Last week, we talked about DoorDash warning its customers that anyone who doesn’t tip when they place their orders risks it taking longer to deliver than those who tip up front. We also discussed how tipping has increasingly become a hot-button issue in America, as it seems like everywhere you turn, there’s the option to add a tip, and most of us feel badly saying no. Well, I do, at least. You should give a gratuity for good service, but it is kinda crazy to add a tip for the cashier at the grocery store. It feels like companies that refuse to pay their employees a living wage are passing the burden of their employees’ cost of living onto consumers.
A recent study done by Pew Research Center reveals that Americans are divided and confused over when and how much to leave in gratuities. TThe study also showed that 72% of the 11,945 surveyed aren’t into recent trends that add service fees and suggest tipping amounts. Basically, Americans are frustrated by “tipping culture” and feel the same way that many of you do: that it’s getting out of hand. Tipflation is real y’all!
72% are against the added “service charges”: Most don’t like the addition of “service charges,” the amounts that many restaurants and other businesses have tacked on to customers’ tabs under various names, often to cover the higher costs of things like food and labor — without having to raise their prices. An overwhelming 72 percent of people oppose them, with only 10 percent saying they favor them.
They also don’t like the “suggested tip” screen: They are also more likely to oppose a suggested tip amount than favor it, something businesses have recently taken to putting on touch-screens at takeout spots or on printed bills — ostensibly to make calculating them easier, but often used as a prod to get customers to shell out. Forty percent of Americans oppose such suggested tips, while 24 percent favor them. (About a third neither oppose nor favor them.)
Confusion over knowing when to tip: But with more opportunities to tip, and with some restaurants and other businesses offering prompts, there’s still plenty of confusion about whether customers should leave a gratuity — and if so, how much. Thirty-four percent of U.S. adults say it’s “extremely” or “very” easy to know whether to tip for different kinds of services these days, and a similar share, 33 percent, say the same about knowing how much to tip.
Tipping as an obligation vs. choice: While these recent and fundamental shifts in tipping might be confusing and unwelcoming, the survey also indicates that the practice in the bigger picture is divisive — Americans are not even on the same page about what tipping is. Twenty-nine percent of Americans think of tipping as an obligation, while 21 percent see it as a choice. Forty-nine percent, though, say it depends on the situation. Younger and more highly educated and wealthier people were more likely to see a tip as an obligation, Pew found.
Technology is contributing to the confusion: Advances in technology — like delivery apps and tablets at counters where you can tap to leave a gratuity — might be convenient, but they are contributing to the uncertainty. “It’s different than having a jar on the counter — people feel like they are presented with all these tipping options — but does that mean you are expected to tip?” DeSilver said. “We haven’t as a society settled on the rules for that.”
Gratuities by demographics: But apparently, not everyone abides by that, according to the Pew poll. Given a scenario in which they experienced “average, but not exceptional” food and service at a restaurant, 57 percent of people said they would tip 15 percent or less. Two percent said they would leave their server nothing. Just about a quarter said they would leave 20 percent or more. Wealthier people tend to be better tippers, the survey found, while older people are slightly more likely to tip 15 percent or less — perhaps reflecting a holdover from the earlier standards on a sufficient gratuity.
Systemic inequalities: It’s not just customers who seem dissatisfied with the American tipping system, in which workers who regularly receive tips have an hourly wage that’s lower than standard minimums. Some labor activists say the system creates inequities and leaves workers more vulnerable to the whims of their employers. They also argue that relying on tips makes women — who make up the majority of the tipped workforce — more likely to suffer sexual harassment or abuse from customers and managers.
I have mixed feelings about suggested tips. I do like when the amounts are written down on the bottom of the receipt and I can think it through privately. There’s a lot of pressure when the person who I’m tipping is standing in front of me, holding up the screen, watching what I pick. At restaurants, I generally tip 20% because that’s what I was taught. 20% is also an easy amount for me to figure out in my head. (I love math!) When we go to the movies, there’s a tip screen for the concession workers. We always leave a tip, but I honestly don’t know what the proper etiquette is in that situation! This came up when we talked about leaving credit card vs. cash tips for DoorDash drivers, but when in those non-restaurant situations, I always wonder who actually gets the tip left via card. Do those employees actually see any of that money at the end of the day?
I completely emphasize with workers who are reliant on tips. Last month, WaPo did an eye-opening story that chronicled the very long day of an Instacart/UberEats worker and shed light on gig-economy workers. That’s so stressful. How much money you make at your job should not be dependent on the goodwill or toleration of harassment from others. Gratuities should supplement income, not make up the bulk of it. It sucks that the waters have become so muddied that people are confused and fed up by the whole thing. You know what would solve this problem? We need to raise the minimum wage for all workers.
Photos credit: Tom Tillhub on Pexels, Antoni Shkraba on Pexels, Nathana Rebouças on Unsplash
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