Why Doesn’t Working for Tips Work?

Last week we tried a new place for deep-sea fishing.  I’ve fished several times in San Diego, but this was the first time we went on the east coast.  One thing that was striking was the chocolate-brown water in the waterway.  Luckily we were heading out to the ocean, but that was quite a distance away (about an hour and a half).

The place we went was definitely minimalist.  When we showed up there was just a small ticket booth at a marina on the inland waterway.  When we got to the front of the line, there was no “May I help you?” or even questions of what we would like to purchase.  Just “How many?” since it was assumed we wanted the half day fishing package.  I guess that was the only thing going on at the time, but still it was odd to buy tickets without knowing what we were buying exactly.

On board there were several prominent signs that read, “Crew works for tips.”  I took this to mean that tips were there only wage, but later I got the impression that it was part of their wages.  They also did things like sell cut bait, which was supposed to be better than the standard squid, to raise more money.  This gave the impression of nickel-and-diming for everything, but it seemed like the crew needed to do what they could to make more money.

Morale of the crew was dismal.  With the exception of one crew member, who was really excellent and seemed to be doing everything, everyone seemed to just be going through the motions and doing the minimal needed.  Even the galley, which is where you would think many of the tips would be earned, was rarely manned.  You would think that there would be several people having lunch on the way back and that the crew would be pushing burgers and hot dogs, but it was unmanned even during this critical time.  We actually had to wait a long time for someone to happen by the galley just to buy some chips.  I gave a $2 tip for $4 worth of chips, mainly out of pity.

As we neared the marina, the gentleman who had been doing all of the work went around with the tip jar.  I threw in my tip, probably more than what was deserved given that there was so little service, but I don’t know if other people were contributing much.  On shore there was another charge for cleaning fish, which was reasonable.  Of course in San Diego this was done on the trip back, which would have made sense.  There was certainly a lot of time during the hour and a half ride.

Given how cheap the operation was, I’m guessing that it probably wasn’t a great place to work.  I would put the blame there on the owners, and I’m guessing that the business was probably not doing very well.  People on vacation, or who are out looking for entertainment in general, are looking to have fun with people who are also having fun.  You want to feel like the people around you would be going out for fishing for free if it weren’t a job because they just love it so much.  You want them to be sharing their passion with your kids, making memorable moments.  You don’t want zombies going through the motions.  I’ll bet that if the owners started paying a reasonable salary and started providing some perks such as company parties, they would see their business increase remarkably.

Still, it would seem like working for tips would be a big motivator to provide great service.  If it were me, I’d be trying to get a $20 tip from each group when the trip was over by providing outstanding service from the time they stepped on the dock.  Then again, I’ve never worked for tips, so I don’t really know.  I’m not sure if the issue was that the tips were probably pooled, meaning that you could do a great job but then need to share with the others who were doing nothing.  It could also be that people just don’t tip well, so they would get about the same whether they work hard or do the bare minimum.  If that is the case, people need to start being better tippers and reward good service.  Or maybe the crew didn’t realize that they could do better with more effort.

What are your thoughts?  Do people not tip better for good service?   Do people in service jobs not realize that they could earn more if they put forward more effort?  Has anyone out there had a service job and gotten much better tips by providing great service?  Anyone find that it didn’t really matter if they worked hard or did the minimum as far as the level of tips went?  Anyone find that just being motivated and having fun in these types of jobs makes the people around you happier, which makes the job better?

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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

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