NEW YORK — Across the country, a quiet frustration is brewing over a long-standing practice that many say is getting out of hand: tipping.
Some fed-up consumers are taking to social media to complain about tipping requests at auto shops, while others say they’re tired of being asked to leave a tip for a cupcake or a simple cup of coffee at a neighborhood bakery. What 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 – many times as high as 30% – in places where they normally wouldn’t. And some say it has become even more disappointing as commodity prices have soared on the back of inflation, which eased to 6.5% in December but is still very high.
“Suddenly these screens are popping up in every facility we come across. They are also available online for online orders. And I’m afraid there will be no end to it,” said etiquette expert Thomas Farley, who considers the whole thing an “invasion.” .”
Unlike tip jars, which shoppers can easily ignore if they don’t have an extra trinket, experts say digital prompts can create social pressure and are harder to bypass. And your generosity, or lack thereof, can be revealed to anyone who looks closely enough at the screen – including the workers themselves.
Dylan Schenker is one of them. The 38-year-old earns about $400 a month in tips, a healthy supplement to his $15 hourly pay as a barista at a Philadelphia coffee shop located inside the restaurant. Most of these tips come from consumers ordering coffee drinks or interacting with cafes for other things like takeout orders. The tips help cover the monthly rent and ease some of his burden while he is in graduate school and working on 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 extra behind – especially if they’re regulars.
“Tipping is all about making sure that the people who are giving you those services are getting what they’re owed,” said Schenker, who has been in the service industry for about 18 years.
Traditionally, consumers have prided themselves on tipping well at places like restaurants that typically pay their workers below minimum wage, expecting them to make up the difference in tips. But academics who study the topic say many consumers now feel irritated by automatic tipping requests at coffee shops and other eateries, where tips are not usually expected, workers make at least minimum wage and service is usually limited.
“People don’t like unsolicited advice,” said Ismail Karabas, a marketing professor at Murray State University who studies tipping. “They don’t like to be asked for something, especially at the wrong time.”
Some of the requests may also come from strange places. Clarissa Moore, 35, who works as a supervisor for a utility company in Pennsylvania, said even her mortgage company has been asking for tips lately. As a rule, she is happy to leave a tip in restaurants, and sometimes in coffee shops and other fast food places, if the service is good. But Moore said she doesn’t think consumers should ask for a tip almost everywhere they go — and it shouldn’t be something they’re expected to do.
“It makes you feel bad. You feel like you have to do it because they’re asking you to do it,” she said. “But then you have to think about the position that puts people in. They pay for things they really don’t want to pay for, or they tip when they really don’t want to tip — or they may not be allowed to tip — because they don’t want to feel bad.”
In the book Emily Post Etiquette, authors Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning advise consumers to tip for ride-hailing promotions like Uber and Lyft, as well as for food and drinks, including alcohol. But they also write that it’s up to each person to decide how much to tip at a coffee shop or takeout, and that consumers shouldn’t be embarrassed to choose the lowest tip offered and shouldn’t have to explain themselves if they don’t tip.
Digital payment methods have been around for several years, though experts say the pandemic has accelerated the trend toward more tipping. Michael Lin, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University, said consumers were more generous with tips in the early days of the pandemic to show support for restaurants and other businesses hit hard by COVID-19. Many people genuinely wanted to help and felt compassion for workers who held jobs that put them at greater risk of contracting the virus, Lynn said.
Tipping at full-service restaurants rose 25.3% in the third quarter of 2022, while tipping at quick-service restaurants or at the till rose 16.7% from the same period in 2021, according to Square, one of the largest companies that use digital payment methods. . The data provided by the company shows constant growth over the same period since 2019.
As requests for tips have become more common, some businesses advertise it in their job postings to attract more workers, even though the extra money isn’t always guaranteed.
In December, Starbucks launched a new tipping option for credit and debit card transactions at its stores, which was called for by the company’s hourly labor group. Since then, a Starbucks spokesman said nearly half of credit and debit card transactions involved tips, which, along with cash and Starbucks app tips, are distributed based on the number of hours baristas work on tip days. received
Karabas, the Murray State professor, says some customers, such as those who have worked in the service industry in the past, want to tip quick-service workers and won’t be annoyed by automated requests. But for others, research shows they may be less likely to return to a particular business if they feel irritated by the inquiries, he said.
The last tab can also affect customer response. Karabas said that in a study he conducted with other researchers, they manipulated payment amounts and found that when the check was high, consumers were no longer irritated by tip requests. This suggests that the best time for a coffee shop to ask for that 20% tip, for example, might be for four or five coffee orders, rather than a small $4 cup.
Some consumers may continue to refuse tip requests regardless of the amount.
“If you work for a company, that company should pay you to do work for them,” said Mike Janavi, a shoe and clothing designer based in New York. “They shouldn’t be giving juice to consumers who are already spending there money to pay their employees.”
Schenker, a barista in Philadelphia, agrees — to a point.
“The responsibility should be entirely on the owners, but that doesn’t change overnight,” he said. “And it’s the best we have right now.”
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