Is tipping getting out of hand? Many consumers say yes

NEW YORK (AP) — There is quiet frustration across the country over an age-old practice that many believe is getting out of hand: tipping.

Some consumers who are fed up post tirades on social media complaining about tip requests at drive-thrus, while others say they are tired of being asked to leave a tip for a muffin or a simple cup of coffee at their bakery nearby. Now what, they wonder: are we going to tip our doctors and dentists too?

As more businesses adopt digital payment methods, customers are automatically asked to leave a tip — often as much as 30% — in places where they normally wouldn’t. And some say it’s gotten more frustrating as the price of items has skyrocketed due to inflation, which eased to 6.5% in December but still remains painfully high.

“All of a sudden these screens are at every establishment we come across. They also pop up online for online orders. And I’m afraid there’s no end to it,” says etiquette expert Thomas Farley, who sees the whole thing as a bit of “an invasion.”

Unlike tip jars that shoppers can easily ignore if they don’t have change, experts say the digital requests can create social pressure and are more difficult to circumvent. And your generosity, or lack thereof, can be exposed to anyone close enough to look at the screen, including the employees themselves.

Dylan Schenker is one of them. The 38-year-old earns about $400 a month in tips, which is a useful addition to his $15 hourly wage as a barista at a Philadelphia restaurant cafe. Most of those tips come from consumers ordering coffee drinks or interacting with the café for other things, such as takeout orders. The tip helps cover his monthly rent and eases some of his burdens as he attends graduate school and juggles 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 leave nothing extra, especially if they are regular customers.

“Tipping is about making sure that the people performing that service for you are getting paid what they are entitled to,” says Schenker, who has worked in the service industry for about 18 years.

Traditionally, consumers have prided themselves on tipping well in places like restaurants, which typically pay their employees less than minimum wage while waiting they will make up the difference in tips. But academics studying the topic say many consumers are now annoyed by automatic tip requests in coffee shops and other eateries where tips aren’t typically expected, where employees earn at least minimum wage, and where service is usually limited.

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

Some requests may also come from strange 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 coffee shops and other fast food outlets if the service is good. But Moore said she believes consumers shouldn’t ask for a tip almost everywhere they go — nor should it be something that’s expected of them.

“It makes you feel bad. You feel like you have to do it because they ask you to do it,” she said. ‘But then you have to think about the position that people place in it. 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 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 ride-shares, such as Uber and Lyft, as well as for food and drink, including alcohol. But they also write that it’s up to everyone to choose how much to tip in a café or takeaway, and that consumers shouldn’t be embarrassed about choosing the lowest suggested 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, though experts say the pandemic has accelerated the tipping trend. Michael Lynn, a consumer behavior professor at Cornell University, said consumers were more generous with tips in the early days of the pandemic in an effort to show support for restaurants and other businesses hard hit by COVID-19. Many people really wanted to help and were sympathetic to workers who had jobs that put them at greater risk of contracting the virus, Lynn said.

Tips at full-service restaurants increased 25.3% in the third quarter of 2022, while tips at quick- or counter-service restaurants increased 16.7% compared to the same time in 2021, according to Square, one of the largest companies that exploit digital payment methods. Data provided by the company shows continuous growth for the same period since 2019.

As tip requests become more common, some companies advertise this in their job postings to attract more employees, even though the extra cash isn’t always guaranteed.

In December, Starbucks introduced a new tipping option on credit and debit card transactions in its stores, something a group that organizes the company’s hourly workers organizes. had called. Since then, a Starbucks spokesperson said nearly half of credit and debit card transactions included tips, which — along with tips received in cash and the Starbucks app — were distributed based on the number of hours a barista worked on the days that the tips were paid. receive.

Karabas, the Murray State professor, says some customers, such as those who have worked in the service industry in the past, want to tip employees of quick service companies and wouldn’t be annoyed by the automatic requests. But for others, research shows they’re less likely to return to a particular company if they feel annoyed by the requests, he said.

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

Some consumers continue to decline tip requests, regardless of the amount.

“When you work for a company, it’s that company’s job to pay you for the work you do for them,” says Mike Janavey, a shoe and clothing designer who lives in New York City. “They’re not supposed to juice consumers who are already spending money there to pay their employees.”

Schenker, the Philadelphia barista, agrees — to an extent.

“The burden of proof should absolutely be on the owners, but that doesn’t change overnight,” he said. “And this is the best we have right now.”

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