It’s 12 o’clock in the afternoon, and like you, thousands of Americans need their midday coffee. You stroll to your local coffee shop and get in the long line. You shuffle forward and order your drink. You know prices have been rising because of inflation, but you are happy to pay 5 dollars for your afternoon latte. You pay and turn to wait for your drink, but suddenly, the barista turns around their iPad, and you are presented with 3 tipping options. Not trying to take up anyone else’s time and fearing that the barista can see your tip, you quickly tap the middle option and walk away. A few minutes later, you are presented with your latte, and you head over to the creamer area to add in your Splenda and stir it in yourself.
Many Americans like myself are becoming increasingly frustrated with the tipping culture in America. In fact, according to a new Bankrate Survey, 30% of Americans say tipping is out of control. According to Shubhranshu Singh, a Johns Hopkins Business School professor, this phenomenon goes back to the pandemic. During the pandemic, many Americans, seeing the need to help local businesses, began tipping in places they usually wouldn’t. This, coupled with the explosion of Point of Sales (POS) systems like Square or Toast, created a wave of digital tipping that surged past the pandemic-era economy. This is exacerbated by the expansion of digital tipping into industries where you would otherwise not see them, like Coffee Shops and retail stores. This phenomenon is called ‘Tip Creep’. But now, Americans are getting annoyed with the turn of the iPad.
According to that same Bankrate survey, 32% of Americans are annoyed with pre-entred tipping options. This makes sense for several reasons. For one, customers feel pressured or obligated into tipping for minimal actual service. Don’t get me wrong, the valet who runs across the parking lot in 90-degree weather to get your car deserves your tip. But, as someone who has worked in coffee for many years, the barista is only sometimes as deserving as your valet attendant or table server. Another reason tip creep is frustrating Americans is the innate social pressure of the digital POS system. When you are waiting in a long line, you only want to get out and get your item promptly. But when you are forced to tip in front of everyone, the social pressure of the line and the barista who may or may not be able to see your tip can be jarring.
Another reason Americans are frustrated with tipping culture is Tipflation. Tipflation describes the rising percentage or dollar amount of listing options on the screen. According to a Capterra survey on tipping, most surveyors reported 15% as the lowest option offered on many POS systems. So not only are consumers feeling obligated to tip, but they also are tipping more than they ever usually have. According to NPR, the average tip in America is now 20%. That’s a tip you leave at a nice restaurant, not a retail store, where you grab an item off the shelf and checkout.
Tipping is an excellent way to show that you appreciate the service. Still, when it is obligatory, it takes away the value of the tip itself. If tipping 20% is so important to the workers at a coffee shop or retail store, it’s time we start discussing what a real living wage looks like. 41% of Americans agree. Start compelling businesses to pay their employees more rather than shaking us down for tips.