Words & Deeds

Idahoans are the nation’s best tippers? Here’s my 2 cents

Break out your moldy money, Idaho, if you want to maintain your status as the nation’s best-tipping state.
Break out your moldy money, Idaho, if you want to maintain your status as the nation’s best-tipping state. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Kayla Chandler has spent years in the service industry. She loves Boise. But when she crossed the state line to wait tables at a Friday Harbor restaurant in San Juan County this summer, there’s no denying — the tip haul was better.

“That’s why I leave to work in Washington,” she says. “Besides the fact the pay rate is better there, too.”

Imagine Chandler’s surprise when I inform her that Idahoans are “the best tippers in the nation,” according to a Time article.

“People are nicer here,” Chandler acknowledges. “I will say that. But I haven’t really ever seen it reflected in tipping-wise.”

Boiseans are accustomed to topping lists. Best places to live. Outdoor recreation hot spots. But best tippers?

It all depends on how you spin the data. Time’s article covers average gratuity percentage. Idaho was the best at 17.4 percent. Hawaii was the worst at 14.8 percent. Washington ranked in the bottom third at 16.3 percent.

“I don’t think that Idaho’s the best tipping state,” Chandler says. “However, I feel like the ticket totals are lower here just because the cost of living is lower. So therefore, it might be easier to tip 15 to 20 percent on a $30 tab than in other states.”

In tourist-friendly Friday Harbor, a pint of beer might cost $6. That same beer might cost $4.50 or $5 in Boise. If you toss a buck on the bar, you’re tipping a higher percentage.

Desiree Steinbroner, a stylist in Boise, had the same thought.

“It may be that because the cost of living is so low here,” Steinbroner says, “people feel like they can tip more.”

“The average person will tip 15 to 25 percent doing hair,” she says. “I worked at the highest-end salon in Colorado. Back then, I was charging literally what I’m charging 12 years later in Idaho.”

A typical $40 women’s cut and color in Boise might cost $55 at a similar salon in Denver, she says. Consequently, a 20 percent tip of $8 in Idaho would amount to $11 in Colorado.

Still, even considering of living, can Idaho really be the best tipping state in the nation? It doesn’t compute.

Idaho’s median household income ranks in the bottom half of the nation. The state’s unimpressive median hourly wage of $15.77 actually dropped between 2007 and 2016. It’s not like Idahoans are able to grab wads of cash and make it rain on pizza delivery guys and cosmetologists.

Consider this. Time’s article is based off July date compiled by payment-processing company Square, known for a credit-card reader that plugs into mobile devices. The transactions came more than 2 million sellers ranging from small businesses to chains such as Whole Foods.

“That’s interesting it’s based off Square,” Chandler says, “because it’s kind of a niche. Certain restaurants use that, where bigger restaurants seem to use the POS (point-of-sale) style where it’s a different data processing system. So I don’t know. I was a psychology major in college, so I’m really into, like, ‘What was their statistical pool? What kind of restaurants are they talking about?’

“I’m not trying to make it complicated,” she adds, laughing.

But tipping is kind of complicated. Whether you’re a diner confronted with less-than-stellar service, or a waiter who gets a 10-percent gratuity after making extra effort at a table.

“It’s so funny,” Steinbroner says. “I have a guy, his haircut is $20. He tips me $50 every time he comes in. But then I have this one woman who tips me $2. Every time she comes in! Mentality on tipping is so strange. It’s just weird.”

Chandler, who is attending nursing school in Boise, says she’s learned not to take tipping personally — or to judge people solely based on tips.

“It doesn’t reflect how good of a person they are,” she says. “They just might not get it. They might have never been in the service industry. They might not know that servers here make like $3.50 an hour and that tips are everything to us.”

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