Tipping Overload

It is everywhere. You buy a sandwich, you're asked to tip. Grabbing a t-shirt at a concert's merch booth? You're asked to tip. Picking up an online order you needed to pay for at the counter? Tip.

Stop the insanity!

Tipping is uniquely American and we have created a society where employees are severely underpaid (legally) because they can earn tips. That system alone is awful because people should earn a living wage regardless of tips. However, tipping has permeated into situations where the employee is doing their job or minimal work. Sara Morrison at Vice has more about how tipping is everywhere.

Sometimes it seems as though everywhere you go, you’re asked to chip in a little something extra, even for things that weren’t tipped services just a few years ago. Tips are requested at automatic car washes, for Botox treatments, even for smoothie-making robots, usually through those touchscreen tablets a lot of businesses use as their point of sale (POS) systems. Thanks to a combination of technology, social pressure, and a pandemic that accelerated the adoption of contactless digital payment methods, those tablets have become ubiquitous, and so have the tip requests. At a time when the prices of many goods and services are already far higher than they used to be due to inflation, we’re paying even more again to the workers who provide them. 

Call it tipflation, if you will.

It’s hard to say just how bad this tipflation has gotten because there isn’t much real data to go by. We do know that in the United States, people are generally asked or expected to tip far more and for more types of services than anywhere else in the world, so tipflation is going to be especially bad here.


One simple psychological factor in the tip request is you're asked to tip IN FRONT of the person who would receive it. When they swivel the tablet back to their side of the counter they see what you chose. Of course, the social pressure to tip that person is immense. "Don't you want to toss me an extra few dollars?" it basically asks and what isn't said is implied: you should feel guilty for saying no because it's a tip for good service. You had good service, right? RIGHT??

No. I didn't have good service. I had expected service. Ordering a coffee and having someone hand it to me is the basic level of what a coffee shop does. Asking for a t-shirt at a merch booth and the person pulling it out of a box to hand it to me is not good service. It is the literal job the person was hired to do.

Will it stop? No, because it's extremely lucrative. Here's more from Morrison on that:

The tip prompts are also designed to push the customer into not just leaving a tip, but leaving an amount that the business “suggests.” Businesses can set those suggested amounts, which is why one place might go with something like 10 percent, 15 percent, and 20 percent, while another might do 20 percent, 25 percent, and 30 percent. They can also request dollar amounts instead of percentages, or enable “smart tipping,” which switches from percentages to dollar amounts if a purchase is under a certain threshold. That’s how you might get a suggestion to leave an extra $3 for a $3.75 chocolate croissant, which is effectively an 80 percent tip.

In no other profession are we given tips for doing our jobs. At no time in my life was I tossed even a penny for doing what I was hired to do. Provide excellent service on a call with a customer? Nobody cares. Get off your lazy butt and take the next call. Delivered that product on time? Nice job. Next ticket!

Tipping for basic, expected encounters with employees need to be on the same level. However, until people stop giving extra money to someone simply because they did the job they were hired to do, I don't see this stopping anytime soon.

These tip prompts make money. And that's all the motivation businesses need to keep a (not at all) good thing going.