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Tipping point: Consumers are feeling more pressure to tip everywhere. Should they?

Tipping point: Consumers are feeling more pressure to tip everywhere. Should they?

Becky Marcum of Penbrook doesn’t have a problem tipping at restaurants but draws the line when it comes to requests “to add a tip” for other services.

“I don’t make very much money,” she said. “People just don’t have it these days.”

From fast food kiosks and food delivery orders to dry cleaner pickups and concert tickets, shoppers are being bombarded with solicitations to tip. As a result, many consumers are feeling tipping fatigue.

Earlier this year, a Bankrate report found about 66% of Americans have a negative view of tipping, with about 30% saying tipping culture is “out of control” thanks to more companies asking customers to tip at counters. Additionally, about 32% of those surveyed called tipping aggravating and 41% said businesses should pay their employees more rather than rely on gratuity.

“Inflation and general economic unease seem to be making Americans stingier with their tipping habits, yet we’re confronted with more invitations to tip than ever,” Ted Rossman, Bankrate’s senior industry analyst, told CNBC in June.

Historically, tipping was designed as a reward or to ensure good service, and a customary practice at restaurants and hair salons. The gratuities were factored into workers’ wages, but today the lines are blurred thanks to a barrage of digital touchscreens with requests that can require little to no service.

It’s one thing to give a tip to a waiter who hustled to ensure top-notch service at your favorite restaurant, but what about the worker who poured a coffee and stuck a cookie into a bag?

“Part of it is technology because now every vendor has their little screens they can turn around and put in your face and the tips sometimes start at 18%. What happened to 15%?” said Valerie Sokolosky, founder of Valerie & Company, a leadership development company in Texas.

Sokolosky, who is an author and podcaster, said higher tip prompt rates are likely a sign of the times, and are rising, similar to everything else, impacted by inflation.

Another reason behind the growing tip phenomenon is companies that increasingly rely on tips as a benefit for employees, said Elaine Swann, an etiquette expert and founder of The Swann School of Protocol in California, adding businesses bouncing back from the pandemic are offering employees perks such as wages plus tips.

Unfortunately, she noted the practice puts the onus on customers.

“As consumers, we should put pressure on the establishments to pay your people a living wage and stop making us pay for it,” she said.

While the point-of-sale machines have made it easier for retailers, from coffee shops to home repair services, to ask for gratuities, Sokolosky said it is frustrating for consumers to know when and where to tip.

While more Americans say they expect to encounter tipping, they say they are more confused than ever, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. Of about 12,000 adults surveyed, 72% said they are being asked to tip more frequently, but only a third noted it’s extremely or very easy to know whether or how much to tip for different types of services.

Bob Welsh, of Derry Township, said he tips at sit-down restaurants but questions the etiquette behind tipping at places like Panera, where customers order at a counter.

“If the (employee) is standing there, how can you not leave something?” he asked.

Swann stresses tipping is customary in certain circumstances, including at sit-down restaurants where servers rely on tips because they make $2.13 an hour. Where it’s not, she said, is when you pick up takeout food or order a coffee and muffin.

About 65% of Americans who dine at sit-down restaurants tip, but that’s down from 73% in 2022, according to the Bankrate survey, which also shared about 13% of those surveyed tip for takeout food pickup.

It’s also customary to give tips at hair and nail salons and barber shops, and it’s not a bad idea to tip for a service when people go out of their way such as hauling a Christmas tree to your car or filling a large takeout order.

“It’s a nice gesture to tip, however, you are not required to tip in these circumstances. There is no etiquette guideline that you have to tip,” Swann said.

Besides, she noted the payment processing companies make their money on the amount of each sale, so if they can increase the sale by an addition 10 to 20 percent, they are making more money off that sale.

When deciding whether or not to tip, Sokolosky suggested asking yourself what you’re feeling emotionally.

“Are you thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is one more thing I have to tip?’ or are you sitting back saying, ‘Umm, this is an opportunity to give someone something for a service and who could use something a little extra,” she asked.

During the pandemic, tipping exploded as more people wanted to help struggling restaurant employees. But Sokolosky said the practice proliferated and everyone got on the bandwagon, making it feel like tipping was expected.

Restaurant owner Son Nguyen, a partner at The Wharf Bar & Grill in Swatara Township, said during the pandemic many people extended their appreciation with larger tips for takeout food pickups because they recognized the industry was suffering. Some at his former Pho King Vietnamese Restaurant in Hampden Township tipped $20 or $50 at a clip.

“I can tell you after COVID, the tipping (for takeout) is almost none. It is either $1 or $2 or none,” he said.

Some mom-and-pop businesses are avoiding the new technology for now and sticking to old-fashioned tip jars. Levi Hackman, an employee at Herr’s Fruit Farm tree stand off Union Deposit Road in Lower Paxton Township, said tips placed in a jar go straight to workers.

“Not saying we expect a tip, but some people ask to tip so we put a tip jar out so it’s there for an option,” he said.

Adding a tip request onto the credit card machine would make it more difficult for workers to get their tips, he said. Plus, he said credit card up-charges would lower the tip amounts.

Overall, he said about 50% of customers tip.

“It depends on the tree. People who tend to get bigger trees they will tip you, but if it’s a smaller tree you probably aren’t going to get a tip,” he said.