For many Americans, the holidays mean tipping. There are gifts for the newspaper carrier, the postal worker, the baby sitter. And now, here's a holiday tip for you — 10 facts a-leaping:
1 The nation's best tippers dine in New Orleans, leaving an average gratuity of 19.7 percent, according to Zagat's 2012 America's Top Restaurants Survey. Americans overall tip at a 19.2 percent rate, up from 18 percent in 2000. Chicago's rate is the same as the nation's (19.2), and it's more generous than New York's (19.1) and Los Angeles's (18.7).
Samuel Gompers complained that tipping in Europe "borders on blackmail," and that many American travelers there suffered "mosquito bites" — demands for tips — almost hourly. Yet a century later, Americans are among the globe's premier tippers, sometimes criticized abroad for throwing supply-and-demand out of whack by being too generous.
3 A travel tip: Don't leave a gratuity in Japan. It would be considered an insult.
4 More than 100 Chicago waiters were arrested in 1918 amid accusations that restaurant workers were plotting to slip "Mickey Finn" drugs into the food and drink of bad tippers.
5 John D. Rockefeller gave away an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 coins in his lifetime. The tipping tycoon doled out dimes to adults and nickels to children, using the coins as icebreakers for conversations and as rewards for fellow golfers, amusing storytellers and others he met. When something was spilled on the floor, Rockefeller would cast dimes atop the stains to reward the person who cleaned up the mess. But he would sometimes play tricks, giving people horse chestnuts instead of coins, explaining that the chestnuts would ease their rheumatism. A dime in Rockefeller's day was the equivalent of $1.36 today.
6 "Autograt" is slang for an automatic gratuity — the built-in tip that restaurants may charge in certain cases, such as for large tables.
7 "Canadian" is a restaurant slang term for a presumably bad tipper, i.e. "Jodie just sat six Canadians in your section, dude."
8 Marwan al-Shehhi was not only a terrorist but a lousy tipper. After the Sept. 11 attacks, an exotic dancer named Samantha remembered the hijacker being cheap as he patronized the Olympic Garden Topless Cabaret in Las Vegas. "I'm glad he's dead with the rest of them, and I don't like feeling something like that," Samantha told the San Francisco Chronicle. "But he wasn't just a bad tipper — he killed people."
9 Among the nicknames for a tip is baksheesh, from a Persian word for gift.
10 In June 2000, a British tourist in Chicago visiting the Leg Room appreciated his waitress so much he left a $10,000 tip for a $9 drink. The bar's manager didn't believe it — it was 3 a.m., after all — and photocopied the man's passport and had him sign a statement confirming his generous intentions. The credit card transaction was initially approved, but the British bank later rejected the charge. In the cold, sober light of day, the man decided he wouldn't pay the tip. "I don't recall the details," he told a British newspaper. "I had had a few drinks." But some stories do end well: The bar's owners made good on the tip.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
Sources: "Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller" by Ron Chernow; "Tipping: An American Social History of Gratuities" by Kerry Segrave; "Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the American Middle Class, 1880-1920" by Andrew P. Haley; "Gratuity: A Contextual Understanding of Tipping Norms from the Perspective of Tipped Employees" by Richard Seltzer and Holona LeAnne Ochs; Bureau of Labor Statistics; drunkard.com; hospitality-industry.com; msnbc.msn.com; San Francisco Chronicle; Tribune archives.