Fact Check: The Idea Of Tipping Waiters In U.S. Is Rooted In Slavery And Jim Crow

Fact Check: The Idea Of Tipping Waiters In U.S. Is Rooted In Slavery And Jim Crow

Fact Check: The Idea Of Tipping Waiters In U.S. Is Rooted In Slavery and Jim Crow Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Tipping is common in many countries worldwide with customers giving a tip on top of a fee for services such as a cab ride, a restaurant meal or a haircut.

In U.S. restaurants, tipping has ties to slavery, according to experts. It wasn’t always part of the U.S. dining-out culture. Its spread is linked to the racial oppression of the post-Civil War Reconstruction period.

Tipping actually began back in medieval times as a master-serf custom where a servant would receive extra money for having performed above and beyond. However, modern U.S. tipping has a unique beginning, Time reported.

There is debate about how tipping at restaurants in particular started in the U.S. Some credit European travelers with bringing the custom to the U.S. Others believe U.S. travelers brought tipping back from Europe. But there is another origin story for U.S. tipping. In the 1850s and 1860s, wealthy Americans discovered the tradition of vacations in Europe. Wanting to seem aristocratic, these wealthy Americans began tipping in the U.S. upon their return.

Initially, most deemed the practice to be condescending and classist. There was so much anti-tipping pushback that in the 1860s, the non-tipping spread to Europe. That’s why there is no tipping expected at most European restaurants today, according to Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and president of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) and the director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley. Jayaraman pushes for the equalization of wages for tipped and non-tipped workers.

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“But in the States, that movement was squashed, and we went to the exact opposite direction,” Jayaraman told Time, “because of slavery.”

Here’s how. Even after slavery ended as an institution, many who were freed from bondage were still limited in their options. Those who did not wind up sharecropping worked in menial positions such as servants, waiters, barbers and railroad porters. Restaurant workers and railroad porters, however, were not paid by their employers but had to rely on customers to offer a small tip instead.

“These industries demanded the right to basically continue slavery with a $0 wage and tip,” Jayaraman said.

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Not everyone agreed with this practice. In 1915, six states temporarily abolished the practice of tipping. In 1918, Georgia’s legislature deemed tips as “commercial bribes” and tips for the purpose of influencing service illegal. Iowa in 1915 went further, declaring that those who accepted a gratuity of any kind — not those who gave the tip — could be fined or imprisoned.

Despite this, the practice grew in popularity in many Southern states. By 1926, all of these laws against tipping had been repealed or deemed unconstitutional, according to Kerry Segrave’s Tipping: An American Social History of Gratitudes.

The Time report linking tipping to slavery sparked a response on Twitter. Wakanda Forever tweeted, “literally every single thing, EVERY SINGLE THING in America is rooted in racism”


Beast Wilson tweeted his experience in Ireland, where restaurant workers love Americans. “When I visited family in Ireland one of my fams friends was a bartender and he said ‘I love when Americans come to the bar, they always tip me and I never get tips from anyone else besides them'”