"Grudge-stained Middle-class Tip": Class Warfare and Consumer Democracy in the Early Twentieth Century
In first decades of the twentieth century, no issue inspired more acrimonious discussions and heated editorials than tipping. The American middle classes, eager to participate in the burgeoning restaurant culture of American cities, resented paying gratuities. Concerned that their social betters were buying the best service with exorbitant tips, worried that the cost of tipping might soon surpass the cost of dinner, and fearful that under-tipped waiters would spit in the their soup, middle class activists set out—with considerable enthusiasm—to end the “tipping evil.” Despite legislative victories and imaginative technological solutions, the struggle against tipping was not altogether successful; nonetheless, it demonstrates the degree to which the middle class believed in the ideal of a consumer’s democracy.
Andrew P. Haley is an associate professor of American cultural history at the University of Southern Mississippi where he studies class, culture, and cuisine from the late nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century. His first book, Turning the Tables: American Restaurant Culture and the Rise of the Middle Class, 1880-1920, was published by University of North Carolina Press in May 2011, and he is currently working on a second book on food, Dining in High Chairs, that examines children and eating, both in public and in private.
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