Monday, May 27, 2024

US tipping culture is excessive; even self-checkouts expect tips.

Opinion

There are prompts to add around 20% for simply buying a pint of milk at the local shop or picking up a coffee. How can we stop this madness?

The Out-of-Control Tipping Culture in the US

Wed 16 Aug 2023 06.00 EDT

The US may be a bitterly divided country, but I think I’ve found a topic which pretty much everyone can unite behind: tipping culture is out of control. The US norm of tipping at least 20% on a meal, and at (the very, very) least $1 a drink at a bar, has always confused European tourists. In recent years, however, tipping prompts have become so ubiquitous, have spread to so many new areas of commerce, that even Americans are confused about when and where a tip is appropriate.

There is now almost no payment transaction in the US that doesn’t involve a prompt for a tip. If you go to get a coffee or pick up a takeout order, for example, an electronic screen will almost certainly get swivelled in your direction, asking if you want to add a 20%, 25% or 30% tip. More confusingly, however, if you go to the local convenience store to buy a pint of milk or a pack of crisps, chances are you’ll still see that tip screen pointed at you. You’re even prompted to leave a tip at some self-checkouts.

Digital payment systems, including the tip prompts, became ubiquitous during the pandemic, and many of us were happy to pay extra to keep businesses afloat. Now, however, the constant nudging for tips at every interaction feels intrusive and stressful. Are we really expected to give a minimum 20% tip when we pick up some bread from the bakery, or grab a vanilla cone from the ice-cream shop? I don’t know but, out of sheer embarrassment, I generally hit the 20% button. As much as I can afford to, anyway. Last week I got my toddler an ice-cream (the cheapest ice-cream from a not-fancy local ice-cream shop) and it cost me $7.55 (£5.90) with tax and tip. That’s absolutely bonkers.

The observation that tipping culture in America is out of control is far from an original thought. A quick Google search will throw up millions of articles proclaiming how ridiculous things have become. What is harder to find, however, is any sort of suggestion about how we solve this.

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