Tipping has hit the tipping point for many Americans.
“Tipflation” is a term on everyone’s lips and fingertips this summer as both tip amounts and the places where people are prompted to tip have increased. And the tipping fatigue is largely driven by more places putting touchscreen tip screens in front of you that automatically suggest gratuity — sometimes starting as high as 30% — for everything from a prepackaged snack to T-shirts and farmers market produce. You know, things that never seemed to call for a tip before.
Payment apps are getting in on the act too, also suggesting tips that are often higher than the 10% or 15% standard for some simple services. And shoppers have taken to social-media platforms like Reddit to complain about even self-service kiosks — yes, that’s self-service — showing a tip prompt at checkout.
A recent Bankrate report found two in three (66%) surveyed Americans admitting they have a negative view of tipping these days, with almost one-third (30%) of those surveyed complaining that tipping has “gotten out of control.”
Indeed, MarketWatch financial etiquette columnist, The Moneyist, has been fielding tipping questions furiously over the past few months. “Tipping culture is out of control,” wrote in one reader who claimed that they were hit up for a 15% tip while trying to donate to a charity online.
Another letter writer said they feel like they’re being “tricked into overtipping” when they dine out, noting many New York City restaurants calculate their tipping recommendations off final amount of the meal (including tax) and not the pre-tax subtotal.
And a third complains that “all of these tips add up,” and wonders whether they still need to tip in states where servers are being paid minimum wage or higher. “I’m sick and tired of tipping 20% every time I eat out. Is it ever OK to tip less?” asks another.
Spoiler alert: In the dining-out cases, The Moneyist joins most experts in reinforcing that it’s expected to tip servers; you would only withhold gratuity if the service was truly abominable.
But there’s a gray area in many other places — especially when those touchscreen tipping suggestions come in. Even etiquette experts who make a career of telling people how much to tip, among other finer points of common courtesy, have said they totally understand why many folks are feeling extreme tipping fatigue right now.
“There is genuine frustration around tipping, and understandable confusion, or even a feeling of pressure that people resist against,” Daniel Post Senning, the great-great grandson of etiquette icon Emily Post, recently told MarketWatch.
What’s not helping matters: inflation driving up the cost of many goods and services, which in turn drives up gratuity. Consumers are increasingly worried about their standard of living falling thanks to inflation.
But here’s three things to keep in mind before “tipflation” has you swearing off tipping anyone ever again.
- Tipping is optional in most cases. Those touchscreen tipping screens are really just the modern-day version of the tipping jar: once upon a time, when everyone used cash for everything, you might have dropped in a dollar or your spare change as a tip. So think of today’s tipping screens at grab-and-go cafes or convenience stores in the same way: you don’t have to tap the recommend 15% or 20% tip. You can hit “custom” and leave a dollar. Or you can smile, say “thank you” and tip nothing at all.
- There are many professions and services where you never tip, such government workers and U.S. Postal Service employees, or teachers, doctors and nurses, since this would raise ethical concerns. Check out a list here. And you certainly don’t need to tip a self-service kiosk. As for retail cashiers, they are already being paid minimum wage, so you can skip the tip there — unless you’re a regular who’s friendly with the staff and you would like to leave more, or maybe you received exemplary service.
- Tipping is supposed to make the giver and the recipient feel good, not stressed out. It’s about giving thanks or showing appreciation for great service. So even if you have under-tipped or over-tipped before, there’s no tipping police coming after you. Check out our ultimate guide to tipping in 2023 to arm yourself with the knowledge on how much to tip next time, for everything from Uber or Lyft rides and dog groomers, to your barber or eyebrow waxer.
More on MarketWatch to help you tip like a pro: