Why Tipping Has Gotten Out of Control And What To Do About It

by | Jun 30, 2023

Tip someone who lets you pet their dog? LOL. This is a funny meme, but it captures how tipping expectations have changed

I ordered takeout the other day from a restaurant’s website. As I was checking out, I was prompted to leave a gratuity. I wasn’t going to be waited on — I was just going to run in, grab my bagged food, and leave. Should I leave a tip? If so, how much? What about this morning at a coffee shop — I ordered a large black coffee. It was handed to me along with a prompt for a gratuity. Should I tip someone for handing me a coffee?

The Explosion of Tipping in the U.S.

Until recently, in the U.S., we mainly tipped waiters, bartenders, bellhops, hotel housekeepers, Taxi/Uber drivers, hairdressers, and food delivery drivers. All people who provide a personal service to us. But now we’re prompted to tip in situations where minimal or zero personal services are provided. Thomas Farley, an etiquette expert notes, “What we’re seeing now nationwide is something that is known as ‘tipflation’ … at every opportunity we’re being presented with a tablet that’s asking us how much we’d like to tip.” Here’s some data: “In February 2020, just before the pandemic began, in food and drink specifically, the share of remote transactions when tipping was offered was 43.4%, according to Square. In February 2023, that share was 74.5%.” Source.

The rise of tipping prompts is leading to tipping fatigue according to a survey conducted by Bankrate:

“Roughly two in three (66 percent) U.S. adults have a negative view about tipping, according to the survey. Americans said they believe businesses should pay employees better rather than relying so much on tips (41 percent), they’re annoyed about pre-entered tip screens (32 percent), they feel that tipping culture has gotten out of control (30 percent), they’re confused about who and how much to tip (15 percent), and they would be willing to pay higher prices if we could do away with tipping (16 percent).”

Why Has Tipping Increased?

The increase in tipping can be traced back to two things:

1. The first is technology: Point-of-sale tablets prompting a gratuity are ubiquitous. It’s easy to be asked for a tip now. Sure, it’s awkward when the cashier flips the tablet towards you and stands there while you select among some pre-set gratuity percentages. But it’d be way more awkward for them just to ask, “Would you like me to add a tip to this transaction” verbally.

2. The second reason is COVID. Cashiers and clerks became essential workers in the Pandemic. They were heroes just for showing up for work and braving exposure to other people. Tipping them for just being there was the least we could do. And it’s continued.

Why Do We Tip in the US?

I was in Switzerland last month, and there was no tipping. It felt weird not to be asked to tip at all (actually, we did get prompted to tip one time by someone who knew we were American and said, “I know you Americans like to tip, so . . . ” LOL). Why do we tip and they don’t?

Part is just cultural — we like to thank and incentivize good service. But we also tip because some service workers get paid less than market value (some “tippable employees” get paid a fraction of minimum wage) and count on gratuities to make up the difference. In many other countries, employers pay their service staff well and don’t rely on gratuities. So, it’s important to tip in the U.S. We shouldn’t stop.

But, I think we can agree that the tipping system in the U.S. is broken. Systems in other countries where employers are responsible for paying their service staff well seems to be a better model (but we’re not going to change our system anytime soon).

Where and When Should We Tip?

I don’t want to be a Scrooge. I want to be generous. Plus, it’s great to show genuine appreciation for outstanding service (when I was in Switzerland, it was painful not to tip our outstanding servers). But like the survey respondents above, I’m experiencing some tipping fatigue and confusion. Should I really tip someone for handing me my bagel or if I’m picking up carryout? Here is what some experts advise with respect to point-of-sale tipping:

  • Jodi Smith, founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Massachusetts, said that customers are right to be annoyed: “They are being prompted to tip before a service is even rendered and being prompted to tip for historically non-tippable interactions.” Handing a customer a coffee or pastry is not a tippable service, she said, although you could offer for them to keep the change if paying in cash. Source.
  • Likewise, Elaine Swann, an etiquette expert and the founder of the Swann School of Protocol says that when you are ordering from a kiosk or counter, it’s ok to say no to tipping. “Push past that awkwardness and push no tip,” Ms. Swann said. “Proprietors are offering a perk to employees and they’re putting it on the backs of consumers to absorb.” Caving in to social pressure or even a scowl from the employee is, in Ms. Swann’s opinion, “giving in to a level of entitlement that should be nonexistent.” Source.
  • But personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary notes that many service workers are underpaid and that we should err on the side of tipping. “If ever there was a time to be kindhearted, it’s now. It’s when inflation is at its highest level in 40 years. That extra dollar or two in the tip jar isn’t going to break my budget or yours. But your gratuity — even for carryout — can make the difference in someone taking home enough money to put enough food on their table.”
  • With respect to carryout orders, Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, advises, “To-go orders generally are met with confusion, frustration, and guilt. [But] In a perfect world, I would prefer we all tip a little something when possible. They bring it out to you, they’ve packaged it for you, they give you utensils, you can leave them anywhere from a couple of dollars to, depending on how big your order is, 15 percent of the bill. But if you walk up, order a burger at a fast-food restaurant and wait around for your burger, it’s not necessary to tip.”

My takeaway from researching this topic is that we all feel some tipping fatigue these days. The landscape around tipping has changed and we are inundated with prompts for gratuity and many of us are confused. We should definitely tip well for excellent service to wait staff and others providing personal service. With respect to point-of-sale and carryout orders, it’s great to be generous, but you don’t need to leave a 20% (or higher) tip even if that is the default prompt. Feel empowered to choose a smaller tip and you’re not a bad person if you leave no tip for these sort of transactions (especially if your own financial situation is strained).

Here’s an informative article from US News about what amounts are customary gratuity amounts for different types of services.


  1. Dad used to always complain about having to tip. He said the employer should pay them a fair wage. I agree, although I know the usual 20% tip would be factored into the price of the goods or service and we’d complain about the high prices even more than we do already.
    When did tipping start to be a common thing to do?
    I read that middle-class folks tend to be more generous tippers than those in the upper class. Is that true?

  2. But who gets the tip money? Isn’t that an issue?

  3. Sorta expected your Venmo handle at the end…

    • Great point Jason! It’s @bigdogtwo


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