In his article in the NY Times on 11/15/23, Peter Coy claims that changes in tipping technology and customs have shifted the balance of power away from the customers and toward the providers of service. The objective of my article is to explore how tipping has become a little more unpredictable over the last few years. My focus will be on food delivery and restaurant gratuities.
Here are some questions I have about leaving gratuities in today's world. Why do you tip? How do you determine a tip? If you were going to leave a big tip, what would the overall evening look like? With a newer trend of more businesses using the Point of Sale machines, does that introduce anxiety in tipping? How do you feel about leaving a significant tip after a restaurant carryout? Do tip jars annoy you?
During COVID-19, my daughter encouraged me to leave at least a 20% tip, if not more, even if the service was just adequate. I went along, at least for several years. Many people struggled financially during COVID-19, so I had no issue helping out more. I appreciated the wait staff showing up, and paying it forward was my mantra. Being more generous during COVID-19 was the least I could do; besides, it feels good.
Even after the health crisis has abated, my daughter has conveyed to me on a number of occasions that the average tip is no longer 15% but 20%, with outstanding service receiving 25 - 30%. Perhaps my school is older, but I see an average tip of 15%. I'll tip 20% if the service is quite good. I will tip 25%, but the food must be very good, and the wait staff must know the best times to interact with my guests.
Some restaurants have switched to mobile Point-of-sale terminals when paying a bill after leaving a tip. I'm not necessarily a fan of how it's sometimes executed. Sometimes, the server will bring the device to the table without allowing the client to review the bill. In this scenario, you may focus on the total and quickly decide how much to leave as a tip while the person
directly impacted is on the other side of the device. It can be unnerving, especially if not expected. To be fair, some restaurants will leave the POS device on the table and give you time to review it --- that's how I think this newer approach should be handled. Paying a bill and leaving a financial gift is personal; some customers need a little time to reflect.
Some take-out restaurants will use these POS devices as you pick up your pizza or sandwiches. As you confirm the subtotal, you're sometimes confronted with a tip screen, which is hard to resist, especially if unexpected. Why should wait staff at carryout restaurants be tipped between 15 - 20 percent for minimal work? Isn't this task a function of their job? Compare that to how much work an actual server inside that restaurant makes in gratuity by doing much more work. My workaround here is always to carry several singles when picking up sandwiches or pizza. That way, I bypass the electronic option for tipping, making the interaction more palatable.
According to the article, DoorDash (which delivers takeout food from restaurants) piloted a new program earlier this year. Its app warns that if customers don't add a tip when they order, the order may take longer. Because no one wants to receive cold food, there's been a decrease in no-tip orders. I'm not a typical DoorDash customer, so I'm inclined to wait to provide a gratuity until the service has been rendered. I would assume most younger people know the "sweet spot" for tips, so they typically get their food in a reasonable amount of time, and it's rarely cold. Because the corporate office knows the level of tips given, they can control a driver's salary in two ways. More tips than the average might mean a reduction in salary, and the reverse is true -- a reduction in tips might mean an increase in salary. Would this qualify as a new tipping trend in the US?
I've read somewhere that people tip more because bad karma may come their way. That's not my angle, even if I'm dining alone. In a restaurant venue, I tip based on the ambiance, the service, and the food quality. I choose certain restaurants where their ambiance is quite acceptable, which leaves service and food quality intact. If the food is good, then the other part of the equation, the amount of gratuity, comes down to service -- that service could occur for fine dining, casual dining, and fast casual. Of course, the percentage I leave for each dining type depends on the service level provided.
According to Peter Coy's article, some businesses leverage the tip information in two ways.
Management doesn't always know how well their restaurant staff is doing, so seeing the amounts of gratuities on different days and times may indicate success or needs improvement. If a weekend evening staff averages between 17 - 20% tips, this should be welcoming to management. It's proof in the pudding. Having tangible data regarding tips can better assess how an individual or the entire group is doing.
Second, by knowing the percentage of tips compared with gross sales, businesses, especially in the restaurant business, can use this data to charge different prices based on what a guest may pay. Restaurants may rely on big tippers to help subsidize staff wagers. Even if it is only 30% of the clientele, if they tip the highest amount recommended or above, the restaurants may be able to keep their prices lower, despite how the rest of the clientele tips.
From a historical perspective, in 1922, Emily Post wrote, "You will not get good service unless you tip generously," and "The rule is ten percent." Boy, have things changed in 100 years! According to a PayScale study, the median tip is 19.5%. In recent years, some restaurants and wait staff have suggested 25% or 30% is the proper gratuity level. Unsurprisingly, restaurants would favor larger tips to help subsidize low wages paid. According to the Real Simple website article in February '23, tipping 15 percent for average service and 20 percent for very good service. It seems that years before COVID-19 and subsequently, there is a lack of uniformity with the appropriate gratuity levels. So not only are there new technology and customs in tipping, but what's the appropriate amount to leave as a gratuity for good service depends on who you ask. Randomly asking four individuals may generate four different responses.
I volunteer at the front desk of a hospital in Lake County, Illinois. With a valet service, I often see the interaction between the valet and the driver. People don't typically tip -- they may not know they need to or should, and frankly, the valet workers almost exclusively rely on tips. I watch them often run to fetch the cars, aimed at very good service. To valet workers' credit, they don't hold out their hand after fetching a car trying to coerce the driver to provide a financial benefit for their work. Juxtapose that with a carryout service bringing your pizza to the counter from ten feet away and wondering if you'll provide a nice tip for their service.
I don't frequent too many cafes, but many of them contain a "tip jar" in full view of the customer. Even though some are annoyed or angry that this looks too much like begging, I ignore it for the most part. However, if the wait staff or barista greets me with a smile and maintains genuine good eye contact during the transaction, that attitude certainly motivates me to add to the tip jar. One could argue that in this type of interaction, the server does more than just the basic functions of the job.