Tipping wars; Americans less generous as more places expect gratuities, including Starbucks, Panera and McDonald's

Pete Lakeman

“People are tipping less in part because of inflation, experts say. They are also overwhelmed with the number of places that give them the option to tip with a card on an iPad, leading people to be less generous.” People are being asked to tip in far too many places, including quick-serve restaurants such as Starbucks, McDonald's, and Panera.

According to this article, tipping in the US has a dark past. “Tipping spread after the Civil War as an exploitative measure to keep down wages of newly-freed slaves in service occupations. Pullman was the most notable for its tipping policies. The railroad company hired thousands of Black porters, but paid them low wages and forced them to rely on tips to make a living.”

Since 1966, the minimum wage for tipped workers has stagnated at $ 2.13, way lower than the federal minimum wage of $ 7.25. If tips don’t fill the gap, employers are supposed to make it up. They don’t always do that due to wage theft among other reasons.

Fast forward to today. It’s generally expected after one receives a service, hopefully a good one, that a customer will tip. Common consensus agrees that a 15-20% tip is decent. During the pandemic, customers were encouraged to tip more to help keep restaurants from folding. Most people were quite understanding.

Stubborn inflation has changed the dynamics. Everything costs more making it harder for some customers to feel generous with their tips. That’s not the only issue. How we tip has changed too. It has gone digital. The article talks about how tipping on a touch screen is going a step too far. Since the server is waiting behind the counter and customers behind you can see your tipping amount, it can induce guilt or become very uncomfortable.

Not for lack of effort, but I’m yet to understand the tipping culture fully. Showing gratitude is universal. Demanding it after being paid to do your work, is not. I’m not anti-tipping but I’d like someone to fairly explain why a paying customer needs to pick up an employer’s slack. It was a different experience when I recently visited the Bahamas. A tip of 15% was included in the bill with an option for an extra tip.

What do you think? Should we legislate our way out of tipping? What is your tipping philosophy?

Disclaimer: This article was written for educational and informational purposes only.

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I'm credentialed social studies and biological sciences teacher with over twenty years of classroom experience. I'm an avid gardener and tech DIYer and I love nature walks.

California State

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