Tipping was once reserved for people who provided particular services — waiters who took your order and made sure your dinner was pleasant, bellhops who carried your luggage, hairdressers who kept you looking sharp in the latest styles.
But now, opportunities for tipping seem to be everywhere. People who take carryout orders expect a tip. Clerks who hand you a bagel expect a tip. Even concession-stand workers at sports stadiums and some fast-food chains such as Subway expect a tip.
Customers are getting fed up with it.
One man posted a rant on TikTok after he placed an order for pizza online and picked it up himself, and then was asked if he wanted to give a 20% tip. “For what? What did you do?” he says.
Another, on Reddit, bought a Dr Pepper at a self-serve kiosk, which then offered an option for a tip. “Who am I tipping, myself?” he wrote.
The problem has proliferated with the increased use of touchscreens at checkout. The screens present pre-set buttons offering the option to tip up to 30% of the bill or more.
According to etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, these touchscreens or iPads are leading to widespread frustration with what is called “guilt tipping.” In her 2023 Tipping Guide, she writes that to deal with the problem is to decide in advance how much you would tip if you were paying cash.
“The problem is, we are prompted by large percentages and guilt clicks in. People also feel the pressure of others watching and they begin to question their better judgment. Trust your gut and tip what you are comfortable tipping,” she wrote.
Amy Rich, of Ballwin, Missouri, recently left a tip for the workers at a Starbucks after buying a coffee drink for herself and a pastry for her son. She said the touchscreen technology makes it convenient.
“If you don’t know how to do math in your head, it makes it easy for you,” said Rich, who said she always tips at least 20%.
“I will give $2 on a $3 bill because it won’t break me. It’s not much, but they’re not getting paid much. I don’t think the restaurant industry is paid well, and that’s not good,” she said.
It was the coronavirus that changed our tipping habits, said Jaime Peters, who teaches personal finance at Maryville University. As small businesses started closing, many customers were happy to help out in any way they could.
Some businesses that had never asked for tips before began to ask for tips.
“Then along came Square,” Peters said, referring to the St. Louis-based company that revolutionized the way companies process credit cards. “The software updated for those tip methods, because we were not using cash. We were discouraged from using cash.”
Actually, according to a Square spokesperson, restaurants and stores have had the ability to use their touchscreens to solicit tips since long before the pandemic. The businesses can choose to turn on the tipping function if they want, and can either use Square’s pre-set amounts (no tip, 15%, 20% or 25% on bills more than $10) or set the amounts themselves.
That’s where the 30% or more options come in.
More businesses made use of that option during the pandemic. But while the pandemic mostly faded away, the software remained. And that is changing the way we think about tipping, Peters said.
While it used to be a way to support or encourage good service, now we look on it more as contributing to the employees’ salary.
“The amount of tipping has risen as the gap between a living wage and what we are legally required to pay tipped employees has grown,” she said.
In Missouri, employees who receive tips must be paid at least $6 per hour, which is half of the state’s minimum wage of $12 per hour. In Illinois, tipped employees must be paid at least $7.80 per hour, or 60% of the state’s minimum wage of $13 per hour.
On the federal level, tipped employees only have to be paid $2.13 per hour. That is the law in 15 states and three territories.
In all cases, the tips are expected to boost the pay at least to the level of minimum wage. If they do not reach that level, the business is required to make up the difference.
Because of the low non-tip wages of these employees, customers have to change the way they think about tipping, Peters said.
“You are not tipping this person because he is doing a good job. That first 20% is because you are hiring that person temporarily. If I want to tip, it goes up and above that 20%,” she said.
But some customers are beginning to push back, especially in businesses where tips were not traditionally given, such as coffee shops and fast-food restaurants. And that’s OK, Peters said.
“If you are that person who skips that tip jar, please know that you are not alone. In some surveys, about half the people who respond say no, they don’t tip,” she said.
One recent concern for some customers is what she calls “pre-tipping.” That is when the customer is asked for a tip before the service is performed — ordering a pizza online, for instance, and being solicited for a tip before it is delivered. The customer does not know if the service will be good or bad.
At Kruta Bakery in Collinsville, Missouri, tipping is more of an informal affair, said manager Paul Kruta.
“We’ve never discouraged tipping,” he said, but neither do they actively encourage it. The business, which was founded in 1919, does not have a touchscreen credit-card payment system.
Customers who wish to reward their server will hand them a dollar or two, or tell them to keep the change, he said.
Union Loafers Café and Bread Bakery in the Botanical Heights neighborhood has had a tip jar for its bread-selling clerks since it opened in 2015. When the coronavirus hit, more customers began leaving tips, especially when the store went to a touch screen method of paying that has a tipping option.
Steve Russell, who has been general manager almost since the beginning, said the tips are vital to the business’ finances.
Because the employees are going to receive tips, the shop can pay them a lower hourly wage. If there were no tips, the store would have to raise its prices to pay the higher wages — and that would run the risk of pricing themselves out of the market.
A high number of the bakery customers leave a tip, Russell said, but “ultimately it is an optional thing. If they decide not to do that, then that is their prerogative.”
Those who do tip at Union Loafers generally leave between 15% and 20%, depending on the day of the week and the time of the year, he said. The bakery’s pre-set buttons are for 15%, 20% and 25%, and the assumption is that most customers will choose the middle button, 20%.
A custom tip button is also available, allowing the customer to leave however much he or she chooses.
Tipping “allows the guest to show a little bit of extra appreciation. It’s a way to offer a financial boost to the staff,” Russell said.
And the staff appreciates it. Donna Tisdale, a hair stylist at Great Clips at the Fenton Crossing shopping center in Fenton said that about one-third of her income comes from tips.
That amount went up during the pandemic, she said.
“I think people had a new appreciation of us trying to cut their hair,” said Tisdale, who was hospitalized with the virus for a week.
Tisdale, who has been styling hair for 37 years, always tips well herself, she said — at least 20%.
“If a waitress is busy, working hard, I’ll tip well. If she’s in the corner talking to her friends, the tip will go down. I’ll still tip well, though,” she said.
Nearly all of her customers give her a tip, she said, though some are more generous than others. One day last week, a young man, perhaps 18 years old, gave her a $20 bill for a $19 haircut and told her to keep the $1 change.
Ordinarily, she said, she gets about $5 on a standard $19 cut. After the light-tipping young man left, she shook her head.
“I just smile and say thank you. It always works out. The woman before him tipped me $20,” she said.
“I appreciate anything anyone gives me.”