2 Oct 2019

Perils of Organized Tipping


With the outburst of driving-delivery based startups in India, there has been quite a surge in the number of people employed in delivery and similar roles. The confluence of this with the attempts at mainstreaming the tradition of tipping in India has made these jobs all the more lucrative. While this has helped in employing a large segment of the rapidly growing workforce in the country, recent times have also seen a much younger populace getting lured into these roles thus dropping out of college sometimes with deception that this can earn them livelihood for the rest of their lives.

It was on a Sunday midnight that I was discussing the same with Shubham. While he was not fully convinced with my views on banes of the younger population being pushed into jobs that might not exist 7-10 years down the line, he instantly pointed out several other ugly consequences that the tipping culture poses. The discussion quickly evolved into so many diverse yet meaningful directions that I was immediately compelled to ask him to write about this subject on my blog. Graciously so, he accepted my request and so here it is.

Shubham writes

Say that again, please…

Tipping? In Zomato app? I seem to have been living under a rock. Well, for starter, I don’t use Zomato. This was my intuit reaction when Prakhar told me about this idea for a guest blog. At first, I was confused at the choice; it seemed void of any substance at first glance. But I looked again. And there it was, a goldmine, waiting to be dug out.

The concept of tipping is present in some form or other in virtually every culture. However, a systematic inclusion is in the United States currently, and influenced cultures which shall remain unnamed. Introducing tipping at such a massive scale allows me to analyze the fundamental flaws in the practice. It allows us to go back to its roots and argue if we really want to shoot the same twisted arrow again. If it’s not obvious till now, I don’t align with the decision, and I will try to convince you accordingly.

Let’s begin.

In the United States, tipping a service provider is an integral part of the culture. You can imagine its deep rootedness by the fact that if you don’t tip, there will be repercussions ranging from a slight frown to orchestrated public shaming in some rare cases. The tip is not even a minimum possible amount but in a 10-25 % range of the actual value of service. My opinion may very well be called blasphemous there, and I may live in perpetual fear of getting lynched by a mob. Those of you thinking it inappropriate to compare historical racial tragedies to the simple case of tipping, behold, my TRAP!
Tipping in the US has a deeply disturbing racial origin story. You can read more about it here:

Link 1 you will not read

Link 2 you will not read

Link 3 you will not read

The very idea of tipping a server started from a thought of separating/belittling the ‘lower’ races. Think of that the next time you tip.

“Boohoo! Even if I believe this crap, it doesn’t take away the benefits tipping has for the hard-working service providers. So yeah, that!”

On the contrary! Tipping hurts the service providers and the system. It’s faulty on so many levels that introducing it on a mass systematic scale in our country seems a naïve attempt to mimic yet another Western ideology, a faulty one, nonetheless. Here is Wm. Michael Lynn addressing the issue in a Freakonomics podcast:

Another link you won’t read

Let’s detail some major ones below:

Discrimination in service provided

Imagine you work in an environment where a significant amount of income comes from generosity (Oops, my bad) TIPS from the people to whom you provide your service. Assuming you are working with a capitalist mindset, not as a charity, you will eventually figure out what behavior manipulates the best tips, and which type of people are the most generous (read stupid). In a restaurant, different types of people will be coming. For fear of being tramped a racist, I won’t go any further and classify. When delivering food, localities can be classified as good tippers or not, and that certainly affects priority delivery, refusal to deliver, late deliveries… you get the idea. Ponder over this before you move to the next one.

Businesses can underpay employees

In the US, the tipping culture has been a major support for the business owners to underpay the workers. Most of the income comes from the tips received. It’s dangerous. It subtly transfers the responsibility of wages to the customer. In short, the treatment given to ‘lesser people’ as a form of tipping which started this whole thing systematically, has graduated to treatment to all workers in a specific profession. Job well done for the lobbyists there!

Let’s talk about the lobbyists in our country, the famed, overused, and an integral part of urban life: food delivery apps. Well, technically they are not posed to function as a lobbyist, but this issue makes me rethink of the enormous amount of say economic entities have on a government or a people. We are already in an era of superfluous influence of the tech industry; it should not be astronomical to envisage the unseen influence the moves of food delivery companies can have on accepted trends of employment. Given careful consideration, one can realize this type of domain shift to fit own economic profits is deeply rooted in many industries. Education, Real Estate, Tobacco, Eyewear… you name it.

Youth seduced into unreliable & minimal non-transferable skillset jobs

Tipping, once properly introduced, aims to seduce unemployed/less employed to the more followed path of the instant gratification trap. While one can arguably state this for any employment; the difference arises in this case due to the situation in which the youth potentially find themselves, having formerly given priority to the seduction, that they are hopeless and void of any useful, transferable skill. Why should we consider the above said potential eventuality? One word: Automation. More words: AI-based automation (Whoa! Buzzwords)

At the rate tasks are being marked feasible for automation; at the rate skills automated are marked outdated necessities; at the rate research is ongoing for simulating ‘smartness’; at the rate industry is welcoming self-driving cars; it is only a debate of how soon delivery industry will show the hand to the service providers. One can extend this line of concern to pretty much every work we do, but one can’t deny the first ones to get hit (and hit hard) are the people doing jobs most easily automated.

Discriminatory to the service providers

I am skeptic imagination will work for this issue. No one wants to imagine thinking or acting in any discriminatory fashion nowadays. But the studies and experts tell an interesting story (Refer to the Freakonomics transcript which you did not read earlier). In a tipping situation, our subconscious takes our base stereotypes as an input in the calculation for tip. This is in alignment with our human behavior in any given situation. We use our already formed judgments in any informal social setting. Don’t be mistaken, in the politically correct online world, we behave as per certain professional standards akin to our work environment. However, tipping is personal; tipping is sentimental; tipping is not fair in terms of quality of service.

And it certainly doesn’t help that Zomato has decided to run a sham under the name of tipping. When you carefully observe the functionality, the app will prompt you to tip the delivery guy. It has a profiled description of the delivery person, their hardships, and their responsibilities. It doesn’t take a second look to see through the charade for what it is. Charity, correction, misplaced charity, that’s what it is. It is an amazing display of creativity. They have combined the ‘subtle transfer of responsibility of wages’ and our primordial urge to help. The icing on the cake is the labeling of the above as ‘tipping’. Perfect! A connection with yet another popular US culture. They have somehow prepared the perfect chocolate cake for our youth, the way they like it.

Our country has produced some amazing minds and put to such intellectually awesome uses; our country is going places! If only…


  • Links included above
  • Debates between me and Shubham
  • Conversations with office colleagues

About the Author

Shubham Rathi is a close friend, with whom I’ve had the privilege of sharing my turbulent undergraduate years. You can get in touch with Shubham on his twitter / Instagram. He has also previously been a blog writer at High Entropy Thoughts.

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