A couple of days ago I had the Harbormaster's mobile pump out boat come by. I had only used the pump out boat once before and at that time two other boats in my small marina also wanted pump outs. I just paid my $5 for the pump out, but it sounded like the other boats tipped the guy. I didn't know what is expected or appropriate, so when I got pumped out the other day I tipped the guy a buck. That's 20% of the $5, but I felt it might have been chintzy and wanted to know the etiquette for tipping in that situation. Oh, did I forget to mention the guy is cute and chatted me up a bit? Regardless, I know well what it's like to depend on tips, so I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing.
I dropped an email to a friend whose judgment I trust so I could get his advice and view on tipping for pump outs. He definitely tips and tips well; generally $5 on a pump out. He has sailed, but is primarily a power boater. Feeling comfortable now that tipping is called for, and that a $3 to $5 tip for pump out, depending on the service, is a reasonable range, I could have (should have) just moved on. But being curious by nature, I decided to see what the forums had to say about it. And true to form, the forums pretty much make my blood boil.
The reputation that power boaters tip much, much better than sail boaters appears to be very well grounded in reality. When searching on Sailnet for "tipping pump out" and "tipping marinas" not one relevant search result even appeared. Cruisers Forum had a variety of threads on tipping launch drivers and marina staff or dock hands, and on tipping in US marinas.
Apparently tipping is customary, appropriate, and expected along the US east coast. (I seem to remember my ex tipping dock hands twenties when we were running his brother's 54-foot yacht in Miami and the Keys.) It sounded as though tipping is less common on the west coast, but that dock hands being around to help is also infrequent. The Canadians, Brits, Kiwis, and Aussies mostly showed themselves to be not only cheap, but incredibly resentful of tipping just about anyone, ever. Even when they know very well that it is expected in the US. Not tipping or tipping very little may be the custom in their countries, but it is very bad karma to bring that attitude to the US. I read ridiculous posts along the lines of "employers should simply pay a good wage" and "I don't tip because I only frequent businesses who pay their employees well." Yeah, right. I seriously doubt anyone is out there asking just how much the dock hands are paid before they book a slip at a marina. And who exactly gets to be the arbiter of whether someone's wage is good, livable, or fair?
Make no mistake, in jobs where tipping is traditional--restaurant staff, hairdressers, taxi drivers--tipping isn't "optional." It is part of the price you are expected to pay for the service. If you can't afford to tip 20% then don't eat or drink out.
Many people don't seem to realize that most waiters in the US make effectively nothing. In the Annapolis area servers and bartenders make $3.63 an hour. (Apparently federal law allows it to be as low as $2.13 in some places.) One's "paycheck" is zero because that whopping $3.63 an hour is all withheld for taxes. Whether you tip or not the server has to pay taxes as if you did because the restaurant declares tips for the staff based on the server's sales. The server may also pay 2.5% in credit card processing fees, and usually tips out 10% to the bar and another 15% to the busser.
I saw one post saying it's not fair to have to tip a server since all they do is carry some food, that someone else cooked, to your table. Wow. There's a lot more to it than the time a server spends with you at your table. They arrive hours before the restaurant opens to clean, prepare the dining room and service areas, cut fruit, cut bread, educate themselves on that night's soup and specials, et cetera. Most servers really are there to provide you a high-quality professional service that not just anyone can provide. They almost certainly know and care more about cuisine and wine than 99% of their customers. The ability to stay organized under pressure, timing meals, dealing with rude, difficult, or mean customers, knowing about the food preparation or being willing to check with the chef to accommodate customers' peculiar allergies, diets, or preferences, those are not skills that everyone has and they are not easy to teach. It can be back-breaking work carrying large trays of food and kegs of beer. And it can be soul-sucking work when after recommending the perfect wines and catering to the table's every whim, you find a measly 15% tip.
Tipping actually makes a lot of sense for paying servers and bartenders because the server at a breakfast diner and the server at a fine dining restaurant probably shouldn't be making the same wage. Having it keyed to the cost of the meal often reflects the difference in skills and education needed for the role. In fine dining customers expect the server to know wines that may cost as much as the server will make that night. You would probably be shocked by how many customers I've had who didn't know French or haute cuisine terminology for food and needed me to explain it. Even more frequent were customers who use the wrong bread plate or don't know how to place their silverware to indicate they are ready for the next course. Fine dining is a dance that requires both the server and the customer to know the steps to be truly successful.
But enough ranting about tipping. The bottom line is one should tip, and tip well. It makes a difference. It will insure you prompt service the next time around. It's good for your karma. If you're a sail boater and usually thrifty, be the one to stand out and tip well.
Sail boaters have a well-earned reputation for cheapness and they should not be proud of it. That is not to say it isn't admirable to get by on a tight or small budget, to make the most of everything one has, or to fight for a good deal. Frugality can be admirable; frugality is about not being wasteful of anyone's resources. It benefits both the individual and the commons. Cheapness, on the other hand, is a character flaw. Period. And if a potential romantic interest is cheap, run don't walk. Cheap people are often not just tight-fisted with their money, but also with their time, energy, and physical affection. The last thing anyone wants is to go on a date or hang with a friend who invariably complains about the cost of things or has to find the cheapest deal available. Somehow, money and prices always come up. Quite the opposite, I had a friend who would arrange at the outset for the bill to be taken care of. The last thing he wanted at the end of a wonderful meal was to ruin it with discussion of money.