A Promissory Theory of the Duty to Tip

Business and Society Review 119 (2):247-276 (2014)
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In this article, I argued that in contexts in which tipping is customary, there is a moral duty to tip or to explicitly tell the server that you will not be tipping. The evidence for this rests on anecdotes about people's mental states, and customers and server's intuitions about duties that would arise were a customer unable to tip his server. The promise is a speech act that is implicit in ordering food. The speech act must be matched by the server's uptake, which is implicit in her taking the order. The promise argument rests on an actual promise and not a merely hypothetical promise. If there is such a duty, then in the absence of an explicit content, its content is likely set by convention. The convention is that customers tip 15–20%. Thus, customers have a duty to tip servers 15–20%. Other purported moral considerations do not ground this duty. These include custom, desirable incentives, role‐relative obligation, and gratitude.



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Stephen Kershnar
Fredonia State University

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