Judge John Hodgman Episode 158: Tipping the Scales of Justice


Joe and his wife Marika bring today's case. Marika says Joe's habit of tipping housekeeping and service workers with coins is rude and contrary to the spirit of the gesture. Joe says, as long as he's tipping, what's the problem? Who's right? Who's wrong? Only one man can decide.

If you want to join our conversation about this episode, please click on the Forum link below.

Thanks to Jared Henderson for suggesting this week's case name! To suggest a title for a future episode, like us on Facebook at Judge John Hodgman. We regularly put a call for submissions.



Horrible system

As a fairly low wage worker I SO GLAD after listening to this that we don't have a tipping system where we live. It is the system more than the man that is at fault here. Part of the stress of low wages is budgetting & if you have to rely on the whim of each customer for your pay rate, how can you possibly budget? Guys, you need to all agree on a standard base rate & stick to it, & if you don't like the service go to another place next time, otherwise you are kind of tormenting people. Ugh!

America, your tipping system ...

... is a hot goddamn mess that leads to a complete misuse of tipping and forces service workers to rely on the generosity and consideration of strangers rather than the actual company that actually hired them and are supposed to actually pay them. What a shame. The judge is ruling from within a gong show of a system


How do I find back issues of this article Judge Hodgman mentioned having written 13 years ago? I would love to read it: this issue is an ongoing debate I have with relatives and friends who undertip.

Also, I assume there should be tip for takeout, but since there really isn't any wait service, probably less. But I have no idea how much. I'm told some restaurants will pay the same wages to the person who brings takeout to the desk as the waitstaff, which seems insane to me, because doesn't the host/hostess do that and aren't they required to be paid at least minimum wage? So maybe takeout should also get 20%. Anyone know? (this probably is in the article but I can't find it).


A bad tip will not teach a bad server a lesson

I have worked in the service industry for many years. I have worked alongside others who unfortunately had very poor attitudes and standards, all in all not very good at their jobs. When they receive a bad tip they do not say "oh boy, I must have done something wrong", they say "f*@k those people they are so cheap I can't believe how badly I got ripped off". The way to get the bad ones noticed is by tipping them a standard amount and asking to speak to a manager or whoever is in charge. This will cause management to take a closer look at said employee and usually catch on to their subpar performance.

That seems a bad way.

I agree with the complaining part, but why reward them if they're that bad. This whole tipping system seems weird to a non american. Pay your people correctly and tip if the service was great.

Definition of a monster

The Right Honorable Judge stated the defendant was not a 'monster', I thought I would provide a possible example of such.

My parents went to dinner with another couple (the husband was a former restaurant manager). Upon sitting at the table, he laid out $40 in five dollar bills and informed the waitress that was her tip and for every mistake she made he would remove a bill.

I guessed early on the defendant never worked in the service industry due to his early comments. Those of us who have (former waiter and bartender) follow Judge Hodgman's advice to tip gratuitously.

If the defendant is 'frugal', stay home and make dinner...

Thanks to the litigants and Court for this podcast and the other 'Someone' for your comments about housekeeping...

For every mistake...

What a condescending jerk! The server was not competing in the Olympics of food service. One tips according to service, one does not bait the server into providing good service. What a torturous experience based on the whims of a diner. I never took the liberty of dressing a diner's food in a vindictive manner as a server, but this person would have tempted me to do so, in my time as a server. As a bartender, that condescension would lead to a very weak drink.

Listening while wiping urine off of your toilet rim

I listen to the Judge John Hodgman every week while I am picking pubes and scrubbing toilets and wiping flem out of bath tubs. I make minimum wage and am told that I am expected to clean a room every 20 minutes. A five dollar tip (in ones or a single $5 bill - no loose change please) doubles my wage and therefore comes close to approaching a living wage for those twenty minutes. Judge Hodgeman was right on when he said it is a sign of respect. A sign of respect for those of us, due to circumstances that are often beyond our control, end up doing the work that many of are guests would refuse to perform.

When I enter a room with beer bottles and pizza boxes and wet towels spread all over the room and often on the floor, I know that there are idiots in the world and there is nothing I can do to help them not be idiots. It makes the rest of my work much harder and I am discouraged with myself for letting the idiots of the world get me down. But then... I open the next door to see the trash in the trash cans, the towels gathered together in the tub or on the sink and the beds - slept in - but the spread neatly pulled up, I know that someone else, NOT an idiot, has respect for the hard work I do to make their stay more comfortable.

Paper money that I can quickly fold and place in my smock is very much prefered. Change gets heavy and is awkward when I'm making a quick trip through a fast food drive through on my way to my other low wage job.

Thank you so much, Judge Hodgman, for the respect that you showed us housekeepers with the comments you gave with your judgement.

Why I love this podcast

The above comment from 'Someone' highlights the extent to which our Honourable Judge's rulings and related comments are born from a deep compassion for us mere humans, and are not mere intellectualisms expressed through stylish wit


As a rebuttal to your claim that films and plays like "Once," whose musical numbers are actually performances taking place in the context of the story, are not musicals, I have a one-word response: "Cabaret." In the film at least (I've never seen a stage production), every song but one is presented as a performance on stage at the Kit-Kat Club. (The remaining song is a drinking song sung at a German picnic.) Despite this, nobody in their right mind would consider Cabaret anything other than a musical.

Musical numbers that occur in the context of the story's frame of reality are known as "diegetic," as are musicals that are based on such numbers.

Two small clarifications on tipping in CA

As a former line chef in Southern California, I feel the need to correct two small assumptions made during the tipping segment. One is that servers are usually paid a so-called "waitress wage" below minimum wage that is compensated with tips. In California and many other states, that is illegal.

Another common assumption is that the back of the house, e.g. dishwashers and chefs like my former self, are regularly tipped out. This as well is illegal in California and often not practiced even where it is legal. When it is practiced, the back of the house tend to receive a very small percentage.

I bring this latter point up not so much as a reason to tip servers less, but to illuminate the plight of the back of the house, often staffed with employees whose English is not eloquent enough to reap the benefits offered toward servers.

On one occasion I worked seven hours of overtime on new year's eve, ending an exhausting shift at 3am, canceled celebrations with my wife, listened to a server tell me about the second house he owned in Hawaii, and received a measly $20 bonus from my boss (the closest thing to a "tip out" I ever received). It was then I knew I had to find another line of work.

In short, the plight of servers at expensive restaurants should not be lumped in with maids and dishwashers.


Great episode! I found myself listening with even more rapt attention than usual to the docket-clearing case about what constitutes a musical. As it happens, this is something that I studied in grad school, and it's definitely a tricky subject. Lots of academic scholarship is out there, including the work of music theorist Edward T. Cone (I don't think this can count as buzz-marketing, as he passed away a decade ago).

My own feeling is that we are always singing. Everyday speech is a kind of music, with its own rhythms, pitch variations, and cadences. In a film or on stage, there's a continuum encompassing everything from terse Pinter dialogue to an aria from the Ring Cycle. We just don't notice the musicality of our everyday speech because it's so common, so we have to draw attention to it and exaggerate it in forms like the Broadway musical.


Judge Hodgman,

I feel I might be able to provide some clarity as to the status of various films as musicals. While you have hit upon crucial distinctions between musical subgenres, all films which revolve around multiple musical numbers (seemingly plot centric or otherwise) are in fact musicals. British film theorist Richard Dyer outlined three major categories of musical which are generally accepted today. They are:

1. Separated - in which the musical numbers are depicted in a realist way. They are simply a fact of the narrative (as in Once, Show Girls or Inside Llewyn Davis). It also known as a "backstage musical."

2. Partially Integrated - in which the numbers present a temporary departure (or escape) from the narrative, but the narrative is returned to once the number ends (such as the Audrey Hepburn musical Funny Face)

3, Dissolved - in which the narrative is already entirely escapist, and the characters simply burst into song whenever they feel the need (such as Meet Me in St. Louis).

Modern musicals tend to complicate matters by having different musical numbers fall into different categories. However, all of these forms are definitively musicals. They simply use numbers to perform different narrative and thematic functions. Hopefully, this was helpful. Also, thanks for giving me an excuse to actually use my degree in film studies.

-Royce in NYC

P. S. If you seek further analysis (or simply wish to check my work), I suggest Dyer's 1977 article "Entertainment & Utopia" from the journal 'Only Entertainment"