I don't like to generalize about any race because it is of course racist, but it just seems that Koreans are the absolute worst tippers of any foreign transplant here. It seems like Koreans that come here are anxious to assimilate in every other aspect. I understand that America is very unique versus Europe and the East but it seems like most people get that point early on. I don't believe it's from maltreatment or a societal thing from your past country. So what it is it? I'm not some disgruntled waiter or even angry about it even though I did work my way through college that way. I'm just curious.
Can't spell it properly but Com sah hameedah and anyo ee ah say yoh!
Ah, the classic question for all minorities – why don’t colored people tip well? (The Mexican version from the Mexican is here.)
The Korean wouldn’t know if Koreans are the worst tippers – it’s not like he ever did any statistical study on this. But from personal experience, it does feel like Koreans in general tip a little lightly. Why could this be?
First, the article that the Mexican cites is absolutely worth reading. If 24 page article scares you too much, here is a 9 page version that focuses less on numbers and more on explanation.
Of course the study did not focus on Koreans, but it did focus on Asians. The relevant passages say:
“This study also found that Asians tipped less than did Whites. … The Asian-White difference in tipping became smaller and nonsignificant after statistically controlling for each of the following mediators: service, dining-party size, frequency of restaurant patronage, and restaurant identity. Frequency of restaurant patronage and restaurant identity (reflecting differences in restaurant expensiveness, among other things) should both be strongly affected by income, so these two mediators suggest that Asian–White differences in tipping may be attributable to income effects.”
That’s interesting. But what about Koreans? The Korean would go out on a limb and say the tipping problem is mostly confined to first generation immigrants, because from second generation and on, cultural norm about tipping would be pretty difficult not to conform. (Because second generation people actually have non-Korean people in their social circles, and they wouldn’t want to embarrass themselves.)
So what about Koreans that leads to poor tips? As you might have guessed, the 15 percent tip is a uniquely American institution. Europe tips around 10 percent, and Asia including Korea has no tips. In restaurants where foreigners would frequent, e.g. those in a nice hotel, the bottom of the menu tends to say “15% gratuity is included.” But the Korean never learned if 15 percent of the bill actually goes to the waiting staff.
In fact, there is only one occupation in Korea that collects tips: strippers. So tipping anyone in Korea, especially young women, could be a huge insult. (However, if the change is an insignificant amount, say less than a dollar, leaving the change is ok.)
The Korean thinks it’s ultimately a matter of expectation. Americans internalized the tip and sales tax such that when they see a 10 dollar meal, they expect to pay around 14 dollars. But first generation Koreans spent their whole lives in a way that when they see a price tag of 10 dollars, they expect to pay 10 dollars. So when they realize they have to pay more than what is printed on the menu, it feels like they are being ripped off.
Furthermore, when the idea of tipping is first introduced to the newly immigrated, it is not introduced as “money that waiters/waitresses rightfully deserve if they give not-horrible service, because they do not make minimum wage.” Rather, it is introduced as “an incentive payment for good service.”
Now, Koreans generally do not care too much about good service. (The Korean touched upon this topic in this post.) But if they had to pay for it, boy, the service had better be good. It ends up becoming like an old episode of Third Rock from the Sun, where clueless aliens, upon first learning about tipping, decided to incentivize the waitress by adding to and subtracting from a pile of money on the table each time the waitress does anything.
Lastly, (pure conjecture at this point,) it could also be that poor-tipping Koreans tend to be more on the employer side than employee side, since most of the first generation Koreans are entrepreneurs who own businesses, including restaurants. It is possible that they have less sympathy for the travails of the waiting staff.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.