Has tipping culture tipped over the edge?
| February 07, 2024
Tipping screens are everywhere.
No matter where you go there seems to be a screen popping up after every purchase. From coffee shops to retailers, the pressure to fork over a little extra sits at the back of your mind with every card swipe. We have normalized this practice in restaurants and other services where employees rely on this to make a living wage, but what about when this is not the case? When faced with a tipping screen, we must now decide which tipping culture situations to participate in.
The pandemic shift towards extra tipping
According to CBS News, COVID-19 shattered tipping norms when retail and other essential workers were at the forefront of the pandemic. This is because they were providing everyone their daily services while being the most at risk. So yes, consumers tacked on a bit extra to their bills as a thank you. However, it seems like the extra tipping practice has not gone away. If anything, it has become more prevalent.
A new Pew study said that about 72% of Americans oppose businesses including automatic service charges or tips on customers' bills. Shouldn't we be able to decide how much and when to tip? Sometimes if you forget to check the receipt, you accidentally add an additional tip to a bill with it already included! What would have been a conservative meal or service turns into a bank breaker. Tipping culture has boiled over from normal situations to other service industries and even everyday purchases.
So, when do I tip?
Americans tend to tip the most at sit-down restaurants and least when buying a beverage at a coffee shop or eating at a restaurant where there are no servers, according to the same Pew study. Tipping for the majority comes down to the extent of service. Tipping a waiter who was attentive and efficient for a couple of hours? Absolutely. Tipping someone who just takes your order and has someone else bag it? I don't think so. After any transaction no matter how big or small, you seem to always get a screen flipped back to you with predetermined amounts to choose from and a tiny, hidden "no tip" option.
However, NPR spoke with barista Dylan Schenker where "tipping gradually became a bigger and bigger part of Schenker's pay, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and today he depends on those tips to make a livable wage." More businesses are now using customers' pockets as their employees' paychecks.
What about when this might not be the case? Services such as medical spa treatments, haircuts and other services such as these are a gray area for many people. These bills have a heavier price tag and therefore come with a larger tip if calculated based on percentage. If you cannot afford to pay a tip, but still want the service, do you forgo it or just pay the base price? This is the type of question on every American's mind and adds to the confusion and guilt around tipping culture.
American tipping culture versus international
Okay so is this a global phenomenon, or just an American one? I recently went abroad, and the tipping culture was completely different. No bill came with any sort of gratuity and when I left additional money, they tended to seem surprised. This was especially true at smaller service places of business such as coffee bars.
When I would go up to the counter to pay and handed over extra euros, the employees seemed confused, then appreciative when they realized that it was for them. As an American I did not think twice about tacking on extra, but in a culture that pays employees a more livable wage, this practice is not expected.
According to a Bankrate survey, 66% of U.S. adults negatively view tipping, and 32% are annoyed about pre-entered screen tips. In my international experience, no selection screens flipped back to me for any additional tipping or donations. It was a simple matter of tapping my card, thanking them and leaving.
What is the verdict?
It is up to employers to pay their employees an acceptable wage without relying on customer's money to fill in the gaps. As customers, it is important to remember that tipping is ultimately a personal choice and should be based on the level of service received rather than simply following the prompts on a screen.
Tipping should not come with any guilt. It is a voluntary addition, although mindfulness is certainly appreciated when going to establishments that might not pay employees a fair amount. So, the confusing question if you should tip, how much and when comes down to two basic questions for me when faced with a situation outside of the normal restaurant tipping culture: Does this employee earn a livable wage and did I receive great service?
Even if I say no to one of these, I still sometimes hand over extra dollars. Not everyone has these same guidelines, so it is up to you to decide when and where you tip, but never let the pressure to do so guide your pockets.
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