The charge to be well-mannered, to treat others with civility, kindness, and respect, is perennial. But the rules for how to carry those manners into action, the rules of good etiquette, change over time.
Given all the cultural and technological changes modern society has experienced, it’s not always easy to know the best practices for a contemporary gentleman. Here to offer some guidance on that front is Thomas Farley, also known as Mr. Manners. Today on the show, Thomas offers some answers to the frequently asked questions around modern etiquette, including when to send a handwritten thank you note, whether “no problem” is an appropriate response to “thank you,” if it’s okay to ghost someone, how to deal with our ever-proliferating and out-of-control tipping culture, whether it’s okay to exclude kids from your wedding, if you should still open a door for a woman, and more.
Related Resources From AoM’s Extensive Manners and Etiquette Archives
- How Manners Made the World
- The Importance of Good Manners
- How to Acquire Good Manners
- The Art of Thank You Note Writing
- The Unclassified Laws of Etiquette
- How to Accept a Compliment With Class
- The Ins and Outs of Opening a Door for a Woman
- A Primer on Wedding Etiquette
- How to Tame the Timing Anxiety Around Texting
- Podcast #718: How to Use Digital Body Language to Build Trust and Connection
- Podcast #162: Digital Manners & Etiquette For the Modern Man
- Podcast #422: Men & Manners — Tipping, Emojis, and Much More
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. The charge to be well-mannered. To treat others with civility, kindness, and respect is perennial. But the rules for how to carry those manners into action, the rules of good etiquette change over time. Given all the cultural and technological changes modern society has experienced, it’s not always easy to know the best practices for a contemporary gentleman. Here to offer some guidance on that front is Thomas Farley, also known as Mister Manners. Today on the show, Thomas offers some answers to the frequently asked questions around modern etiquette, including when to send a handwritten thank you note, whether “No problem” is an appropriate response to “Thank you,” if it’s okay to ghost someone, how to deal with our ever proliferating and out-of-control tipping culture, whether it’s okay to exclude kids from your wedding, if you should still open a door for a woman, and more. After show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/etiquetteFAQ.
Alright. Thomas Farley, welcome to the show.
Thomas Farley: Brett, thanks so much for having me. Great to be here.
Brett McKay: So you are Mister Manners, you’re an etiquette expert, a communication expert, you do trainings for businesses around the world and around the country, and I wanted to bring you on to talk about manners and etiquette in general, but also hopefully we can answer some common questions that people have about etiquette and manners, ’cause it seems like it’s constantly changing, especially with the introduction of new technologies that we have. So I think this will be a fun conversation. Let’s talk about manners in general. I think a lot of people listening might think, well, manners, it’s contrived, it’s artificial, it’s phony, it’s not authentic. Why do you think it’s still important to know and follow rules of etiquette?
Thomas Farley: Sure. And I think just for the listener’s benefit, it’s really important for us to distinguish between manners and etiquette because they actually, they’re used often interchangeably but they do mean different things. So etiquette, it derives from the French word for ticket. So think about etiquette as your ticket to getting more and better interactions. So when you’re speaking with someone, when you’re in an unfamiliar situation, by following the rules of etiquette, you’re guaranteed less embarrassment and more satisfaction for both parties to the interaction. That’s etiquette. And etiquette changes. It evolves over time. So people think, oh, etiquette, they immediately go to someone drinking out of a teacup where they’ve got their pinky raised in the air or they think about dining etiquette. But the fact is there’s etiquette that governs just about everything we do throughout the day. So etiquette in an elevator, etiquette for who steps to the right when you’re on a sidewalk, and so on.
And so without rules of etiquette similar to the rules of driving, we’d have more accidents, we’d have more upsetting situations. So etiquette really is valuable and important, and it evolves. Manners on the other hand is a general sense of kindness and consideration toward others, which of course can incorporate etiquette. But manners doesn’t come so much with rules, it’s more just a general sense of empathy and kindness and consideration towards others around us. So they’re both important, and I’m so glad to be able to spend this time with you because this idea that etiquette is some crusty old thing that only your grandma still cares about, couldn’t be farther from the truth. Without etiquette, we would have no civilized society. So it’s really important.
Brett McKay: I like that distinction between manners and etiquette. So manners is just thinking about making the other person feel good and comfortable.
Thomas Farley: Yes.
Brett McKay: And that might require some, the Greeks will call it phronesis or practical wisdom, kind of judgment. It might differ from person to person. Etiquette is more like the rules of the road. I really like that analogy of traffic rules. If there were no traffic laws, there’d just be chaos. The same goes for our social interaction. If there aren’t any guidelines to follow, then it would just… Everything would just be friction filled and not fun.
Thomas Farley: That’s exactly right. And sometimes the rules of etiquette can seem a little bit arbitrary, and in fact, in some cases they are very arbitrary, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not important. So in the same way that in the US, we drive on the right-hand-side of the road, and in most situations that works quite well. Whereas in the UK, they drive on the left side of the road, and in most situations, that works perfectly well. The fact is that there is a set of guidelines that everyone is aware of so that we can all interact and focus on far more important things than what side of the road do you drive on or what side of the table setting your fork is. So etiquette really does play that vital role, although it can seem quite arbitrary.
Brett McKay: Well, I think everyone’s experienced social interactions where etiquette isn’t practiced. And you see these videos on the internet a lot now, just people just yelling at each other, and it’s like if they just would have practiced a little bit of etiquette, they could’ve avoided all that.
Thomas Farley: Yes, it’s true. And I think there are a lot of reasons for what we’re seeing, and literally seeing, and I think one of the primary drivers of it is the fact that we all have an independent television studio in our pockets wherever we go. So an interaction that might not have been caught on camera, that happens on an airplane between somebody who wants to take more than their share of an armrest can easily go viral in ways that it wouldn’t have before. So there’s definitely this perception that etiquette is worse than ever, that manners are worse than ever. But frankly you can read news accounts and textbooks from a hundred years ago, 600 years ago, where you hear people saying, “Gosh, people have no etiquette anymore, people have no manners anymore.” I think there were definitely throughout recorded history, there are times where if you think etiquette is bad today, boy, it was really horrific in the Middle Ages when for example, no one was able to afford their own napkin, and if you were at a banquet, there was a towel that hung on the wall, and that was the napkin for everyone to use for throughout the meal, so you didn’t even have an individual napkin.
Or where something as seemingly simple as a fork was seen as an affectation, and the only utensils that were used up until even pre-colonial times in the United States were a spoon and a knife, and anything else that required more dexterity than that, you were using your hands. So we might think etiquette is really at all-time lows right now, but the fact is we’re more refined than we sometimes give ourselves credit for, and history is certainly a guide to the fact that times have not always been so mannerly, despite what our memories or our history books might say otherwise.
Brett McKay: Alright. So let’s get into some specific etiquette and manners questions. Let’s talk about thank-you notes. When do you think a handwritten thank-you note is appropriate?
Thomas Farley: I would say a handwritten thank-you note is never inappropriate. So I get this question quite a lot. Is it okay if I send a thank-you note? And to that question, I say it is so much more than okay. In an age where everything is digital, we’re texting, we’re sending DMs on Snapchat or TikTok, the idea that someone actually took the time to remark on a courtesy or something that we did for them that was a kind gesture with a handwritten note that they licked the envelope and they put a stamp on it and put it in the mail, I think it’s a wonderful way of expressing thanks. So I would say there is… Frankly, there is no… The only occasion I would say a thank-you note is just kind of ridiculous is to send someone a thank-you note for sending you a thank-you note. But all other instances, the job interview, the dinner party that you were invited to, certainly the birthday gift or the holiday gift that someone gave you, I’m fond of saying, text messages don’t get pinned up to refrigerators or cork boards, thank-you notes do, they get saved. And if you wanna be that person who shows that you truly appreciated the gesture of the individual, no matter how small, a thank-you note is a wonderful way of doing so.
Brett McKay: So you still recommend a handwritten thank-you note after a job interview? ‘Cause I remember that was the advice that I got 15 years ago, but is that still applicable today, you think?
Thomas Farley: Yeah, I would highly recommend it if you care about getting the job. And here’s the reason. Think about it, you may be up against five, six, seven other candidates. If all things are equal, and one of those candidates actually sends a thank-you note, I guarantee you, it’s gonna help you to be set apart. The person is gonna see that you’re detail-oriented, especially if you send it out quickly. So for a job interview, what I recommend if you’re going for… And it’s harder, frankly, Brett in the age of virtual where you may not be interviewing with someone in person, that person may be a half-a-world away and they’re not even working in an office because they’re 100% remote. So there it gets trickier for a job interview thank-you note. But if you are going to a traditional job interview in a corporate office building, you have the address of the person who’s there five days a week or even three days a week, I would bring a thank-you note, blank one to the interview.
I would immediately after the interview, I’d write it out, have your stamp ready to go and pop it in the nearest mailbox. And fingers crossed, the USPS does what it’s supposed to do, that thank-you note is there with the person who interviewed you within a day or two of your interview. It shows you to be on top of your game, it shows you to be grateful, and it shows that you’re really passionate about getting the position. So I think it’s a great practice to have.
Brett McKay: So you mentioned the thank you to a thank you. You don’t wanna do that generally, but my wife and I, we do that ’cause sometimes readers and listeners, they send us nice notes thanking us for AoM’s content saying how it’s changed their life. And so we often… We just write back and just say, “Hey, we appreciate the appreciation.” We really do. It is nice to hear from our listeners that they’re getting something out of this stuff.
Thomas Farley: Yes, and I would draw the distinction. So I think if someone’s taken the trouble to send you, to write you a handwritten thank-you note, I would absolutely acknowledge the receipt of the thank-you note, but to write them a thank-you note as a thank you for them sending you a thank-you note, it starts this cascade effect of, okay, when do the thank-you notes end? It starts to get a little bit silly. But I would absolutely acknowledge it, and I think that’s a wonderful thing to do. Because if someone takes the time to write a thank-you note and they never hear from the recipient, “Oh my gosh, I just got your thank-you note. That was so thoughtful. Thank you,” then they may be discouraged from doing it the next time because they feel like their gesture didn’t really have any kind of an impact. So I would absolutely acknowledge it, but you don’t need to acknowledge it with a thank-you note.
Brett McKay: Okay, so it’s nice to acknowledge a thank-you note, but you don’t need to send a thank-you note, like an actual… Like a thank-you card in response to someone’s thank-you card. So you mentioned writing thank-you notes to the host at a party you attended. I know this was common a couple of decades ago. My parents still do this, my in-laws do this too, but you think yeah, that that’s still an appropriate gesture.
Thomas Farley: If you’re hoping to be invited back, I would highly recommend that. And not just a generic thank-you note that doesn’t really say anything of value, but truly something that remarks on perhaps a dish that you particularly enjoy, the conversation that you had with the host that you particularly enjoyed, something that doesn’t sound like your AI writing the thank-you note, but that it’s truly got that human touch. And I would say, so dinner party, absolutely. You think about the amount of time that goes into cleaning and curating the table and cooking, and from start to finish, anyone who’s ever hosted a dinner party knows the amount of work that goes into it and how exhausting it can be. If you can’t take… Five minutes really is all it should take to write a thoughtful thank-you note, I think that’s really unfortunate. And people say, I’m too busy, I don’t have time. Well, you know what, you had time to go to the dinner party, had time to enjoy the meal, you had time to enjoy the present someone gave you. Five minutes to write a thank-you note, no matter how busy we all are, I don’t ever buy that excuse.
Brett McKay: Well, let’s talk about just saying thank you in face-to-face interactions. What’s an appropriate response when someone says thank you? ‘Cause this causes a lot of debate, ’cause a lot of people, they say, “No problem,” and a lot of people do not like that. What’s your take on that?
Thomas Farley: So Brett, this is fun because there are… From the time we’re small, we’re taught, “What’s the magic word? Say the magic word. You want a lollipop, you’ve gotta say ‘Please’. If someone give something to you, you’ve gotta say, ‘Thank-you.'” And somewhere along the way, some of those magic words, both generationally and through time have lost a little bit of their original true intent. So, thank you, I think is a perfect thing to say, and that really… That’s unassailable, saying thank you as gratitude for something, as long as you’re saying it genuinely and not in a sarcastic way. Or if you’re texting and it’s, “Thank you, period.” Well, now, you know what? Now you don’t sound so gracious anymore, now you sound like you’re being sarcastic. So taking the benefit of the doubt that someone’s genuinely saying thank you to someone for something that another person has done kind to them. Saying ‘No problem’ is almost like you’re swatting away the thanks, which I think is unfortunate. So some of the finest hotels in the world, they know to instruct their staff that ‘No problem’ as a response to thank you is simply not acceptable. And this is not something that’s unique to the English language. So in Spanish, it’s de nada, which means it’s nothing.
In French, it’s de rien, which similarly is it’s nothing. And that’s really… That’s to belittle the gratitude that’s coming from the person. So rather than simply saying, “No problem,” or if you’re Canadian, “No worries,” or if you’re a child of the 1950s, maybe you say, “No sweat,” these phrases really take a thank you and they push it down, they subjugate it, which I think is important. So rather than saying, “No problem,” I highly recommend something instead like, “Happy to do it,” or, “Any time,” or, “It’s my pleasure.” There is also, of course, the standard response of, “You’re welcome,” but that one has taken on a little bit of a generational taint, where pretty much anyone from Millennial on down through Gen Z tends to look at you’re welcome as a little bit smug, almost as if to say, “You’re welcome for the nice thing that I did and I’m glad that you appreciated it.” Perhaps owning the gratitude a little bit too much. Now, this is not something that older generations see in that phrase ‘You’re welcome’ but the way it’s parsed by younger generations, it can often have that taint. So I recommend as a great alternative, no matter how old you are, is simply, “It’s my pleasure.”
And for anyone who’s traveled through Costa Rica, as I have, what really struck me upon my first visit there was they do not say that de facto Spanish response of de nada. Everything… If you say gracias, they respond immediately with con gusto, with pleasure. And I think it’s such a nicer way of acknowledging someone’s gratitude.
Brett McKay: I think that’s an important point about how language evolves with generations. So I think you’re welcome, maybe for younger generations, you might not wanna use that with them. Maybe with an older person, yes. But I think, yeah, I tentily go to the Chick-fil-A route and just say, “My pleasure,” after someone says, “Thank you.” And then you see the same sort of dynamic with compliments. So you go up to somebody and you give them this compliment like, “Hey, you did a great job on that,” and they kind of swat it away by saying, “Oh, no worries,” or, “It was nothing.”
Thomas Farley: Yes.
Brett McKay: I think if you receive a compliment, be grateful for the compliment. Like someone’s putting themselves out there to say you did a great job, so recognize that.
Thomas Farley: Recognize it, own it. And I think the reason that phenomenon exists is people can tend to be a little bit shy about receiving and accepting a compliment. They don’t know what to say. “Oh, oh, I love your shirt. That’s a great shirt.” “Oh, this old thing?” You immediately… Your reaction is to just swat it away as if it’s not something that’s important and you don’t wanna be seen as egotistical. So I think a great fix for that is someone who really wants to be hyper-aware of how to be able to give a compliment without getting that particular reaction you just described is to immediately follow-up the compliment with a question. So instead of saying, “Hey, great haircut,” or, “Hey, great… I love your shirt,” where the person is maybe put in the position of having to diminish the compliment, “Oh no, this shirt’s nothing. It was $5.” Instead, emit following up with a question. So, “Hey, great shirt. Is that a color that you wear often?” or, “Hey, great haircut. Where do you go to get your haircuts by the way?” So you’ve instead of putting them to that awkward position of having to somehow think of a way to respond to your compliment, you’re immediately following up with a question which gives them something to talk about that doesn’t entail having to diminish the compliment.
Brett McKay: I was gonna say on the ‘No problem’ response to thank you, the other thing that I don’t like about that, it makes the person feel like, “Oh, what I asked you for was a problem, like I’m a problem for you.” So yeah, that’s another reason I don’t like the ‘No problem’. So let’s shift our focus to digital communication. Texting. A lot of our communication is done via text. What’s your take? Is there an appropriate timeframe for answering a text?
Thomas Farley: Sure. So this is gonna vary widely. First of all, do you have read receipts on, on your phone? So if the other individual can see that you’ve received and read the text, then waiting hours to respond is not acceptable. If you have an established kind of unspoken time for responding amongst whether it’s your significant other, whether it’s your best friend, whether it’s your boss, whether it’s people who work for you, if you are someone who as a practice, generally responds within five minutes, within an hour, suddenly taking hours or days to respond, it’s out of character and out of practice for you, the other person is gonna think, “Oh no, what happened? Did I offend the person? Did I say something wrong?” So I think there are certainly conversations that are not best had over text by the same token. If this is a quick question, somebody needs a quick answer, and you traditionally respond quickly, you should follow suit.
Now, that being said… And I love texting because it is absence of so much of the formality that an email might require. It is asynchronous communication, so it can happen when it’s convenient for me and the recipient can respond when it’s perhaps more convenient for them, unlike a phone call or unlike a face-to-face conversation. But there are definitely conversations that are not appropriate for a text message. If you really want a thorough, detailed answer that has multiple layers.
Let’s face it, texting is not your friend, but if you say, what time are we meeting again, what’s the address of where the restaurant is, these are perfect opportunities for us to be able to text, so I would say, all things being equal, you should be certainly responding to a text within the hour, if it’s not a very nuanced conversation, and if it is, I would simply respond back, Hey, let’s catch up about this by phone, or it’s a little bit too much for text. When can we talk? And I think that would be the better way, but to wait hours or forget it, days not acceptable.
Brett McKay: Yeah, we had a digital communications expert on the show, Erica Dowan, and her recommendation for text is if you get a text and you can’t get to it right away, like within an hour, she recommends doing what she calls a manual read receipt. So if someone asks you something and it requires you to look into something, it’s a sensitive subject, and you don’t have the time to give them a full response at the moment, you just respond right away saying, Hey, I got your message, I’m really slammed right now, but I’ll check into it and let you know by tomorrow morning or something else can be like, Hey, it’s really crazy for me today, I wanna give your question some thought, I’ll get back to you tonight, and what that can do is it can help people who are… I don’t know, I think some people don’t care when they get their text answered, but for some people, an unanswered text, it creates this open loop in their mind and they’re wondering about what’s going on, or they worry that they said something wrong, so we can sit on their bandwidth, and you can help them with that by saying, Hey, I got your message, I’ll get back to you soon, so I’ve used that before. And it seems to be appreciated. So I like that one.
Thomas Farley: Very much. The idea of acknowledgement. It’s the same thing, brett we walk into a department store or a shop, a boutique, and we’re waiting to be waited upon by the person who is the sales clerk there, and they’re chatting with their co-worker, maybe they get a phone call from a customer and you’re thinking, here I am, a live person standing in your store wanting to transact business with you, and I haven’t even been acknowledged, you’ve made no eye contact with me, you haven’t given me the, I’ll be there in one second, finger gesture, this makes us feel like we’re not being seen, we’re not being acknowledged. And it can be annoying.
And so the same with whether it’s a text message that just goes unanswered, or frankly even email, which I think email is the larger culprit for feeling like our communications are being ignored, how many emails do we receive a day and send a day where there’s just simply no response, where response is being asked for, and because we’re swamped because we don’t have all the answers, we don’t respond or we take days or sometimes weeks to respond, I think that simple acknowledgement, if it’s something you can’t work on in that moment, Got it. I’ll have an answer for you by Friday, is far better than just not responding at all, we’re forcing the person to have to be constantly checking in with that infamous line, Hey, Brett, just checking in on such and such, which… How many of those emails do we write a week So I think the bit of acknowledgement really does go a long way, texting or emailing.
Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. And now back to the show.
Well, this kind of goes to my next question, what do you think about ghosting someone? So this happens in dating, it’s where you go on a date and the date wasn’t great and the person text you and you just ignore them, but this can happen also professionally or in other instances where someone emails you a request or something like that, and you just ignore them. It’s kind of ghosting. What’s your take on that?
Thomas Farley: I think there are certain instances where I would say ghosting is defensible. So maybe someone has even a good friend has done something to you that is highly offensive or highly insulting and they’re simply not apologizing for it, or they don’t see err of their ways, or you had a date with someone who was just someone who really frightened you in a lot of ways, and you’re not looking for any further engagement with that individual, I think in those cases, just for the sake of personal safety, if not your own sanity, ghosting might be the best way to go, or maybe it’s someone who just gets a little bit too text happy and is constantly texting you or maybe you’re on a group text thread, and every little thing is being said, Oh hey, everybody, here’s what I had for lunch this afternoon. And you’re thinking, My gosh, I’ve got work to do. So not responding to each and every interaction, I think in those instances is perfectly fine, if someone needs your feedback on something and there’s someone that you care about and you are the only stakeholder in this interaction who holds the cards, who holds the answer and they’re seeking an answer from you, whether it’s a co-worker, whether it’s a loved one, a sister or a parent, or a prospective spouse or significant other, to just completely ignore them for no explicable reason that I would not say is acceptable, like maybe you had a date and the date was just awful.
And someone texts you and says, Hey, I had a great time last night. Would love to see you again. I think if need be… I would still send that person a gentle text without being too harsh, in the way you phrase it, if someone is a sane individual who is looking to have an interaction with you that for some reason, you’re just not interested in continuing, far better to shut it down politely, rather than let the person wonder, Oh, did the person fall off a boat is maybe they lost their phone, maybe they’re traveling, they don’t have signal, they go through all these crazy scenarios, far better to dispel all of those conspiracy scenarios about why someone’s not responding to you and just be straight forward with an answer, but if it’s a question of personal safety or you’ve been genuinely aggrieved or offended by someone and they know it, then in those cases, I think ghosting would be completely acceptable and defensible, ettiquetewise.
Brett McKay: Okay, so ghosting, it depends. I think it’s interesting about The ghosting thing is hinge, the dating app, they did a survey and they found that 85% of dating app users say they like to be rejected directly, but I think sometimes people just say that I don’t oftentimes, I think people don’t really actually wanna be rejected directly, ’cause it hurts, but I think it’s gonna just depend on the person.
Thomas Farley: I think there are ways to make it sting less. And I think if this is a dating situation and you’ve had one date and there was not a love connection, ideally both parties feel the lack of love connection, and in that case, maybe you just ghost each other and that’s the best of all worlds, but of course, sometimes you do have those situations where one person is really into the other person and the other person is just not… I’d far rather as hurtful as it probably is in those initial days, that sting will subside versus just not hearing from the individual at all. I think it’s really… And especially if you’ve had multiple dates, then… I’m sorry, ghosting is not acceptable.
If this was a single date and in your eyes it was a complete disaster, but for some unknown reason to the other party, it was a roaring success. Well, that person maybe needs a reality check, but I still think that they would be deserving of if they’re really earnestly coming back to you. I had such a wonderful time, I can’t wait to see you again. That was terrific. To not respond at all, I think is really inconsiderate, so then it’s really all about how you respond and what do you say? And I think there are ways of letting someone down easy, and I think it could even be something as simple as, Hey, I enjoyed meeting you, I just don’t feel there’s a love connection, or I just… I can’t really commit to anything right now, wishing you the best. Will hurt. Sure. For someone who’s really into you, but far nicer to do that, than just disappear.
Brett McKay: Okay, let’s talk about continue this idea of technology, phones, everyone’s got a phone with them all the time, and a lot of people when they go to eat, they leave their phone on the table during dinner. Okay, not okay.
Thomas Farley: Not a fan. So whether you’re at dinner with your family in your kitchen or your dining room, or whether you’re out to dinner in a restaurant, when you think of how difficult it is to coordinate schedules for a family to sit down to dinner, to coordinate schedules for a family to be in a restaurant or a group of friends to be in a restaurant, it’s not easy, the fact that then we spend at least even a small percentage of our time looking at our phones, Instagramming our food, checking text messages, I think it takes us out of the moment. And I think it’s really unfortunate. So I think certainly there are times and they’re rare where you need to be contacted because there’s some impending massive news that you need to be available for, you’re at a business lunch, but your wife may be going into labor. You are a real estate agent who’s on the verge of closing a big, big deal that could be happening within the hour, in those cases, if you’re out to lunch with someone in a restaurant, I would own that information upfront. Brett, I’m so sorry, I’m not gonna be on my phone, I just do need to say, You know, there’s a chance my wife may be going into labor. The office is closing a huge deal, I may need to briefly step away from the table to take a quick call.
This is the way to handle that, but putting the phone out on the table has actually been proven in studies to create anxiety just literally the sight of a phone on the table makes us anxious, makes us distracted and takes us out of the moment, so I’d put that phone away if you’re wearing a blazer put it in the pocket, put it in the pocket of your pants, but keep it away from the table, absolutely on vibrate. And if you must must take a call, do so away from the table, not with all of your table mates sitting around, kept hostage to your conversation.
Brett McKay: Okay, so if you plan on receiving a text, let people know upfront, I have a friend who’s a anesthesiologist, so when he’s on call, he’ll let us know like, Hey guys, I’m on call, so I might have to text, I might get a text I might have to go away and that’s always appreciated. Another interesting dynamic I’ve noticed in the past couple of years is the smartwatch, so you might have the phone in your pocket, but you got this device on your wrist where you get notifications on your watch, is it okay to check the notifications that buzz on your smart watch during dinner.
Thomas Farley: What I like about the smart watch, in one sense, it’s a little bit more discrete than actually pulling out a cell phone and scrolling, by the same token, it’s still the same concept, you’re still being, your attention and your energy is being pulled away from the dynamic of the folks that you’re dining with and being directed towards your device, and so for that reason, whether it’s haptic feedback where it’s vibrating on your arm or pulsating or flashing, it’s still a distraction, and unless you’re an anesthesiologist, I would not recommend if you wanna be polite to your table mates I’d not recommend acknowledging, so I’d silence those notifications, or if you’re wearing a long sleeve shirt, maybe it’s even as simple as pulling the sleeve down so you’re not tempted to look at the watch.
Brett McKay: Gotcha, alright. Let’s talk about tipping. So there’s been a lot of articles over the last year about how tipping is out of control, every restaurant and service provider seems to ask for a tip these days, even when they’re just doing straight up, like it’s the cashier job and they just flip the screen around and you get that prompt asking if you wanna leave a tip and you feel like there’s pressure to do so, ’cause they turn around, they’re gonna see whether you gave them a tip or not, so what’s the state of tipping today? When Should you tip? And when should you not?
Thomas Farley: Sure, so this is something that there has been a sea change in our culture in the way we are interacting with service individuals, not only in that kind of what’s known as a quick serve restaurant type interaction, where you’re picking something up at a counter as opposed to sitting down in a restaurant. But the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading about airports where you were being prompted for a tip at a self-serve kiosk, where you’re getting food or you’re getting some sort of an airport Trinket where you’re actually being asked for a tip, so it’s exploded beyond our worst nightmares. And I think it’s a very concerning trend for me, it’s known in the popular press as either tip creep or Tipflation are the two terms you’ll hear quite a lot, I’m taking to calling this the tipping invasion, because I really feel that when we are living in a culture, we’re living in a society where you’re being expected to tip at absolutely every turn for absolutely every interaction, there’s really… The genie’s out of the bottle, and there is no line that’s being drawn any longer.
And I think that is really… It’s frightening because we’re rapidly marching toward a culture where I think you’ll be expected to tip your dental hygienist, you’ll be expected to tip your auto mechanic, and it’s diluted what a tip is really designed to do, which is to reward an individual who works in a service industry where, by the structure of the industry, their pay is actually less than minimum wage, so for example, a server in a sit-down restaurant often is being paid $2 and change an hour, not a livable wage, by any stretch, it’s only through the use of tips, which is part of the compact, we know when we enter a restaurant, we know when we sit down in a restaurant that we are going to be tipping, and that is something that we happily accept and happily do, but the idea that you picked up a bag of potato chips on a convenience store shelf at a gas station, and suddenly you’re being faced with a tip screen, how much would you like to tip for this interaction? It’s something… Because simply because the technology allows this to happen does not mean that culturally it is acceptable.
And so that feeling that people get when they suddenly see that screen and those amounts that are also increasing, so it’s not even that they’re asking for a 5% tip they might be asking for a 25% or 30% tip for these very basic interactions with individuals who are being paid a minimum wage or more, people are feeling what is called the guilt tip, so you’re tipping simply because you feel guilty, not just because they’re gonna see it when they flip the screen around, but everybody in line behind you is gonna be seeing how much you tip, you know they’re looking over your shoulder to see which box you tap, so it’s confusing. In a time of high inflation, consumers are really feeling their pocket books are being pinched at every turn, and this is a big part of that, and I find it to be a very, very concerning trend.
Brett McKay: So I think this is an interesting dynamic because I think a decade ago, the concern that people had was, maybe I’m not tipping enough, maybe I need to tip more. Because people were kinda confused about, Well, do I tip this person? Or that person. Now, it seems like the concern is like, I should tip less, I need to be tipping less because I’m being asked to tip in inappropriate situations.
Thomas Farley: Well, it’s true, and the simple fact is there’s only so much discretionary budget any one individual has no matter how well off they are, and if every single interaction… I live in New York City, and there is… We call this the departure tax, that every time you literally walk out your door in New York, there’s a $20 departure tax, there’s $20 that you simply don’t know where it went, it went somewhere, but you know you started $20 Richer before you walked out the door. I think it’s the same now happening across the country with tipping, you’re suddenly being asked to tip for just about everything you buy in every service store and shop and restaurant you walk into, and I think what’s going to happen, I really think it’s going to diminish the amount of money that any one individual has to tip to people who really rely on tipping income because they’re being asked to tip in so many other establishments.
And that, I think is really unfortunate. Let’s face it, stores restaurants had a very difficult time during the pandemic, and I think most consumers felt the need, and it was a wonderful thing to be extra generous, knowing that these individuals, these first responders in the service industries, were out there doing their thing while so many of us were working from home, the pandemic is over, and yet those tipping levels, those expectations and that guilt has remained and is even being amplified, and I think consumers are feeling rightfully resentful, and as I say, there is a limit to the discretionary income, any one individual has. So I see servers in sit down restaurants actually having their tips suffering because there’s simply not enough tipping income, tipping money to go around to everyone, if that’s the culture that we’re headed toward.
Brett McKay: Okay, so what would you say keep your tips for people in the food service industry, bartenders, these are the traditional staff, you would usually tip for 10 years ago, maybe keep tipping for that.
Thomas Farley: Sure, and we know what those are, where… Any consumer has tipped enough in their lifetime to know if you go for a haircut, you’re tipping on that, if you go for a massage, you’re tipping on that, if you get a cocktail in a bar, of course you’re tipping on that, and yes, the sit-down restaurant experiences. It’s all these new things tipping in those interactions, it’s discretionary. If you feel you are blessed and you feel you’ve had a wonderful experience and you wanna share that, that joy with the person who’s waited on you, all the power to you, nothing to say that you can’t do it, but you should not feel obligated. Etiquette does not dictate that you should be tipping those interactions, those individuals are being paid a minimum wage plus, and what really should be happening if the owners of the establishments feel that they can’t attract good employees without offering this as an option they really need to be doing, in my estimation, is paying higher wages, and in turn, if needed, charging higher prices in restaurants and quick serve establishments, but this idea that the burden is being shifted to the consumer and this very awkward, uncomfortable, clumsy interaction. I don’t like it, and I think it really, it bodes not good things for the service industry.
Brett McKay: And I think we should point out, this is probably just an American problem. Other countries, they don’t have the tipping culture that we do.
Thomas Farley: It’s true, and that extends not just for this type of quick serve tip where you have the tablet in front of you, but even a sit-down restaurant in various countries around the world, throughout Europe and Asia, some countries, they would actually look at you quite askance, maybe pleasantly surprised, but even shocked if you gave them a tip. So it’s baked into the equation in the United States. We do have this tradition of tipping. But you’re absolutely right, this is not a global situation, and I do hear from Europeans, but then they come to the United States, they are absolutely stupefied by the number of places where they’re being asked to tip and in the amounts that they’re being asked.
Brett McKay: When you do tip, what do you think should be the standard tip amount? Or does it depend?
Thomas Farley: So if we are in a restaurant and we’re sitting down and we’re having a meal, this old standard of 15% being kind of your nice little baseline, that has gotten pretty antiquated at this point. And I read these studies very regularly, the average tip across the United States in a sit-down restaurant is hovering just above 19% as your baseline tip. So if you wanna walk out of there feeling like you were Daddy Warbucks, super generous, and boy are they gonna be clicking their heels with joy at how much you gave them in a tip, 20% is not going to do that. 20% really is about the baseline that you’re looking to tip. And frankly, I like the math better with 20% tip. If you’re calculating it in your head, which you may not be but if you are, 20% is a lot easier to calculate than 15%. But if you want to be generous, you’re really looking at more in the neighborhood of 25%-30% on a tip, but if you wanna be doing the bare minimum, 20% so that… Will ensure you’re not getting dirty looks as you walk out of the restaurant, which you would likely get if you tip 10% or 15%.
Brett McKay: Let’s shift topics to weddings. Wedding season is upon us. I’m sure there’s lots of different questions we could discuss about weddings. But in general, what’s an area of wedding-related etiquette that people often neglect?
Thomas Farley: One of the biggest gripes I hear about is people who don’t RSVP. And if you think about it, Brett, could it be any easier? Not only do you get the invitation in the mail, but you get a reply card with a return address, reply envelope with a stamp already on it, all you have to do literally is filling your name and check a box that you are attending, and pop it in the mail and you are good to go. So if you’re lucky enough to be invited to a wedding and you want to attend, you’re able to attend, get that RSVP and quickly, and no unpleasant surprises by doing a write-in ballot of someone’s name that you’re bringing when there was no guests invited. And certainly, you’re not doing any gorilla attack by bringing a guest on the day of. That’s gonna just cause havoc at the wedding. We don’t want that.
Brett McKay: That’s a good point about RSVPs. That’s for anything, whether wedding or any other type of… If there’s an RSVP, make sure you do, ’cause people are trying to figure out how much stuff they need to buy, and it makes it hard when you don’t do that.
Thomas Farley: We’re living in the age of maybe. I think it’s really unfortunate, but I think sites such as Evite and Facebook invitations, we’re now in this kind of funny time period where people feel like, well, they’ve got enough invitations that they don’t know if they can commit or don’t want to commit, so the response is either no response at all until the very last minute, or a “maybe” response. And I think that’s really unhelpful to anyone who’s hosting. It doesn’t have to be a wedding. As you say, it could be any sort of occasion. So if you’re invited to something waiting until you see if you get better offers, not acceptable. Simply not replying at all and then showing up, not acceptable. Or saying yes and then not showing up and not letting the host know you’re not coming, also not acceptable. So think about when the shoe is on the other foot, when you’re a host and you’re trying to plan something and you have no idea on numbers, it can really be very… It can convince you never wanna throw a party again. So if you’re lucky enough to be invited to something, let the host know. Even if it’s “No,” “No” is better than nothing, and “No” is better than an interminable “Maybe” that never turns into a “Yes” or a “No.”
Brett McKay: Let’s say it’s your wedding and you don’t wanna have kids there. Is it okay to say, you don’t want kids? This is a touchy, touchy one.
Thomas Farley: This is touchy. And it’s a question I get quite a lot. And what I’d say to that is, there are a lot of reasons why you might wanna have a wedding with no kids. It could be budget, it could be, this is a wedding in some kind of a night time, night-club-y type setting where it’s just not really a child-friendly environment, or simply you feel like the adults deserve and want a night off from their kids. And even parents who have two or three or four or five kids, I often hear from them, “Oh gosh, what a relief we’re able to tell our kids, ‘We’d love to bring you but we can’t. This is a wedding where children aren’t invited.'” Those parents get a night off. So I think that can be a wonderful thing.
The key as the couple, remember, this is your wedding, your rules. Whatever it is that you decide you wanna do, you follow that, but you’ve got to follow it consistently. So don’t say “No kids,” and then start making exceptions here and there, because then suddenly it looks like you’re playing favorites, and some of your guests who do have children who don’t get to bring their children, they’re gonna feel resentful. And so the only exception that you might consider if you are going to do a no-child policy at your wedding is perhaps there is a member of the bridal party like a junior bridesmaid or the ring bearer or the flower girl who typically are a close family member or relative. There you might make the exception, but if just ordinary guests you start making the exception because they couldn’t find a babysitter that night, you’re really gonna have some very other guests who are quite unhappy that they were told they couldn’t bring theirs, whereas others did.
Brett McKay: So destination weddings are becoming more popular. So you fly off to some exotic locale to get married. And they invite people and for the guest, that can be a lot of money to get to these places. If you get invited to a destination wedding, are you still obliged to get the couple a gift?
Thomas Farley: You are absolutely obliged. So your decision to attend a destination wedding, it’s based on a couple of factors, primarily, your budget. Can you afford to attend this destination wedding? Can you afford to fly there? Can you afford the babysitting perhaps that you need? Can you afford the hotel accommodations, the outfit that you might need that you don’t have, because it’s in a climate that you don’t normally have dress clothes for? All of those are factors that you need to consider. However, the travel budget, the cost that it takes for you to actually be there, that is not your gift. So your presence is not your present in this case. That needs to come from your own discretionary annual travel budget, not from your budget for wedding gifts. So you don’t scrimp on a gift for the couple simply because you feel you’ve spent a lot of money to be there. And if you feel you can’t afford both, then I would far rather see you decline the wedding invitation but still send a gift, particularly if this is someone who’s important to you.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about another topic I think a lot of men have questions about. Should you still hold the door open for a woman?
Thomas Farley: Sure. So this is gonna vary depending on the situation. And what I like to recommend to a man who strives to be a gentleman, which I think is a noble goal and something that’s still important in today’s culture, is that you’ve got to remember there’s a distinction between being out on a date and opening a door for a woman, holding a chair for a woman, standing at a table when a woman comes back to the table, gestures that many women, although not all, will find very gallant and chivalrous and very much appreciate. So know your audience. So if you’re on a date with a woman who is very progressive and feels that that sort of gesture is demeaning and insulting, then obviously you’re not going to do it. But I would say in my conversations with women who are all ages and modern to old-fashioned, most will at least appreciate the gesture behind that, the motivation behind that is a good one.
Where you’ve got to be a little bit more wary is this is now a business setting. So in a business setting, the idea that you’d be holding a door for a woman or holding a chair out for a woman, this is not something that would be traditionally done in the American workplace. We don’t recognize gender in workplace, ideally. What we do recognize is seniority, so if you’re gonna let someone go through the door first, let that be because that person is the boss, is the senior person, it’s the client, not because it’s a woman. However, I think a nice workaround for anyone who really… For a man who really strives to be a gentleman in all interactions is you just simply in those cases, you don’t make a distinguishing decision between, “Okay, this is a woman I work with, so I’m gonna hold the door for her, but here comes Charlie, my male colleague, and I’m gonna let the door slam in his face because he’s not a woman.” If you’re a gentleman, you hold the door for everyone. It doesn’t matter what gender they are.
You don’t rush to take the best seat in the restaurant when you’re going to a business dinner because that’s who you are. You let other people take the better seat. You are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to put other people before yourself, that’s truly what a gentleman does. And in a business setting, you don’t have to be worrying, “Is this a man or a woman?” You simply do it for everyone. In that way, if anyone ever accused you, “Well, gosh, why are you holding the door for me? I find that offensive and belittling,” you say, “This is simply who I am. I do this for everyone. I’m sorry to have offended you, but I assure you it’s not a gender-based decision, it’s something that I do as a matter of practice.” And I think there you’re on the best ground of all.
Brett McKay: Well, Thomas, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about your work?
Thomas Farley: Brett, thank you so much, I’ve enjoyed it. And congrats on the podcast. I know you’re rapidly approaching your 1000th episode, so I can’t wait to see you achieve that milestone, but it’s been a great conversation. I am at on all social media, I’m Mister Manners, and that’s “mister” spelled out. And the website is mister-manners.com. And I pop up on TV and radio and newspaper around the country on a regular basis. I do a column for the NBC Today Show called “Mealtime with Mr. Manners” where I tackle everyday dining etiquette issues, so always happy to receive questions or if any of your listeners have a quandary, it would be my pleasure to fill it for them and answer it in a way that will help them be as mannerly and manly in the case of your listeners as possible.
Brett McKay: Well, Thomas Farley, thanks for your time. It has been a pleasure.
Thomas Farley: Thank you, Brett.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Thomas Farley, also known as Mister Manners. You can find more information about his work at his website mister-manners.com. Also check out our show notes at aom.is/etiquetteFAQ where you can find links to resources where we delve deeper into this topic.
dWell, that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast. Make sure to check out our website at ArtOfManliness.com where you can find our podcast archives, as well as thousands of articles that we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you think of. And if you’d like to enjoy ad-free episodes of the AOM Podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium. Head over to stitcherpremium.com, sign up, use code Manliness to check out for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android iOS and you can start enjoying ad-free episodes of the AOM Podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate it if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. It helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think will get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay, reminding you to not only listen to the AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.