst?

"I drew ten caricatures and got $1.50. These ladies had the nerve to have me draw continuously. I drew the mom, boyfriend, and kids from pictures, and this was in addition to drawing the ladies themselves. I knew something was up when each person was slowly disappearing. I couldn't bite my tongue any longer and asked, 'Am I getting anything for this?' The last person stuck with me nervously and said, 'Um...I don't know.' I explained to her kindly about how much my materials cost. I was near tears and extremely offended at the fact that I practically got nothing for my hard work -- and very sore arm. The lady ran off and came back with $1.50 in change."

Who are the best tippers?

"Rich people tend to tip better."

Is there a difference in the races regarding tips?

"First and foremost, I want to make it clear that I have received awesome tips from people of all sorts of races and religions. I think it has to do more with social classes in my experience. However, I have to say the majority, but not all, of my better tips come from Caucasians and Asians. There is a bit of irony to this, though. I am of Filipino descent and have done caricatures for older-generation Filipinos. When they find out I'm Filipino, they impose and expect some sort of discount or figure they can tip nothing at all. That drives me nuts! A former co-worker, also a Filipino, warned me of this when I was new in the business. For me, freebies and discounts are for people I know, regardless of race, religion, or culture."

What professions are you not sure about tipping?

"Once my tires were low on air. I went to a gas station and had never put air in my tires. It was obvious, and the mechanic came over to help. He educated me on the do's and don'ts of tire pressure, and he checked the fluids in the car. I wasn't sure whether to tip him. When I asked, he said, 'Yes,' so I gave him $10. Even if he would've said no, I would've given him something."

If you don't get tipped, what do you do?

"I could tell them how much the stock, pens, wax pastels, and plastic covers for the drawings all cost and how I put my heart and soul into everything I draw. At events I'm paid by the hour, so it's not as big a deal. At Balboa Park, I've never had a zero tip, but some crappy ones. The bottom line is, I accept tips all the time. And I'm a decent-to-generous tipper that is very mindful of what services are done for me. If I can't afford to tip at a certain time, then I won't go through with the service. It's only fair."

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