Gratuities: Is tipping out of control?
Ordering a latte these days “comes with a splash of guilt,” said Jennifer Levitz in The Wall Street Journal. A growing number of coffee shops and bakeries use tablet credit card readers such as Square as registers. A clerk swipes your card and spins around the tablet screen, which asks you to sign your name and pick a tip: “18%, 20%, 25%.” The traditional tip jar gave customers all sorts of viable excuses for not coughing up “or tossing in just a few coins.” The Emily Post Institute says there’s no obligation to tip counter help. But electronic prompts explicitly force customers to opt out of tipping—“with the person who just served them looking on, along with everyone else waiting in line.” That social pressure leads many to pay up. “It’s so awkward,” says one coffee shop customer in Stamford, Conn. “You press the middle button so you don’t look cheap.” Others resent the prompts. “You buy a muffin, and you tip the person who carried it 14 inches from the case to the counter?” says Susan Randall, a private investigator in Vermont. “Please.”
So what should you tip at a coffee shop? asks Kate Bernot in TheTakeout.com. The average American hands over 11 percent, so about 50 cents on a $4.50 flat white. But the numbers vary from 7.5 percent in New Jersey—home to “the stingiest coffee tippers”—to 17.5 percent in generous Alaska. And does a “fancy-pants latte—half-caff, extra foam, with a dusting of mocha powder” merit extra? Coffee shops are just one of the many businesses that are getting more aggressive about gratuities, said Christopher Elliott in The Washington Post. Even bike-rental and laundry workers now ask for tips. Plus there are ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. “The question ‘Do you tip Uber drivers?’ gets 17,035 Google searches a month.” Consumers fed up with all these gratuity prompts, tip jars, and outstretched hands understandably “seem ready to end the practice once and for all.”
Some sit-down restaurants have tried “no-tipping” policies, said Mengqi Sun in The Wall Street Journal—and “reversed course.” At one Manhattan restaurant that banned tips, the staff “nagged a lot, and they complained about not being rewarded during busy times.” Agern, a Scandinavian-themed restaurant in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, had a no-tip policy, like eateries in the owner’s homeland, Denmark. It paid staff higher salaries instead, through higher menu prices. But both staff and customers “were resistant to gratuity-included menus.” In February the restaurant ended the practice and cut prices by 20 percent. It’s been a win-win, with more customers flowing in and servers “earning 25 percent to 45 percent more per hour.” ■