‘Guilt Tipping:’ Pressure to tip has gotten out of control
We’re tipping past the point of no return.
Paying via tablet is now the convenient norm at pizzerias, coffee shops, fast food joints and other quick-services spots across the city, but the gadgets are quick to ask if you want to add a healthy gratuity to your order. Touch screens typically prompt patrons to leave a tip ranging from 18 to 30% — and sometimes even higher — when they grab and go.
Occasionally, the prompts replace the old tip jar — upping the ante on what was customarily a tossed buck or some loose change. But in many instances, patrons are being pressured to pony up at places where they’ve never been expected to tip before — say, for waiting on line for their burgers and fries at Five Guys. And they’re not happy about the sudden ubiquity of gratuity gauging.
“I was somewhere spending $23 on just coffee and pastries and the suggested tip was another $8 and I simply said no way. I’ll give a dollar or so as a custom tip amount, but let’s have a reality check here,” said Jared Goodman, a 26-year-old recruiter who lives in Brooklyn. “Recently I got a quick bite with my girlfriend and the suggested tip amounts were 25, 35 and even 40%. That’s just insane.”
Helen Suskin, a consultant from the Upper East Side told The Post that even though she tips regularly on everything from coffee to baked goods, her generosity isn’t exactly coming from the heart. When you order from a counter, she said, “there is no added service,” yet she feels compelled to leave gratuity anyway. “You can call that guilt tipping.”
Others, however, say they won’t be cowed by the machines.
“I don’t tip people who just are doing their jobs by doing counter work,” Chelsea resident Stanley Vogel said, adding that he always tips servers at full-service restaurants. But, “like in a bakery if they’re just giving me a loaf of bread, I’m not gonna tip ’em for that … I never tip people who are counter people that just bring me something I can get myself.”
Smart tablets haven’t changed anything for him: “I’m puzzled that these people who are just doing their job expect a tip for it.”
Show me the money
Some wonder if businesses are doing this to pad their bottom line.
In New York City, restaurant servers often make below minimum wage, and patrons are expected to reward their hard work with tips that will augment their salaries. Yet “fast food” workers — a legal category that includes baristas and cashiers — are guaranteed the full minimum wage of $15 an hour.
The popular electronic payment process system Square lets business owners dole out the electronic tips in a variety of ways: it could go directly to the person who processed the transaction or it might be pooled across staff, either per transaction (i.e. a $5 tip would yield $1 for 5 eligible employees) or by hours worked.
But, unlike the old days where you might directly hand a 10-spot to your server, nobody seems to have a handle on where the counter-service tips exactly go.
The Post called four locations of Five Guys to ask how gratuities are divided among staffers. Two managers said they were “not sure exactly how;” the other two declined to respond.
“I’m skeptical of the whole thing,” said former busboy Bryan Reilly, 24 of Massapequa, Long Island. “It feels like it’s becoming my responsibility to make up for their workers being paid so little.
“This ‘tip everywhere’ thing is getting extremely out of hand.”
‘Oh, he’s a cheapskate’
Due to the vagaries around the new tipping demands, Vogel, and his pal — “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” director Jack Sholder — feel entitled to skip the tip.
Still, they say that technology makes it awkward.
“I used to go to this butcher shop all the time and I never tipped in the jar. I was friendly with all the guys — but I never tipped,” Sholder said. “Now it comes up [digitally] and it feels like, ‘Oh, he’s a cheapskate, he didn’t tip.’ It puts pressure on me so I really don’t like it, I feel it should be more voluntary.”
Naomi Blanco, a tourist from the Bay Area, said that guilt isn’t the only drawback to digital tipping.
When “you’re just pushing a button,” she said, there’s less appreciation from the staff. “You don’t get a lot of ‘wow, thanks so much!’ It’s just kind of like there’s an expectation from their side.”
Experts say that no matter what the delivery method, even a modest gratuity means something.
“My suggestion is you do leave a tip even if it’s small, at least it’s something,” said etiquette expert and author Jacqueline Whitmore, adding that she typically leaves a 10 to 15% gratuity for takeout services and suggests others give at least 10%. “The bottom line is this. Tipping is good karma … it’s never mandatory, but it’s customary.”
Pandemic tipped the scales
That’s why some big-hearted New Yorkers are just going with the cash flow. They say the pandemic has pulled at their heart — and purse — strings. Even famed restaurateur Danny Meyer has backed away from his famed “no tips allowed” policy at all of his eateries due to the financial stresses placed on his staff by COVID-19.
“I would say I felt more uncomfortable about it before COVID, but now I know the sacrifices that so many service people have made. So now I’d be more inclined to pay 20%,” Jerri Batson, Blanco’s mother, said in Columbus Circle’s Turnstyle Market.
Still, generosity in New York doesn’t come cheap, she noted. “It was almost $20 for these three little coffees with the tip.”
Similarly, Linda Flaxer and Mary Canner left a $10 gratuity for two lobster rolls they ordered from a Times Square stall.
“I love [the tablet concept]I try to be generous with tipping,” Flaxer, a Lincoln Square resident and writing tutor, told The Post, noting she will even tip 20% on takeout meals. “Those people are working really hard … I want these places to stay in business.”
And despite any kvetching, most city-dwellers seem to agree: many New Yorkers voluntarily tip 25% according to a Popmenu report from December.
That widespread support is much appreciated by Sam and Nataliya Ilyayev, the 37 and 35-year-old owners of Ukrainian food stand Blintz Box in the Columbus Circle marketplace.
“People have been very generous [with tipping]. We opened four months ago just as Omicron was hitting,” Sam said from behind the register.
“Personally, I view that the tip culture where we live has become part of the norm to the point where people don’t view it as any sort of pressure,” he added. “Whether you want to do it or not is completely up to the patron.”
In addition to a touch screen, the husband and wife pair keep a conventional tip box out, with an estimated 20% of patrons opting to show appreciation the old-fashioned way.
In fact, Ilyayevs say their customers are so giving that they have also set up another collection fund — by way of cash and QR code — that goes directly to charities supporting Ukraine from their small, takeout only shop.
“We’ve reached about $250 in the past two or three weeks,” Sam said.