The pandemic has accelerated tipping trends and people are giving more than ever – but they’re not happy about it

Across the country, there’s a quiet frustration brewing about an age-old practice that many say is getting out of hand: tipping.

Some fed-up consumers posted rants on social media complaining about tip requests at drive-thrus, while others said they were tired of being asked to leave a gratuity for a muffin or a simple cup of coffee at their neighborhood bakery. What’s next, they wonder – are we going to tip our mail carriers and dentists too?

As more businesses adopt digital payment methods, customers are automatically prompted to leave a gratuity – many times as high as 30% – in places they don’t want to. And some say that it has become more frustrating because the price of goods has increased due to inflation, which decreased to 6.5% in December but still remains painfully high.

“Suddenly, these screens are in every establishment we come across. They’re also popping up online for online orders. And I’m scared to death,” said behavioral expert Thomas Farley, who -consider the whole thing “an invasion.”

Unlike tip jars that shoppers can easily ignore if they don’t have spare change, experts say digital requests can create social pressure and be harder to skip. And your generosity, or lack thereof, can be revealed for anyone close enough to look at the screen – including the workers themselves.

One of them is Dylan Schenker. The 38-year-old earns about $400 a month in tips, which provides a helpful supplement to his $15 an hour salary as a barista at a Philadelphia café located inside a restaurant. Most tips come from consumers who order coffee drinks or interact with the cafe for other items, such as takeout orders. The gratuity will help cover her monthly rent and ease some of her burdens while she attends graduate school and juggles her job.

Schenker says it’s hard to sympathize with consumers who can afford expensive coffee drinks but complain about tipping. And he always loses morals when people don’t leave anything behind – especially if they’re regulars.

“The tip is to make sure the people performing the service for you get paid what they’re owed,” said Schenker, who has worked in the service industry for nearly 18 years.

Traditionally, consumers pride themselves on being good tippers in places like restaurants, which is common wages to their workers below the minimum wage in anticipation that they will make up the difference in tips. But academics studying the topic say many consumers now feel offended by automatic tip requests at coffee shops and other counter-service eateries where tipping is not normally expected, workers make at least minimum wage and service is often 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 things, especially at the wrong time.”

Some of the requests may also come from strange places. Clarissa Moore, a 35-year-old who works as a supervisor at a utility company in Pennsylvania, said that even her mortgage company has been asking for tips lately. Usually, he is happy to leave a gratuity in restaurants, and sometimes in coffee shops and other fast-food places if the service is good. But, Moore said he believes consumers shouldn’t be asked to tip almost everywhere they go — and it’s not something they expect.

“It hurts you. You feel you have to do it because they ask you to do it,” he said. “But you have to think about the position that puts people in. They pay for something they don’t want to pay for, or they tip when they really don’t want to tip — or can’t afford to tip — because they don’t want to feel bad.

Digital payment methods have been around for years, though experts say the pandemic has accelerated the trend toward more tipping. Michael Lynn, a professor of consumer behavior 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 that hit by COVID-19. Many people genuinely want to help and feel sympathy for workers who have jobs that put them at greater risk of catching the virus, Lynn said.

Tips at full-service restaurants grew 25.3% in the third quarter of 2022, while gratuities at quick or counter service restaurants increased 16.7% compared to the same time in 2021, according to Square, one of the largest company operating digital payment methods. . The data provided by the company shows continuous growth in the same period since 2019.

As tip requests become more common, some businesses advertise them in their job postings to attract more workers even though extra money isn’t always guaranteed.

In December, Starbucks has launched a new tipping option for credit and debit card transactions in its stores, a group organizing the company’s hourly workers called to. Since then, a Starbucks spokeswoman said nearly half of credit and debit card transactions include a gratuity, which — along with tips received through cash and the Starbucks app — is distributed based on the number of time a barista works on the days the tips are received.

Karabas, the Murray State professor, said some customers, such as those who worked in the service industry in the past, want to tip workers at quick service businesses and don’t resent automated tellers. request. But for others, research shows they may be less likely to return to a particular business if they feel resentful of the requests, he said.

The last tab can also affect the reaction of customers. Karabas said in research he’s done with other academics, they’ve manipulated tip amounts and found that when the check is high, consumers no longer feel offended by tip requests. That suggests that the best time for a coffee shop to ask for a 20% tip, for example, would be on four or five coffee orders, not a small cup that costs $4.

Some consumers may continue to ignore tip requests regardless of the amount.

“If you work for a company, it’s the company’s job to pay you to work for them,” says Mike Janavey, a shoe and clothing designer who lives in New York City. “They shouldn’t be juicing consumers who are already spending there to pay their employees.”

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

“The responsibility should be on the owners, but that cannot be changed overnight,” he said. “And it’s the best thing we have right now.”

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