How tipping culture has changed with gratuity screens everywhere

Screens are seemingly everywhere – cafes, sports stadiums, online travel sites, even self-service kiosks — asking customers if they I want to give a tip and leaving shoppers confused about when to donate.

Historically, tips were designed to reward and sometimes ensure good service, and were typically only expected in environments such as restaurants, salons, and taxis, where tips can weigh heavily on a worker’s salary. But digital payment requests to leave an extra 15% to 25% on small purchases that require little or no customer service have become ubiquitous.

What is clear is that business owners are increasingly comfortable asking customers for tips. Taking a darker view, some critics see the practice as effectively shifting employers’ responsibility for paying employees a living wage to consumers.

“Tipping has become the habitual daily moment, as opposed to a situation like going to a restaurant and expecting her to leave a tip,” said Columbia Business School professor Stephen H. Zagor, who focuses on restaurants and businesses. of food. “Now you can go to a big department store and at the checkout there’s a place for a tip.”

Lehigh University professor Holona LeAnne Ochs, author of two books on tipping, described businesses that solicit tips as “constant and pervasive,” leaving consumers wondering when it’s appropriate to show appreciation.

Old rules are out

Even the specialists are on different sides of the cultural conflict point, although they largely agree on one point: the old tipping rules are dead and there are no hard and fast rules anymore about when it is acceptable for a business to ask for a tip or for a consumer not to.

“The nature of tipping is less about rewarding service providers for good service and more about social norms. Social norms have been distorted, so we don’t know when to tip,” Brian Warrener, associate professor of hospitality management at Johnson and Wales University told CBS MoneyWatch.

He is personally comfortable with not tipping when he doesn’t believe it is deserved.

“If I haven’t had a lot of service interaction or great service, I have no problem not leaving a gratuity. It’s not guaranteed in this case. You didn’t earn it, you don’t deserve it in this case.” said Warrener.

COVID-19 has broken the norms

The pandemic has had a big impact on tipping habits. Retail sector employees and other essential workers were seen putting their own health and even their lives on the line to serve customers rather than earn extra monetary reward.

“Tipping during COVID was like a donation that recognized that frontline workers were doing difficult and dangerous work and we all appreciate that, so we all contributed that little bit more to this charity,” said Warrener.

While companies are pushing forward with that expectation, Warrener said it’s acceptable for consumers to revert to their old tipping habits.

“It’s perfectly reasonable to go back to what the norms were previously,” he said. “I don’t feel like I should leave a 20% tip on top of a cup of coffee at my local Starbucks.”

Josh Luger, co-founder of casual fast food chain Capital Tacos, has no qualms about asking diners to tip his restaurant employees. Luger’s restaurants don’t offer table service, so he lists all the work required to prepare a meal in a place visible to diners.

“We run a makeshift kitchen and work hard every day to deliver what we consider to be a unique and superior product,” he told CBS MoneyWatch. “We do a lot in stores to make sure this is communicated to customers.”

Luger notes that he sees nothing wrong with customers choosing not to pay a gratuity. However, when someone places an order, he expects the considerable effort the employees put into providing good service to be clear.

Digital screens like the one above prompt customers to add a tip to the bill, whether or not the tip is justified.

Josh Luger / Capital Tacos

“You’ve read the wall, you’ve seen the kitchen and the work being done, and we hope you have the context for us to order,” he said. “No tip required – you can sign the receipt and not put anything there, but if you want to reward workers, we think it’s reasonable to ask for that.”

The tips are distributed among the employees, all performing different functions. In a way, it helps keep prices low and wages high for workers, Luger said. “What consumers generally want is a lower stated price and the option to tip if they wish. As long as it falls short of the requirement, I think it’s all fair game.”

“It’s like extortion”

Zagor, the Columbia professor, sees two broad reasons for tipping: rewarding good service or encouraging it in the future.

“If you feel like someone is doing something beneficial for you and you have empathy and compassion, tip!” he said.

But when a business transaction doesn’t involve human interaction, like buying something online or using an in-store kiosk or app, Zagor thinks tip prompts are inappropriate.

“It’s like extortion. It’s suggesting charging a fee where you don’t see where the charge is from or what the fee is,” he said.

Zagor’s own approach to tipping is straightforward. He is generally inclined to tip people providing services – not businesses or machines selling goods.

“I’m not going to tip a store where I’m buying canned goods or ketchup, but if someone serves me, I always feel like there’s a reward for that level of concern or energy they put in,” he explained.

Get over it already

Technology has played a big role in changing the rules on tipping. Touchscreens with tip prompts are increasingly replacing the old-fashioned tip bottles, which were easier to swipe and ignore. And on a screen, you have to actively reject the request.

“With a tip jar, you can just ignore it if you don’t put money in,” said tip expert William Michael Lynn, professor of service marketing at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Management. “On a tablet, you have to actively click ‘no tip’, so that’s a commission sin, and we feel worse about it.”

Lynn said there is no right or wrong answer about when to ask or tip. Businesses can ask for gratuities, but they shouldn’t expect customers to show their generosity or express ill will if they don’t. And customers should tip according to their own values ​​and motivation.

As for consumers who might feel a twinge of guilt skipping the tip screen, Lynn has another modest piece of advice: Just deal with it.

“They want you to give them money, no doubt, and they’ll be at least disappointed if you don’t, but who cares?” he said. “A lot of people want money from me and I don’t give it to them.”

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