February 6, 2023

Across the country, a quiet frustration is brewing over an age-old practice many say is spiraling out of control: tipping.

Some consumers, fed up, are posting tirades on social media complaining about tipping at drive-thrus, while others say they’re tired of being asked to tip a muffin or a simple cup of coffee in their Leaving neighborhood bakery. What’s next, they wonder—are we going to tip our doctors and dentists too?

As more businesses adopt digital payment methods, customers are automatically prompted to leave a tip — often up to 30% — in places they normally wouldn’t. And some say it’s gotten even more frustrating as item prices have skyrocketed on inflation, which fell to 6.5% in December but still remains painfully high.

“Suddenly these screens are in every establishment we come across. They also pop up online for online orders. And I’m afraid there’s no end to it,” said etiquette expert Thomas Farley, who described the whole thing as “an invasion.”

Unlike tip jars, which shoppers can easily ignore if they’re short on change, experts say digital requests can create social pressure and are harder to circumvent. And your generosity, or lack thereof, can be exposed to anyone close enough to look at the screen – including the workers themselves.

Dylan Schenker is one of them. The 38-year-old makes about $400 a month in tips, which is a helpful addition to his $15 hourly wage as a barista at a Philadelphia cafe that’s located in a restaurant. Most of these tips come from consumers ordering coffee drinks or interacting with the coffee shop for other things, e.g. B. Takeout orders. The tip helps pay his monthly rent and lightens some of his burdens while he attends grad school and balances his job.

Schenker says it’s hard to sympathize with consumers who can afford expensive coffee drinks but complain about tips. And he often feels demoralized when people don’t leave anything — especially if they’re regulars.

“Giving tips is about making sure that the people who are providing that service to you are getting what they deserve,” said Schenker, who has worked in the service industry for about 18 years.

Traditionally, consumers pride themselves on being good tips at places like restaurants, which typically pay their workers less than minimum wage, with the expectation that they will make up the difference in tips. However, academics studying the topic say many consumers are now irritated by automatic tipping requirements in cafes and other counter-service restaurants, where tipping is not typically expected, workers earn at least minimum wage and service is typically limited.

“People don’t like unsolicited advice,” said Ismail Karabas, a marketing professor at Murray State University who studies tipping. “They don’t like being asked anything, especially at the wrong time.”

Some of the requests may also come from unusual places. Clarissa Moore, a 35-year-old who works as a supervisor at a Pennsylvania utility company, said even her mortgage company has been asking for tips lately. She is usually happy to leave a tip in restaurants and sometimes in cafes and other fast food places when the service is good. But Moore said she believes consumers shouldn’t be asked to tip almost everywhere they go — and it shouldn’t be something that’s expected of them.

“It makes you sick. You feel like you have to do it because they’re asking you to,” she said. “But then you have to think about the position that people get into. They pay for something they really don’t want to pay for, or they tip when they really don’t want to – or can’t – tip. They can’t afford to tip – because they don’t want to feel bad.”

In the book Emily Post’s Etiquette, authors Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning advise consumers to tip for ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft, and for food and beverages, including alcohol. But they also write that everyone is free to decide how much to tip at a coffee shop or diner, and that consumers shouldn’t feel embarrassed about choosing the lowest recommended tip amount, and they don’t have to explain it themselves, if they don’t tip.

Digital payment methods have been around for a number of years, although experts say the pandemic has accelerated the trend towards more tips. Michael Lynn, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University, said consumers were more generous in tipping in the early days of the pandemic to show their support for restaurants and other businesses that have been hit hard by COVID-19. Many people genuinely wanted to help and were sympathetic to workers who held jobs that put them at higher risk of catching the virus, Lynn said.

According to Square, one of the largest companies operating digital payment methods, tips in full-service restaurants increased by 25.3% in the third quarter of 2022, while tips in quick service or counter restaurants increased by 16% compared to the same point in 2021 .7% rose . The data provided by the company shows continuous growth for the same period since 2019.

As requests for tips become more common, some companies advertise tipping in their job postings to attract more workers, although the extra money isn’t always guaranteed.

In December, Starbucks introduced a new tipping option for credit and debit card transactions at its stores, something a group organizing the company’s hourly workers had called for. Since then, a Starbucks spokesman said, nearly half of credit and debit card transactions have included a tip that — along with tips received in cash and through the Starbucks app — is distributed based on the number of hours spent a barista worked on the days that the tip was received.

Karabas, a professor at Murray State, says that some customers, like those who have worked in the service industry in the past, want to tip workers at quick-service companies and wouldn’t be annoyed by the automated requests. But for others, research shows they may be less likely to return to a particular company if they feel irritated by the requests, he said.

The last tab can also affect how customers respond. Karabas said in research he conducted with other academics that they manipulated the payment amounts and found that when the check was large, consumers no longer felt as irritated by the tip demands. This suggests that the best time for a coffee shop to request a 20% tip, for example, might be four or five orders of coffee, not a small cup that costs $4.

Some consumers may continue to dismiss requests for tips, regardless of the amount.

“When you work for a company, that company’s job is to pay you to work for them,” said Mike Janavey, a shoe and apparel designer who lives in New York City. “They’re not supposed to be juicing consumers who are already spending money there to pay their employees.”

Schenker, the Philadelphia barista, agrees—to a point.

“Responsibility should definitely lie with the owners, but that won’t change overnight,” he said. “And that’s the best we’ve got right now.”

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