Tip Creep in the Technology Age

You’ve probably seen them. Perhaps you’ve even purchased an item by swiping your credit card through one. If you’ve bought something from an Apple store, you definitely know what I’m talking about: those apps and accessories that turn smartphones and tablet computers into credit card payment terminals.

When the technology first came out, I thought it was genius. Suddenly, an owner of a small business – such as an artist at a craft fair – could play with the big guys. For a pretty low start-up cost, they were easily able to accept and process credit card purchases. As a customer, I liked the convenience: just swipe and sign. My credit card was never out of my sight and the receipt would instantly show up in my email.

At least I thought it was genius until the terminals began to appear at the sales counters of ice cream parlors, delis, bakeries, and coffee shops. All of a sudden, what first seemed like a convenience now feels like extortion. Technology-aided tip creep has arrived.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a grab-and-go deli to get lunch. Making my way through the line, I picked up a couple of pre-made sandwiches from the refrigerated case. At the sales counter, I showed the cashier the sandwiches, asked him to add two ice teas to my order, and gave him my credit card. He handed me two cups (the sodas and tea were self-serve) and, after entering my order on his tablet/terminal, he swiveled the screen around to face me. There, right in the middle of the screen, I was “conveniently” given the opportunity add a tip to the transaction. I was even given a choice: I could click on 15%, 20%, or, if I was feeling especially generous, 25%. There was also a button labeled Custom Tip if I wanted to calculate another tip amount. Of course, I had the option of clicking the No Tip button, but with the cashier standing right there watching me, that choice felt very uncomfortable. Wimp that I am, I clicked 15%, signed the screen with my finger, and moved on.

Yes, of course I think ringing up two sandwiches and two ice teas is worth a 25% tip!
Yes, of course I think ringing up two sandwiches and two ice teas is worth a 25% tip!

I usually am a pretty good tipper. I spent time in the trenches working in restaurants as I made my way through school, and a large part of my marketing career was in the food service business. The person who waits on my husband and me at a sit-down restaurant will usually find a good tip when we leave. In the type of establishment where there are tip jars present, I sometimes leave something and sometimes not. If I feel a tip is warranted, though, I’m fairly generous. I am happy to reward good service and I am grateful to be financially able to do so. What I don’t like is the expectation of tips for providing a simple service. And, I don’t like businesses relying on their customers to subsidize their employees’ salaries. Most of all, I don’t like being guilted into leaving a tip.

I did put a tip in this jar (you parents and grandparents can thank me).
I did put a tip in this jar (you parents and grandparents can thank me).

Apparently these new payment systems are having a huge impact on tips received, especially in venues where tipping has never been common. When faced with the three tip percentages, customers often just tap the middle one (20%, in most cases). Tapping the No Tip option is not easy when the employee is watching you and there are people in line behind you. No one wants to feel cheap.

I’m not sure if this train has already left the station and tipping someone for scooping ice cream, ringing up a couple of sodas, or putting a bagel in a bag is now considered “normal” but I know I’m not on it. When I see that one of those devices will be used to ring up my simple transaction, I immediately start to feel uncomfortable. Do I resign myself to this new paradigm and add a tip? Do I take the easy way out and pay with cash (assuming I have enough)? Do I tap Custom Tip and enter what I might have placed in the now-vanished tip jar? Or, do I grow a spine and tap No Tip if that’s the option I would have chosen before?

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think I’ll start carrying more cash just in case.

Author: Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

33 thoughts on “Tip Creep in the Technology Age”

  1. I have so enjoyed your recent blogs about your travel experiences and the terrific sites you’ve seen. I have a big smile on my face from beginning to end.
    However, I found myself frowning almost immediately with this one…I hope, and feel reasonably sure, that I will not leave a tip when the extortion machine is swiveled around to face me. Maybe if the person behind me sees me refuse they will do the same. How arrogant to try and shame/embarrass your customers to tip.
    Grow a spine and don’t give in unless it’s appropriate or ypu simply feel like it!
    Thanks for the warning, I’ll be prepared with a ramrod stiff spine when/if it happens to me!

    1. I think I was so shocked that first time that I just picked the lowest percentage to make it go away. Hopefully I will be more prepared in the future! I read that these will be appearing at many Starbucks soon so I think a lot of people will be in for a unpleasant surprise.

      I promise a happier post next time to make smile again.

  2. What about being guilted into contributing to a charity when you check out
    somewhere? Would you like to give a donation to –fill in the blank–(-crippled children, the food bank, the needy whatever). I prefer to write my own checks for my own charities.

    1. Oh, good one! That’s a whole other post. I, too, have my own charities and prefer to write my own check. For some reason, I am a little more comfortable turning those requests down. Maybe because the money would go somewhere else, not into the cashier’s pocket. Still, I don’t like to be asked.

      1. Love this . Pay wait staff a living wage as other countries do like here and tipping recedes into the realm it came from, a recognition of service above beyond. Technically too, the tap of credit card costs a transaction fee. For retirement challenged folk as my wife and I are, I always enter pin to debit my money, rather than swipe and pay for the convenience of using the credit card coys money. I accept though it don’t look so hip or cool tho marginally quicker or more convenient. However, I have the time, after all it is my money.

  3. Wow! i’m glad you warned me about this!!

    I don’t even like being solicited for charitable donations in places of business, and I hated it when my bank made us ask customers for donations.

    Tipping and this aggressive way of asking for it is beyond the pale. They are doing their job and presumably getting a wage.

    Tap ‘no’. Otherwise the downhill slide of ‘normal’ customer service us just going to get worse and wirse.

    1. I agree and promise to tap “NO!” whenever I’m in a situation that I would have not normally tipped. It makes me mad that, what was usual customer behavior on my part (no tip) now feels cheap and uncomfortable. I understand that there are a few states that set a lower minimum wage for tipped employees (expecting tips to make up the difference), but I can’t believe this group would include someone behind a deli counter.

  4. I should have read the two comments before mine and just typed ‘ditto’. LOL

    Perhaps this trend is just more ‘begging’ from the generation that has no problem putting ‘please give cash instead of gifts’ on their wedding invitations.

    1. I think you are right. What used to be considered impolite is now normal behavior. I guess each generation falls down the slippery slope just a little bit more. I’m sure our parents’ generation had a few things to say about our generation’s lack of social skills.

  5. The trend hasn’t quite reached north of the 49th, or at least to my neck of the woods north of the border. That said, I don’t *think* I’d have a problem selecting “no”. But with the clerk hoovering nearby… different dynamic there.

    I used to have trouble with telemarketers and door-to-door canvassers. Now I let calls go unanswered. The times I do get caught, though, I simply talk over them and say, “No, thank you. Good bye.” Then hang up or close the door. I expect, with practice, you’ll be able to do the same with the tipping creeps.

    1. You are right about the dynamic changing when the employee is standing right there… it was a bit intimidating. With telemarketers and door-to-door solicitors, I have no problem saying “NO,” so I think, with time, I will feel more comfortable tapping the “No Tip” button too.

  6. I’ve seen it at restaurants where I do appreciate the ability to not have to calculate. I haven’t seen it at other places though. I am a generous tipper but there has to be service. I would have no trouble hitting no tip on a transaction like yours. This year I turned down a girl scout selling cookies. First time. I am getting harder about these things since retirement. Frankly I would rather donate to the GS than buy a box of cookies that don’t get eaten in our house. These days only the child of a relative or dear friend could guilt me into buying something I don’t want. As for tipping, you have to give me service first! (Oh yes, always at the hairdresser. That’s one person you don’t want angry at you!)

    1. There are a few restaurants here that have these tablets at the tables and they have the tip option at the end of the transaction. I, too, find this convenient. I would have left a tip anyway, the calculation is already done for me, and the server isn’t hoovering over me.

      Oh, yes, definitely tip your hairdresser! Although, when I did a little research for my post, I found a story about a salon that uses these tablets – their tipping percentage tiers were 30%, 40% and 50%!

      1. Seriously? Seasoned hair stylists (at least in our area) make a very good buck. I am down around 15% for them unless they do something astonishing! It takes my stylist a half hour to cut my hair and I always wash out her blow dry. For that I pay a lot of money.

  7. Good post. I am not a fan, but I am sure it has increased tip levels for places that do not usually get or deserve the same level of tipping – picking up take- out versus being served a meal, e.g.

    1. The employees must love it! I fear that this will become the new normal as these payment devices are being used more. I remember when I was a waitress, I always felt that my customers who were seniors didn’t tip as well. Now that I have joined that rank, I will probably be viewed that way too at these traditional no-tip venues.

      1. I try to tip well, especially with food delivery people and good waitresses or waiters. I do tip when I pick up food at a take out counter, but usually not as much as the others, as the work effort is not the same.

  8. Europeans who travel here have always been amazed at American tipping practices. This new developments will probably make them even more bewildered. I agree with you — it’s going to make me carry more cash again.

  9. There seems to be some push for adopting the European way of tipping here in the U.S. I think many of us would welcome it, but I wouldn’t be very happy if they automatically tacked on, say 18%, to my purchase at an ice cream parlor.

    I would like it better if everyone was just paid a fair wage for their job and we, the customers, weren’t expected to subsidize their paychecks.

  10. You are so nice, I would have pushed the 0% tip. YOU picked out a pre-made sandwich and all they did was give you a couple cups (which you filled yourself) ring it up and then ask for a tip? Ummm, no.

  11. Great post and timely! Starbucks already does it if you use your smartphone to pay (with my SB card)–I get notifications that I can still add a tip until xx time. To pay a tip for a cashier doing his/her job ringing it up? Nope. Let them watch me tap in ZERO. I agree with you that paying a tip for a service is necessary, for wait-staff who serve you at the table, the pedicurist/hairstylist, etc.

    Oh and by the way, I started a link up party today called the Leisure Link. Some of your posts about your travels would be perfect. here is the link to my page: http://terriwebsterschrandt.com/2015/06/07/the-leisure-link-how-to-promote-your-blog-using-link-ups/

    1. I assume (maybe I’m wrong?) that the tips are usually shared between the staff, but most of the time I don’t think pouring me a cup of over-priced coffee warrants a tip. Bah humbug!

      I saw your link up party invite and thought I might link to some of my recent road trip posts. Thanks for the reminder!

  12. I too noticed the “tip creep” and decided to use my card for the transaction and tip in cash. The one I had was 20%, 25% and 30%! For a serve yourself place. I like to think I am a generous tipper too, but in this case I was the one who earned the tip!

    1. Wow, they started at 20% for self-serve? That is crazy! That’s a good idea to use your card and cash (although at a self-serve, I think I’d leave the cash in my wallet). Thanks for your comment!

  13. Not a problem for me – I’ll click NO. What service? It’s not like it is a waitress running back and forth, getting us extra napkins, suggesting a special in mouthwatering detail, explaining the spices in a new dish or making sure the tomatoes and onions are left off my dish.
    My family and later myself operated a restaurant/bistro for many years and I am pleased to tip generously when the service was stellar and tip 15 if it was average.

    I do not understand the expectation of a tip in this case – period. To this day I cannot get my DH to leave nothing if the service was atrocious – rarely happens, maybe once every three or four years. While I do not like confrontations, I am prepared to spell out at any given time why I left or did not leave the tip I did.
    The notion that the customer now relieves the business owner from paying a decent wage to begin with – as they may now point out the nice bonus of undeserved tips to their employee – is simply put – not right!

    1. I hope most people will feel comfortable clicking on NO. As more and more of us do, perhaps it will change the expectations. Now that I know what to prepare myself for, I intend to decline tips for self serve/minimal service too. I clearly wimped out that time. Thanks for your comment!

  14. I wish we could get to a state where employees are fairly paid and tips are truly discretionary for exceptional service. I tend to tip well, but I don’t like being made to feel guilty.

    1. I completely agree! There have been a few “no-tip” restaurants in the news lately and the reception has been pretty good – both from the patrons and the servers. I had hoped more establishments would adopt this approach but, it appears that with the advent of these touch screen payment systems, we may be headed the other way.

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