"Keep the Change" offers many interesting, perhaps unique looks behind the scenes in various service industries, especially as they relate to tipping, and for this, it's a good read. However, what's lacking is a critical examination of the subject and the tenets of Dublanica's thesis that, well, you should tip all these various people exactly what they want, which you should know even if they don't tell you, and, if you don't, well, it's likely you have poor relationships in general and certainly don't understand how they work. It's quite a proposition.
Dublanica covers several, though certainly not all, service industries, including valets, bartenders, strippers, masseurs, cabbies, hotel workers, and, of course, waiters. In addition to interviews, he occasionally moonlights at these jobs, or at least observes them in their environment. Not only does this allow him to write off lap dances as research, it gives the book its meat, the many human interest stories. You'll learn about girls who serve fetishists in a sex dungeon in LA, and all the truly strange stuff in that world. You'll hear about the cab driver in Vegas and the two, totally broke kids who force him to let them off a few blocks from their destination, because otherwise their $10 won't cover both the fare and the tip. (He offers to take them anyway, but they insist). You'll learn about bathroom attendants, and why at least one of them does what she does. And, of course, you hear the Vegas stripper tales. These are what's best about the book: they let you see employees as people and understand their economic situation. Not only do you learn what role tips play in that (as well as how much they think they should get), but you're keyed in to a lot of the scams these guys run (like kickbacks from cabbies to doormen for juicy fares), as well as the myriad ways employers take a cut of the tips. It's a good education and ready entertainment.
The book runs into trouble when Dublanica generalizes to make larger points. It's not that they're all invalid (though some certainly have their problems), it's that he never makes much critical evaluation of them, by which I mean weighing arguments for and against. For example, what's the justification for these tip amounts? Why should we just give workers whatever they say? Furthermore, how on earth can a service worker be justifiably annoyed at people who tip poorly, or not at all, when the expectations are rarely advertised, even though that's how everything else in our economy works? A good or service is usually offered at a set price, and people make up their minds whether or not to engage in the deal based what's right there in black and white--except tipping. Who wouldn't expect patrons to sometimes be annoyed or cheap when somebody wants to add something extra on at the end of a transaction, sometimes unexpectedly, and when they might not even know how much? Or when they receive the consequences of their ignorance in the form of suddenly bad service (or sometimes much worse)?
A couple of specific examples come to mind. When a porter relates how a lady insisted he not touch her bags, ostensibly to avoid having to tip, she's called cheap, but two breaths later, we learn how this guy has put bags in the wrong cabs out of revenge. Still, Dublanica doesn't question whether the lady may have had a similar experience before, or whether, frankly, she might be able bodied enough to do it herself and save some of her own green, which she may even have made as tips. Don't people have the right to choose how they spend? Then we get the $13 miracle example, where a lady is berating the car wash guys for missing a few spots. OK, it sounds like she was unduly agitated, but shouldn't she expect a good job be done for the stated price? That's different from whether she tips or treats these guys well. Maybe $13 is a lot to her, or maybe she's just mean. Either way, Dublanica should poke at that more than he does. There is the card dealer who calls his job a profession and the tip a recognition thereof. He clearly implies he deserves it whether he's done well or not. Uh, no. Doctors, lawyers, and engineers are professionals. This guy doesn't even have to shuffle. It's not to say his humanity or his job are unworthy, but there's little examination here of what he does that specifically deserves a tip, or how a patron would tell if he's done it well or poorly. In this or any case, simply being paid poorly by your boss isn't necessarily a reason. There's also the example of hotel housekeepers. If hotel rooms cost more than $100 a night, shouldn't a well kept room be part of the deal? Many people expect that it is. If many housekeepers make precious little and sometimes get their tips stolen by management (again, why should people tip if that might happen?), is the answer just that all patrons tip, or is it maybe that, say, the workers unionize to get a slice of that $100+ that should easily cover a decent wage for them? Obviously, there will be no agreement any time soon on when, where, how, why, and whom we should tip, but explorations of these topics would have made this work more enlightening and useful. As it is, the book is very one-sided.
Lastly, Dublanica concludes by telling us that tipping is all about relationships. If you tip well, you can empathize with people and, probably, you have much deeper, more meaningful relationships too. He cites his cigar shop buddies, who are all egalitarian, tip well, and purportedly have many friends and play well with others. He also gives the major example of his mechanic, whom he tipped regularly, who rewarded him by fixing his car immediately when he needed it. (There are plenty of other examples throughout the book of such rewards). Supposedly, he had built this relationship that really paid off at a crucial time. This thesis is pretty striking, though. Another way of looking at this is that you're buying your relationship--which, as a purely economic relationship, may be a worthwhile transaction, but Dublanica wants to say more, that tipping is a sign of interpersonal empathy, a necessity for any relationship. Not necessarily. Tipping a lot may be from empathy sometimes (even the general empathy that people work for money), but not always. And, does tipping less show the opposite? There can be empathy without agreement. Tipping Dublanica's way more likely is just an indication of knowing how to get things from people, of economic street savvy. More importantly, the values behind the quid-pro-quo at the heart of tipping transfer poorly to non-economic relationships. Some would argue that the best, most meaningful relationships involve no money at their core; that the best people will help you without any consideration of reward, monetary or otherwise. Many will say the paragons of virtue are those who help complete strangers for free, maybe without being asked. As it is, his thesis sounds shallow and, unfortunately, colors the book as another advertisement of that stereotypical American attitude: that the value of people is simply their utility. The foreigners (like those cheap Canadians and Europeans, maybe) who might nod at this would miss out on the large swaths of our population who strive to value people intrinsically, regardless of what they could give in return. Ignored would be those who believe that you should do your job well, do things right the first time, and state the price for a service upfront, all simply because that's the right thing to do, instead of relying on implied expectations and capricious rewards and punishments for those who do and don't comply. Likewise, many Americans think the solution to inadequate earnings is self-betterment, or efforts to change the corrupt practices of employers. Of course, life isn't so simple; working people often have few options, but "Keep the Change" doesn't explore these issues at all. While Dublanica frequently shows how employers stiff their workers and expect them to rely on tips (which they often pilfer), he implies that the solution is for people to get with the program and tip right (i.e., how he says) anyway, not that anyone should work to change things. This implication enables the corrupt employers. What does it say about our relationships that we avoid the more fundamental problems of corruption and lack of transparency and instead insist that everyone get with the (screwed up) program?
So, in conclusion, do read this book if you want some good human interest stories and a look inside many service jobs, especially for how workers want to be (and actually are) tipped. Look elsewhere for a balanced discussion of the practice.
P.S. For full disclosure, I've worked in front-line service jobs, for very low pay, though not for tips. Many people close to me have worked such jobs, too, often for tips. I've seen more than one side of tipping.