Is Tipping Out of Control?

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Photo from MorgueFile: Lemar

A recent survey by WalletHub showed that almost 3 out of 4 Americans think tipping has gotten out of control. Experts note that part of the problem is the automated point-of- sale keypads that now automatically prompt for tips when using a debit or credit card. People often feel guilty with the service provider watching them as they use the keypad, so they tip. Inflation is not helping, with people feeling a strain on their pocketbooks a tip just seems like more strain. And another part of the problem is that no one teaches when to tip and when not to tip any more, or how much to give.

When Baby Boomers were growing up, the art and science of tipping was taught to them by their parents. A tip was given for services provided, from a maitre d’ in a fine dining restaurant providing a diner with the best table to the guys who move furniture. Today, it has become more of a muddle as society changes.

According to Education First, “Tipping became the norm in the 1900s. Rumor has it that the practice drifted over from Europe thanks to the aristocracy. After their European visits, where tipping was part of the culture, they wanted to seem more cultured and in-the-know than their peers.”

Tipping culture was legitimized in the 1960s when the United States Congress created a “tipping credit,” allowing employers to pay an employee under minimum wage if tips were earned. While some workers depend on tips for income, like those in the restaurant industry, for others it is a bonus. However, the Education First article notes that everyone needs to be aware of the unwritten rules there and tip accordingly.

Bankrate.com notes, “The more skill and experience that goes into a service, the more you should consider tipping. Someone who you have a personalized relationship with that knows your preferences also might earn a bigger tip, since they can offer knowledgeable advice and higher quality services.”

Tipping has long been a part of certain services, and as experts note, it should continue to be honored. This includes servers at sit-down restaurants; hair cutters; taxi and ride-share drivers; housekeeping staff at a hotel; baby sitters; doormen who flag taxis; porters and airport curbside check-in; a masseuse; limo drivers; and the concierge at a hotel to name a few.

The standard in many places now is 20%, up from 15% and 18%, however a server is not going to be upset with a 15% tip for adequate service as about 35% of people leave no tip at all according to Bankrate.com. And because server’s livelihoods depend on tips, most experts suggest leaving at least 10% even if service is not great. They suggest commenting on the bad service graciously instead of leaving nothing.

Movers, like housekeeping staff and bell persons, are not tipped a percentage, but rather a set rate per hour worked. In the case of a housekeeper it’s about a flat rate per day, and a bellperson by the number suitcases handled. The current going rate for movers is $10 per person for two hours or less of moving time, $20 per person for four hours or less of moving time, and $40 per person for eight hours or less. If it is hot or the move is a hard one, additional funds should be added to the tip.

“When fine antiques are involved and the movers are having to do extra work to insure they are not damaged, have to take lots of heavy furniture up several flights of stairs, or they have to use a small elevator instead of a freight elevator, I tip them extra,” said a former project manager for a senior move management company.

The biggest questions seem to be arising at the local coffee shop, where the point-of-sale device is prompting for a tip and making a suggestion for the amount of that tip. About 22% of Americans tip at a coffee shop according to the WalletHub survey, but when presented with a tip screen about 25% get annoyed and either tip less or don’t tip at all. Sixty-four percent of people surveyed think tipping should only be done when you feel like it, not for services rendered.

“I think tip requests have become more pervasive because of technological advancements that allow tip screens to be added to any point of sale…system,” said Cortney Norris, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Oklahoma State University. “For consumers, it has become exhausting that every time you check out somewhere, instead of just signing your name, there is a tip screen and then you have to ask yourself, do I have to tip this person and if I do, how much do I tip? Then there is the awkward moment where the employee notices you did not tip and you cringe a little inside. I think the uncertainty of those two questions and the ensuing awkwardness are leading people to become irritated with tipping.”

In more gracious times, tipping was done by “polite society” with no mention of the money passing between the two parties. It was simply given quietly for service rendered, an acknowledgment on the part of the receiver of their appreciation for the work of the server and an inspiration to a server to be proud of providing gracious and skilled service. It was initially meant to insure neither the person being served nor the person doing the service took each other for granted.

In the WalletHub article on tipping, their analyst states, “Tipping is so ingrained in our culture that half of Americans say they often leave a tip due to social pressure rather than good service.”

Things have certainly changed as society has changed. Currently, there is an ongoing debate about whether tipping should be obligatory or continue to be voluntary. In the meantime, it is important to remember that service does deserve appreciation. And while tipping screens are annoying, currently no one has to tip. It remains a personal choice.

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