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Tipping fatigue? How electronic tip screens are changing the culture of gratuities


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It’s become tradition to tip someone who’s provided good service or gone above and beyond — with these rewards historically being given voluntarily to people like restaurant wait staff, bartenders, taxi and valet drivers, food deliverers, barbers and hair stylists.

But there’s a new tipping culture taking hold that’s causing many on Long Island and beyond to reach their tipping point. They perceive it as aggressive, involuntary, annoying, unnecessary and intrusive. And it’s creating discomfort, resentment, and anger among those who now feel forced or shamed into tipping — and to do so at unexpected businesses and locations where they weren’t expected to leave a gratuity in years past — such as dry cleaners, liquor stores, donut and sandwich shops, breweries, self-service buffets, airport snack stands and drive-thrus.

The tipping is being solicited through old-school tip jars placed on a checkout counter as well as their modern iterations — electronic tipping screens that can be turned toward customers by checkout employees to give those paying by debit or credit card the option of adding a tip. And some suggest amounts that start at 15% and go up from there.

Tips are collected the old-fashioned way at the What’s Cookin’ Buddy food truck in Baiting Hollow. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Names have even been created to describe the phenomenon in rants on social media: “tip-flation,” “tipping invasion,” “tip-creep,” “tip fatigue,” and “guilt tipping.”

“We’re asked to tip everywhere these days. I just think that’s weird,” Joanna Killan, 37, of West Islip  said of the pressure she feels with electronic tipping screens where someone at the establishment is standing there who can see whether you tipped. “I feel it’s like a mental thing.”

Killan said the decision to tip or not to tip, how, when and where, should be up to her.
“I’d rather do that with change back from my dollar, and if I want to,” Killan said. “I went to a brewery and they all seem to be doing that (asking for tips via computer).”

She encountered the same thing at a large donut chain. “I was like, ‘Really?’ She (the checkout woman) literally just handed me a muffin,” Killan added. “I used to work in a bakery and no one gave me anything.”

Recent surveys show Killan has lots of company when it comes to being tapped out on tips:

  • This month, a Pew Research study of 12,000 U.S. adults found they’re being asked to tip more service workers than in the past, with 72% of Americans saying tipping is expected in more places today than five years ago. Forty percent are opposed to businesses suggesting tip amounts to their customers versus 24% who approve.
  • A Bankrate survey released this summer found nearly 66% of adults in the U.S. now have a negative view of tipping, with 41% saying they believe businesses should pay employees better rather than relying so much on tips, 32% saying they’re “annoyed” by pre-entered tip screens, 30% saying tipping culture has gotten out of control, 15% being confused about who and how much to tip; and 16% saying they would be willing to pay higher prices if tipping would just go away altogether.
  • Also this summer, a study by NerdWallet found that 29% of Americans feel the pressure to tip has increased over the past year. 
  • And in September, a Forbes Advisor Digital Tipping Survey  found three in 10 people feel pressured to tip. The top places they feel shouldn’t ask for a tip are food trucks (40%), fast-casual restaurants (38%), businesses where they’re picking up takeout food (36%) and coffee shops (34%).

While tipping seemed to be getting out of hand to some in the NerdWallet study, Washington, D.C.-based NerdWallet personal finance expert Kimberly Palmer noted she’s not aware of tipping fatigue setting in at places, or for services, where gratuities are a long-accepted part of the business.

“Tipping wait staff at restaurants has been widely accepted and practiced for so long that it’s an ingrained part of American culture,” Palmer said.

“It’s okay to decline a tip" in circumstances where it’s...

“It’s okay to decline a tip” in circumstances where it’s not conventional to tip, says NerdWallet personal finance expert Kimberly Palmer.

But Melissa Conn, 48, of Lynbrook, said she was recently given the opportunity to leave a tip before a service was rendered — or ordered.

“I was at a car wash, and before I even could say what package I wanted, there was a tip barrel right there tied to a post. Now I have to give a tip before the car is even washed?” Conn asked. “Then there’s a bucket for tips for the cashier… and I paid $125 for detailing and a wash.”

So, what tipped the scales on tipping as we used to know it? The pandemic, workers wanting more money, and employers, authorities say.

Manhattan-based etiquette expert, author and speaker Thomas P. Farley, aka “Mister Manners,” said the new tipping culture seems “like it came out of nowhere,” but it didn’t. He said the pandemic made tipping a big thing for those who wanted to show their appreciation to essential workers and others who were risking their own health to do jobs involving in-person interactions with the public.

“With ordering in and having food delivered to them, New Yorkers in particular were very generous when it came to the delivery people. They were not able to sit at home no matter what the COVID levels were,” Farley explained.

Tip requests can go too far, says etiquette expert Thomas...

Tip requests can go too far, says etiquette expert Thomas P. Farley, aka “Mister Manners”: “There’s a tip for cleaning your car, why not a tip for a hygienist cleaning your teeth?” Credit: Thomas Farley

But he said enhanced tipping has remained with us well after the height of the pandemic, and it continues to spread. “If there is any sort of service involved whatsoever, you’re getting a tip screen — and that’s coinciding with inflation, so I call it ‘tip-flation’ or the ‘tipping invasion.’ ”

Farley added, “You’re at a rock concert, you’re buying a $70 T-shirt, and now they want you to tip $20 on that.” He questioned where it will all end. “There’s a tip for cleaning your car, why not a tip for a hygienist cleaning your teeth? No matter how well-off you are, there is just so much discretionary income you have.”

Mike Bassani, who owns La Bistro Pizzeria in Coram, said his tip jar was put on the cashier counter during the pandemic and it’s still there because it can be a convenience for customers. He said about $15 to $25 a day is placed in the jar.

Owner Mike Bassani says he started using a tip jar...

Owner Mike Bassani says he started using a tip jar at La Bistro Pizzeria in Coram during the pandemic. Credit: Barry Sloan

“People would say, ‘Keep the change’ because they didn’t want to handle change (because of COVID fears), so I decided to put it in a tip jar.” He said the workers on each shift doing things like checking out customers and answering the phone share the proceeds — not the people who make the pizza or other food at the shop. “They get their own perks,” Bassani said.

There is a lot more than change to be made with some tips, Farley noted.

“The companies behind the tablet readers have taken over the mom-and-pop tip jars, and they and the credit card companies are making large amounts on these transactions,” Farley explained. “These companies are taking a piece of every one.”  He added there’s also a benefit to having them for business owners. “It streamlines accounting and there’s no more having to count coins or dollars in a jar.”

Another etiquette expert, Lisa Richey, noted she regularly travels throughout the country for speaking engagements as president and founder of The American Academy of Etiquette, based in Raleigh, North Carolina. She said tipping “is (asked for) everywhere” these days, and it’s become an expectation that’s no longer inherently connected to the level or quality of service.

As an example, Richey said someone working at a Raleigh shop that sells smoothies offered to bring her order out to her car when she called the order in for pickup during a rain storm. The shop doesn’t normally do that, so she tipped the worker because she said he deserved it. On the other hand, she said that while buying a bottle of water from a “grab-and-go” establishment in Arizona, “They were in my face (with an electronic tip screen).”

Business owners need to consider how tipping requests can turn...

Business owners need to consider how tipping requests can turn off a customer, says Lisa Richey, president and founder of The American Academy of Etiquette. Credit: Lisa Richey

Though a customer’s frustration over being encouraged to tip might be directed at an employee at a checkout counter, Richey said, the buck shouldn’t stop there.

“I have to put this on the business owners as well,” she said. “Tipping is more prevalent than it ever has been. But the workforce has changed so there are still issues with employers getting people to work,” and they have to be competitive by giving workers the chance to make more money through tips.

However, Richey cautioned, employers need to consider how tipping requests can turn off a customer, and the fact that they might choose not to return to their business. She added these solicitations can make workers  interacting with patrons at checkout feel uncomfortable and awkward as well.

“Is this really the right thing for you to do?” Richey asked regarding business owners. “It’s a tough call. We’re in tough times.”

Eastport General Store offers both a physical tip jar and...

Eastport General Store offers both a physical tip jar and electronic tipping. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Farley said the message being delivered to customers is the wrong one. “You’re expected to tip for everything or you’re a bad person, or you’re stingy. We’re losing the idea of being paid for good service. Customers don’t want to be nickel-and-dimed and hit with this screen at the 11th hour.”

Amber Otto, owner of Eastport General Store, said she can see both sides of the issue — as an employer and as a customer. Clothes, including vintage fashions, are sold at her shop, along with housewares, toys, tabletop and apothecary items and frozen food. Fresh baked sour dough bread is delivered on Saturdays. There’s a tip jar on the counter, and electronic tipping is also available

“When we first opened it was just me and my husband working here and people wanted to give us tips, so we put a jar on the counter to see what happened,” Otto, 38, said. “Then people were asking if they could tip with a credit card, and once we got employees, I felt we were denying them tips (if there wasn’t an opportunity).” She said her customers especially like to tip for barista drinks.

Amber Otto, owner of Eastport General Store, right, admits that...

Amber Otto, owner of Eastport General Store, right, admits that “As a consumer, I have tip fatigue.” Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Otto, the consumer, has another perspective.

“As a consumer I have tip fatigue,” Otto admitted. “I was at an airport and bought a $1.50 pack of gum, then she (the counter person) turned around the tip screen (asking if she wanted to tip $1 or $2).” Otto said, “I understand why it makes people angry.”

Otto said not paying staff properly can be a problem contributing to the new tip issues.
“Some (employers) don’t pay their staff enough,” Otto said. 

Jeffrey Guenther, 16, works at Roast Sandwich House in Melville, which features house-roasted meats and soups made from scratch. Takeout and dining in are available. There’s a tip jar at the counter, and Guenther said he feels it’s appropriate. The counter workers split the tips, he said.

“We really put some heart into it,” Guenther said of the food. “It’s not mandatory that people give tips. It’s optional, as a matter of appreciation from a customer. And who doesn’t like tips?”

And what about that Forbes study that found 40% of those surveyed thought food trucks top the list of places that shouldn’t be asking for tips?

Holbrook couple Peter and Kerry Muino don’t see why. They’re owners of the food truck, “What’s Cookin’ Buddy?” On the menu are chicken and pulled pork sliders, chicken wings, fried shrimp, mac and cheese balls, fries, churros and tostones. Peter Muino said there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes of a food truck that customers might not realize.

Owners Peter and Kerry Muino of What's Cookin' Buddy food...

Owners Peter and Kerry Muino of What’s Cookin’ Buddy food truck. “I find it shocking that not tipping food truck people is number one on the list,” Peter Muino says. Credit: Morgan Campbell

“It is a lot more work. It is a lot more stress. It’s a closed environment,” he said, comparing a food truck to working in a restaurant. “Sometimes it’s extremely hot and sometimes it’s extremely cold. We’re cooking, packing and serving all in an 8-by 8-foot area.” He noted there is no bathroom, no place to comfortably sit down, and work can last eight hours on some days. “I find it shocking that not tipping food truck people is number one on the list.”

For those who need a tip on what to do when faced with an unexpected gratuity ask, NerdWallet’s Palmer advises to do only what you want.

“It’s okay to decline a tip” in circumstances where it’s not conventional to tip, Palmer said. “While a 20% or higher tip is expected in situations where significant services are provided, such as at a restaurant, it’s okay to decline the tablet-prompted tip at a coffee shop.”

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