Culture

Is Tipping Everywhere Really Necessary? You’re Not The Only One Who Feels Annoyed At Checkout

By Andrea Mew··  8 min read
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What was once considered a tip ceiling is now just the floor, and here’s proof that people are growing weary of the guilt surrounding it.

Today, you’d be hard pressed to go to any sort of non-retail business and not get pressured into leaving a tip after your transaction. After all, what in the world are you supposed to do when the minimum-wage worker flips a little screen around for you to see some suggested tip amounts, and there’s a whole line of busybodies behind you with their eyes laser-focused on what you hit?

Your delivery driver, restaurant staff, taxi driver, nail techs, beauticians, and many other workers expect it…and so you do it. But do you really need to be tipping everywhere or is it just a social standard that we’ve all blindly subscribed to?

You Can Thank That Little Tablet at the Register

Touch screen point-of-sale (POS) technologies like Square, Toast, Stripe, Clover, and others have streamlined payments at small businesses for the business-owner, their employees, and their customers.

Those little tablets at registers have become so commonplace that businesses with traditional registers almost look antiquated. Don’t get me wrong, my first job was with a manual, punch-button cash register and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world, but touch screen POS is undoubtedly a worthwhile innovation.

What I, and many other people, do take issue with is those tablet’s annoying function to guilt you into tipping – no matter how quick or poorly executed the service was. The service worker flips the screen around, and as a patron, you have to choose from a pre-selected range – usually around 12-30% – and sometimes there isn’t even a “no tip” option. Instead, you’re forced to enter a custom amount, which some people would rather not go through the trouble of doing.

This “activated tipping module” prompt is so effective that the POS company Toast reported that nearly half of café customers surveyed had left a tip, as did 46.5% of fast-casual diners. On average, the businesses brought in checks with 17% tips. For comparison, global tipping etiquette is 10% on your check.

Tipping at the Cash Register

“Stop with the (tip) flip” says one article that calls into question why we’re tipping someone for punching an order into a screen. As they put it, counter tipping is literally in our faces everywhere we go these days.

“I don't mind tipping a waiter or my tattoo artist, but I was at Woodward and picked up a snack and a drink, and all the guy at the register did was scan it and wait for me to put my card in, and the machine was like ‘How much tip do you wanna leave?’ and I had to ask the guy how to skip the tip part,” complained a Reddit user in a thread about American tip culture. “Ridiculous, I ain't tipping you because I grabbed my drink out of a fridge and you had to scan the product.”

If you tip before receiving your food or service, how are you supposed to know if it was worth tipping?

Tipping should really just be reserved for above and beyond services, otherwise the meaning behind the tip becomes degraded and lost to a cultural standard. Plus, in some cases you haven’t even received your food yet, so how are you supposed to know if your food, drink, or service is even worth a tip?

Tipping at a Sit-Down Restaurant

Logically, it’s easy to understand why you’d tip when you’re at a restaurant. You had a server waiting on you, keeping your glass full, taking your order to the kitchen, hopefully making sure everything is right before it gets to you, and fixing mistakes in the cases when it’s not. Not to mention the busboys who tidied up the table before you sat down to dine, the kitchen staff, the dishwashers, the bartenders…the list goes on.

Yet, even in restaurants it’s never so straightforward. What if you went to a buffet and served yourself? Additionally, you don’t exactly know how restaurant tips are split. Some joints pool their tips and split based on pre-approved percentages and others don’t. If you don’t know where your extra money is going, it’s understandable why some people would feel hesitant to leave the money at all. You might want to give your waitress who went the extra mile a higher tip, but in actuality she still only keeps a percentage of your kind gesture.

Tips are to recognize workers for a higher quality in service. Some restaurant-goers can be ruthlessly entitled and make the lives of the servers or busboys a living hell. Trust me, I've been there, done that, with that waitress life. At the same time, I’ve also worked counter-service barista jobs and retail and know that there’s a stark difference in the extra effort required between being a waitress and being a cashier.

Tipping Culture around the World Reveals Otherwise

If you’re reading this from anywhere other than North America, the Caribbean, parts of Africa, the Middle East, parts of Central/Southern Europe, or the Indian subcontinent, then tip guilt is probably a big nothingburger to you.

21% of countries worldwide don’t expect tips and don’t recommend them either! Only 32% of countries tip as a common practice, and 47% of countries don’t necessarily expect a tip, but appreciate the gesture nonetheless. In lieu of added tips, many countries automatically add in gratuity as a built-in service charge on your check.

21% of countries worldwide don’t expect tips.

Leaving a tip in certain countries like Japan or throughout Polynesia can actually be taken as an insult. Why? Well, those cultures place a high value on dignity and respect over tipping. For them, if you’re already paying for good service, it’s unnecessary to pay extra. There are certain businesses that are more accepting of tips in those countries, like tourist companies, private guides, or artists, but their tipping standards appear almost opposite to what we expect in America.

Unsurprisingly, We’re Caving to Social Pressure Over Here

Without a doubt, the American worker has a certain sense of entitlement about their time and troubles. This new guilt-tipping culture, as New York Post writer Alex Mitchell penned it, only exacerbates the problem. 

“Tipping culture apparently breeds a sense of entitlement among some in the service industry,” said one Reddit user Niz99 in a thread lamenting America’s so-called toxic tip culture. “I've read stories about waiters and waitresses who turn their nose away from what they presume is a 'low' tip and even 'subtly' hint that they should get a higher amount.”

This also calls into question why people think that not leaving a tip or leaving a small one is somehow robbing the worker of money. By law, all employed Americans have to make at least minimum wage. Some places of work cut the wage to make up for earned tips, but when tips aren’t enough then it’s on the employer to increase their hourly wage to keep them in the green for their pay period. Servers relying on tips to survive is a myth. 

Can You Really Blame Patrons in Today’s Economy?

Americans are taking a look at their credit card bills, their checking accounts, then their savings accounts and feeling absolutely stressed by the cost-of-living rapidly increasing as of late. Inflation has hurt a lot of things with tipping being its latest victim.

At the peak of pandemic lockdowns, people were leaving bigger tips for their service workers. According to POS company Square, quick-service restaurants saw their median tip percentage jump around from 19.73% in February 2020 to 22.22% in April 2020 but come August 2021 their tips hovered at 18.6%. The same trend was reported in full-service restaurants as well.

When tips aren’t enough then it’s on the employer to increase the hourly wage. 

Look, if you’re at a café or quick-service restaurant and no one is waiting on you, you have to grab your own food, and you bus your own table, then it’s a little bit excessive to be expected to tip at the same rate that you would at a sit-down restaurant. I mean, have you seen the prices on menus lately? The same things you ordered two years ago have jumped a few dollars, and at that point you’re probably better off buying the ingredients and making your food or drink at home.

We’re all feeling the effects of inflation in one way or another, but being treated like you’re a jerk either by delivery drivers, the food-service workers themselves, or random internet-warriors for not tipping above 10% truly isn’t fair. It’s simply not fair to judge people based on how they tip, as if it’s somehow a reflection of how good of a person they are. That’s not to say that the workers don’t deserve better but the answer is not in the private citizen as a patron of the business to right what might be a wrong on the part of the employer.

Closing Thoughts

Guilt-tipping, though not necessarily a malicious, manipulative behavior coming from business owners, appears to be a growing cultural practice as a result of standardized point-of-sale systems taking over the cash register. 

It’s entirely reasonable to feel annoyed at checkout, especially when you may be struggling to get by with the expenses you have already seen increase in cost. So, is tipping everywhere really necessary? Absolutely not, but if we keep caving to social pressure then largely as a society we might not be able to walk back from it and might even see tip standards continue to increase.

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