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River Town Chronicles: Tipping the balance in your favor

As a teenager, I worked one summer as a busboy, pouring coffee, mopping up spills and cleaning high chairs for The Abbey Resort on Lake Geneva.

Understand, then, I’ve seen life from both sides of the tray table.

So why do I wrist-wrestle my conscience when getting to a bill’s “gratuity” line?

Me: “Fifteen percent. No more.”

My Conscience (MC): “At least 20.”

Me: “The waiter acted like we water-boarded his girlfriend.”

MC: “Tips are about server expectations in a free market system.”

Me: “Don’t spout Keynesian economic theory to me. If that’s what it is. You say 20 percent; I say 15 percent – let’s agree to agree that I’m right.”

Talking tipping with anyone, these two philosophies emerge: Tips should either be based on merit or should all be created equal.

Not to politicize it ... oh, heck, why not? The first belief reflects a GOP mindset, the onus on individual responsibility. Servers need to self-motivate, win the diner’s generosity, and dream someday they’ll wait on the Koch brothers.

The Democratic approach treasures servers regardless of how they treat you. For liberals, everyone deserves a tip, excusing lousy service because no doubt its due to a migraine, a lazy busboy or an all-nighter pulled to finish a Comp 101 paper.

These two divergent theories knock heads when anyone besides you is responsible for the bill. Dining with friends, over decaf and the remains of tiramisu, when the faux leather folder arrives, one of two things happen.

Someone might yell, “Mine!” and grab the bill. Actually, this never happens.

Instead, people ignore it. After two hours, someone finally says, “Who’s good with math?” Usually this prompts an accounting major or math teacher to pick it up, study it and suggest a tip to which everyone agrees while thinking, “What a cheapskate” or, “Stop showing off your big salary to the wives.”

Other tipping situations can be even more confusing. Like the barista who takes four seconds to pour my medium decaf delivered to me still standing there. She expects a tip?

Yes! I can either drop my 37 cents change into the jar that advertises on a Post-it note, “Tips :=)” or pull a buck from my wallet and leave 33 percent, killing all the anticipated pleasure of leisurely drinking a cup of coffee.

Or what about the kid who loads your grocery bags into your car? Is a smile tip enough, or does he expect me to fork over a couple of dollars for helping him stay fit and healthy? Obviously, being a skinflint, I would like to smile, but because my journalistic nature prevents me from displaying gratuitous pleasure, I opt for the two bills.

And so we come to the end of another column. It’s been a real pleasure serving you today. If you’d like to show your appreciation, I invite you to leave a small gratuity. For parties of six or more, a 20 percent surcharge has already been added.

Have a nice day! ;>) Rick

• Rick Holinger has lived in the Fox Valley since 1979. He teaches high school in Aurora, and his poetry, fiction, essays, criticism and book reviews have appeared in numerous national literary journals. He founded and facilitates two local writers groups. Degrees include a Ph.D. in creative writing. Contact him at

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