What would you do?

You’re seated at a busy restaurant and notice that a $20 tip was left on the next table by the party that previously sat there.  The next party sits down at that table and you notice one of them steal the tip.

What would you do?

John Quinones explored this situation on tonight’s episode of What Would You Do? The thief was an actor.

The show is an excellent demonstration of the emergent law, social norms and etiquette I’ve blogged about in previous posts.  The bystanders didn’t need to refer to a rule book to know that stealing the tip was wrong.

Some folks confronted the thief.  They explained, that’s wrong.  That’s her’s (the server’s).  You’re stealing.

Others notified restaurant workers who immediately went into action.  Did you take the tip?

How often do you leave a tip on the table?  Why?  Aren’t you concerned with someone else stealing it or are you reasonably certain that the server will get it?

What keeps most others from taking the tip?  Is it because we all know the codified laws so well or is it because we have an almost natural sense to respect the property of others?  Where does that natural sense come from?

Why were the bystanders willing to get involved?  Why do they care?

Why does just about every reasonable person recognize that the server has a valid claim to that tip and others don’t?  Is it because they feel she earned it and its rightfully her’s?

I wonder how many of the people who believe the server has a valid claim to the tip also believe it’s okay to use the government lay claim to what others have earned.


4 thoughts on “What would you do?

  1. Having recently re-read the first volume of Hayek’s “Law, Legislation, and Liberty,” similar questions have been on my mind of late.

    On the general topic of tipping and emergent norms…

    Here in South Korea, where I live, tipping in restaurants is simply not done; the custom has never emerged. Yet, the general level of service one receives in a restaurant is excellent (fast, attentive, courteous), despite the relatively low wages earned by restaurant workers. I wonder what it is, then, in Korea that promotes such good service in the absence of tips, while in the US, the expectation of tips is considered to be a prime motivator of good service.

    • I need to read that.

      Very interesting report on the local tipping custom. That ties in with something else someone told me today. They said that restaurants in Hawaii are starting to add automatic tips unless you specify otherwise because folks from different countries have different tipping norms.

  2. the service isnt that fantastic if the next couple is being seated at a table that hasnt been ‘cleared’

    i am very interested in folks reactions to the same situations that are incentivized.
    for example : of the folks that confronted the thief, how many would ‘stay quiet’ for some payoff.
    would more folks notify staff is there was some sort of ‘cash reward’ sign posted?

    • Hi dave – I should have specified. The table had been cleared, but the tip was still on there. I’ve worked in restaurants before where bus boys clear and set the table and leave the tip for the servers to pick up. That norm emerged in those establishments to protect the bus boys from being accused of skimming some of the tip (they got their cut later).

      And good questions.


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