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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Tip Work: Examining the Relational Dynamics of Tipping beyond the Service Counter

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Tips constitute a growing form of income for roughly three million American workers today. While existing scholarship on tipping focuses on worker-customer dynamics, it neglects the implications of gratuities beyond the service counter. Drawing on the case of restaurant workersin Los Angeles, this study analyzes tip work, the bundle of social relations and labor experiences framed by tips in commercial settings. I argue that tipping strains relations between subgroups of workers who, despite collectively producing service, are subject to unequal access to tip earnings. Tips thereby shape relations among workers in ways that exacerbate existing organizational and social hierarchies.

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