There used to be a time, not even that long ago, that you could still get full service at gas stations. This may still be the case in a few, out of the way stations, across North America, but certainly not anywhere with a reasonably sized population. I remember tipping attendants for washing my window and pumping my gas. Once or twice, I remember getting them to check my oil, but not often. The last full service station we had in our own city closed around 5 years ago. Of course, the change to self-service stations had begun long before that. Indeed, it started long before I even began driving and that’s longer than I care to admit.
The reasons for self-service gas stations should be very apparent. One person can fill a couple cars relatively quickly, but they can’t service half a dozen or more customers, all at once and that’s how large all gas stations have become. Look at your own city and tell me the last time you saw a gas station that could service less than 8 vehicles, at a time. If you have a convenience store attached to the station, then you need someone to watch it while someone else is helping people at the pumps. If you have self-service pumps though, you can get more people through in less time and you only need one person manning the counter. You save a lot of money and have the potential to make a lot more. So, I understand the reasons and don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge the end of that era, except maybe when the temperature drops sub-zero. What it has done though, has eliminated tipping.
It also depersonalized the service. You may never have thought of that aspect of filling your tank, but it’s worth remembering. The benefit of not having to get out of your car, withstand the elements and get gas on your hands or gloves was a luxury, once upon a time. It no longer exists. The result though, is that gas station attendants are no longer members of the customer service population to whom we pay much attention. Oh sure, you may stop at the same one frequently and know the names of everyone behind the counter at your favourite filling station. You may converse with them and have a very amicable business relationship. If they also serve you coffee and donuts from whatever food chain is attached to the establishment, you may tip them. You tip them though, as a food server, not because of the service, or lack of service they provided you, in regards to your vehicle. That is a very real distinction.
If that same person only rings in your fuel tab, you don’t tip them. In fact, you have probably griped to them at some point, about the ever-increasing fuel prices, knowing full well that they likely have no control over them. Admit it, how many of you have used the “Give a penny. Take a penny.” tray? Most of us, I’m sure. This year Canada eliminated the penny, so that particular aspect of gas stations is now gone. The point though, is that we penny pinch when it comes to fuel. If we penny pinch, the chances of us tipping are obviously, drastically reduced. The resulting environment that fuel companies have created has depersonalized their most public-facing employees, which has further exasperated the situation.
I got to thinking about all of this when I filled my car yesterday, a task that I engage in at least twice a week. I drive well over 100KM’s to work each way, so fuel is one of my largest expenses. Normally, I pay at the pump. That means I don’t even meet the gas station attendant. Occasionally, I pay cash and when I do, I’m all business. I walk in, put my money down, don’t say a word, wait for my change and ask politely for a receipt. I may engage in some rudimentary banter about the weather or something else just as mundane, but not often. My body language says it all, too. I’m usually turned towards the window, looking at my car, as if I’m ready to dart for the door the second I have my change. Of course, I usually have a smile on my face, but I’m not the most engaging person, nonetheless.
One thing I never do is look at my pump number. Attendants have several pumps to watch and yet, I never know which one I’m at. I hand them my cash, expecting they know exactly which pump I am at because I either have placed an amount close enough to the exact change on the counter, or just because I’m an inconsiderate jerk who expects them to be psychic. In all the years I’ve been driving, I have never remembered, or actually bothered to look at the pump number. It was only yesterday that I realized what a tool this makes me. Some of you may be thinking “Well, it’s a gas station. They only have one task. How hard can it really be?” That’s not the point. It’s still rude.
Am I alone in this? I don’t think so. I’m sure there are others who do the same thing, but has anyone ever given it a second thought? Now that I have, I’ll be sure to check my pump number, from now on. No, I’m still not going to tip, because they’re not providing me with a personalized service that warrants it. They are simply operating the cash register, in regards to our business transaction, but I can at least make their job a little easier by not being so aloof or inconsiderate.