- Some people are experiencing “tipping fatigue” as more businesses request tips for more things.
- But customers are pushing back, even as some workers say they’re relying on tips more than ever.
- Is it OK to simply not tip in some cases — even when you’re asked to? Here’s what experts say.
Tipping culture appears to be spreading everywhere you look — and some customers are sick of it, wondering when it’s OK to simply not tip.
After all, these days, when you make a purchase at a coffee shop, convenience store, or even a self-checkout kiosk, you might be prompted on the checkout screen for a tip.
While some customers might be ignoring these prompts in a bout of tipping fatigue, others might just be wondering what the unspoken rules are these days.
Their frustration is clear: Roughly 66% of US adults have a negative view of tipping, and nearly 1 in 3 thinking tipping culture has gotten out of control, according to a Bankrate survey from June.
“People are being asked to tip in contexts where they have not traditionally been asked to tip, and they’re being asked to tip larger amounts in those occupations where there are used to leaving tips — and it’s that felt social pressure that’s irritating people,” said tipping expert Michael Lynn, who is a professor of consumer behavior and marketing at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.
Insider talked to tipping and etiquette experts to figure out exactly when you can forgo a tip without making a faux pas.
‘Take it as a suggestion, not an obligation’
During the pandemic, people began tipping more generously, which set a new precedent for how much some workers expected to earn from tips. Now, as the world adjusts to a post-pandemic normal, some businesses have continued relying on tips to bolster their workers’ wages.
The ubiquity of checkout stations with tip prompts also comes from the growing number of businesses that have adopted consumer-facing point-of-sale systems, like Toast or Square, over the past several years.
Thomas Farley, a New York-based etiquette expert known as Mister Manners told Insider that those factors don’t necessarily translate into the expectation that customers should also tip more.
“Just because the screen in these point-of-purchase or over-the-counter-type transactions provides you with that suggestion, you should take it as merely that: a suggestion and not an obligation,” Farley said.
You can skip the tip at self-checkout kiosks …
We know to tip for service we receive, but what if we’re providing the service ourselves?
“The thing that really just blows my mind is that people are being asked to tip for self-service kiosk and checkout lines,” Lynn said. “That’s the one that surprises me the most because it’s not clear who’s receiving those tips.”
If you’re ringing up your own items, don’t worry about tipping, he says.
… and skip tipping for takeout and counter service, like coffee
If you’re picking up your own food, you can likely skip the tip, too. (Food delivery, of course, is different when it comes to tips.)
“If you don’t want to leave a tip for your takeout order, it’s just sitting there on the counter and you grab it, you’ve already paid for it and you’re out, you’re just gonna grab it and go,” said etiquette expert Avery Johnson of The Southern Academy of Etiquette. Still, she notes you can tip 10% or more on carryout if you had special requests, like extras, for example.
Lynn also skips the tip on takeout — and even in counter-service situations, like getting a coffee and a pastry at a coffee shop.
Don’t feel pressured to tip for a sweatshirt you just bought
Tip prompts that pop up when you’re making retail purchases are where the rules of tipping etiquette might get a little blurry, Farley said.
Say you landed tickets to see the biggest concert of the year, and you want to buy a $100 sweatshirt to commemorate the experience. You pay a visit to the stand selling concert merch where the salesperson needs to pull down the sweatshirt you picked from a rack with a pole. When you go to check out, the screen prompts you for a tip on the transaction.
Customers who have never tipped for this type of transaction before might wonder if they should fork out a few more dollars here.
Farley said that even in these types of scenarios, customers aren’t expected to tip. “It’s challenging to have a transaction, especially if somebody smiles, and they’re pleasant, and, you know, they, provide nice service, but there is still no obligation to do so,” he said.
… or a tipping on meal for which you already paid gratuity
Farley said the most unexpected tip request he’s ever received was at a sit-down restaurant where the menu had already indicated that a standard gratuity fee of 20% would be included in the bill.
When the server handed Farley the final bill, though, he was hit with a prompt for another 20% tip by the card reader.
“I was very confused,” Farley said. When he asked the waiter why there was a second charge, he said the server told him the 20% gratuity charge was for the whole staff to split, but 20% prompt on the card reader was specifically for his service that night.
“The service was not 40% service, the service was 20% service, but I was stuck into paying 40%,” Farley said.
If you’re worried you might find yourself in this situation, Farley said you can ask the restaurant to waive the initial gratuity fee. “If you feel strongly about it, and you feel that burden shouldn’t be on you, restaurant owners that I’ve encountered, and have read interviews with, will say that for any consumers that push back and request that that charge be removed, they will comply.”
Otherwise, he suggested “do your homework” on a restaurant’s tipping policy, so you can avoid a potentially awkward encounter.
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