Why You're Tipping More Than You Used To

April 2nd 2015

Laura Donovan

Tipping can be a source of trouble for low-paid service workers, but customers might be more generous than you think. As venues adopt electronic payment and touch screen transaction devices, more customers are asked whether they'd like to leave a tip before signing off on purchases. This doesn't just happen at restaurants -- coffee shops, cupcake joints, cabs, and many other businesses provide customers with an option of leaving a tip while finalizing their transaction. The tip option creates pressure to not look like a cheap jerk, so many give in.

According to The Washington Post, more people are choosing to tip, even when they don't have to. Credit card payment systems typically give customers the option of leaving no tip, 15 percent, 20 percent, or 25 percent. Popular payment processing company Square reports that up to half its transactions include tips, a jump from 2013, when that number was just 38 percent. In some instances, electronic tips are higher than cash tips. That's what happened to New York City cab drivers after taxis were equipped with credit card payment systems. In 2009, tips on credit card transactions in New York cabs were 22 percent higher than on cash transactions.

The basic logic makes sense: People don't always have dollar bills on hand, but they can always tip via card.

Why some customers hate the suggested tip option.

Customers don't always appreciate feeling coerced into shelling out extra money. ATTN: recently spoke with service workers about tipping, and one cashier said she was berated for her employer's choice to include an electronic tip option:

"I work as a cashier at a deli so tips aren't necessarily expected the way they would be at a restaurant, but nevertheless we actually make pretty good tips. Usually, I walk away with $100 in tips at the end of a shift. However, some people are very upset that a deli would DARE have a tipping option on our iPad register. I once had a fellow server lecture me at length that mere cashiers shouldn't receive tips, that it was, in fact, a slap in the face to 'real' waiters like him and that he was being very generous by giving me a dollar when I didn't actually deserve anything ... [I]f you don't want to tip us... don't tip us! Easy as that."

XO Jane columnist Sarah Bartlett recently published a piece about her problem with tipping.

"I do not want anybody living in poverty, but I don’t think that the wage of someone should depend on the whim of a customer, either. Servers and bartenders deserve a solid minimum wage just like the rest of us," she wrote.

Bartlett noted that she eats the majority of her meals in Washington state, which is increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour. From her standpoint, this is a fair wage, and customers shouldn't be forced to give even more to people earning this much, "[W]e are still expected to tip people on top of that wage, just as we would in states where waitstaff are making less than $3 per hour ... I personally do not believe that a tipped minimum wage should be allowed. That just lets the employer off easy while asking the customer to pick up the slack on what should be an employer’s expense. It isn’t fair to the worker or the customer, and I would advocate for the tipped minimum wage to be abolished."

Finally, Bartlett slammed tip options, which can manipulate customers into giving more, "From tip jars that practically smack you in the face when you’re ordering a coffee to the new tablet payment trend that 'suggests' you add a $1-2 tip to your transaction, even if you all bought was a $2.50 cup of tea, you sometimes have to go out of your way NOT to tip."

Tipping is an admirable way to help those who aren't working the high-paying jobs, but as Bartlett mentioned in her own article, it grants customers way too much power to determine the worth of servers. It would be better for customers and workers alike if everyone received affordable wages. Many restaurants are adopting this change, and non-food service businesses should make sure to do the same.