One of those never-ending questions: Who to tip, and how much?

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During the summers when I was in college, I was a waiter and came to quickly appreciate the skills needed for such a job. I never really managed to get very good as a waiter, or server, as it's often called.

I was a terrible waiter -- I was the guy you'd hear dropping a plate of dishes. Once I spilled a gallon of milk in the kitchen, and then ended up slipping on it. During a particularly busy period when I was the only waiter on duty, I once delivered a guy his salad -- after he and his family were finishing their dessert.

I never really loved my job. I was always too stressed out, trying to remember the orders, which I wrote down but still had trouble remembering who had what and deciphering my handwriting; I kept half-hoping I'd be fired, but I think it was hard for the manager to find anyone willing to work at this restaurant, which was adjoining a sleepy hotel off an interstate, and so somehow, they kept me on. And so I toiled away, exhausted, anxious and klutzy, but there were bright moments: my tip.
I loved getting a tip, possibly because it was validation that as bad as a waiter that I was, I possibly wasn't that bad, unless the patrons were giving me money out of pity.

So, anyway, today, almost 20 years later, I generally am a very good tipper at restaurants because I know what it takes to wait on or serve customers in a restaurant. I'm not Diamond Jim, but I tend to tip towards 20 percent, and I try never go under 15 percent, which is what most restaurants seem to recommend.

But I admit I'm not so great when it comes to other tipping areas. I don't tip when a bagger bags my groceries, for instance. I never see anyone else doing it, and I've just come to assume (maybe erroneously) that that's a thing of the past. I do tip after a visit to a barber, because I have seen people do it there but again, I'm never really sure how much I should tip.

And I have a feeling that my anxiety toward tipping is only going to increase as the economy continues to churn and the holidays come closer -- the time when it seems like everyone from the paper delivery guy to the sanitation crew is looking for a tip. So I just thought I'd mention that there is a web site everyone can go to, The Original Tipping Page, if they want a refresher course on what type of tip you should give, depending on the service.

It's kind of a no-frills web site, but they do have information on everything from tipping at the airport to cruise ships to barbers and beauty salons. They even cover what the proper tip is if you're going to an exotic club, getting a tattoo or having your furniture moved.

I've also heard good things about the paperback The Itty Bitty Guide to Tipping by Stacie Kraichir and Carrie Rosten.

But I admit that as tip-conscious as I try to be, a big part of me thinks: just raise the workers' salary and pass on the tip into the cost of the service and make it easy on all of us, why don't you? As The New York Times Magazine recently reported, that's a strategy recently adopted by the San Diego restaurant called The Linkery. And, really, I hope that's happening for some professions and jobs, like that of a bagger at a grocery store. It was easier to tip people twenty or thirty years ago when It wasn't yet the age of plastic the way it is today. Everyone carried some money on them. Nowadays, I have my debit card, which is all good and well at a restaurant, where you can add the tip but a little more difficult of a tipping transaction when there isn't a credit card machine in sight.

I imagine that fifty years from now, we probably will tip professions, but I have a feeling technology will help us with that because however we're tipping, I bet it won't be in cold, hard cash.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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