Not long ago, you would tip the waitstaff person at a restaurant — 15% typically, and up to 20% for excellent service. That was about it, except for giving some money to the newspaper delivery guy at Christmas, and tips for the taxi driver during those rare visits to New York City. Also, many bartenders would put a large glass in the middle of the bar with some dollar bills in it, and the patrons would add a few bucks, especially if the bartender had a sympathetic ear. (Since I quit drinking 38 years and 8 months ago — but who’s counting? — I’m not sure how bartenders operate these days.)
That’s the first time I was introduced to the “screen turn.” You pay for your two hotdogs and a Coke with your credit card, and then the person working the concession stand rotates a computer tablet on a stand toward you. The screen says “Add a Tip?” and offers some options. You have to make a selection in order to complete your transaction. The choices are usually something like: “15 percent,” “20 percent,” and “25 percent.” Below in tiny print is, “None.”
So, did I press the “None” button on the screen? Of course not. In about half a second, these thoughts raced through my brain: “Should I do 15%? It’s the lowest option, but maybe too low. Twenty-five percent is too high. Sheesh, I guess I’d better push the 20% button.” And that’s when I added another $4.60 to an already over-priced purchase.
Why didn’t I press the “None” button? Because of a concept psychologists call “the power of the nudge.” The person who serves you is standing three feet away, staring at you. He’s not demanding a tip, but turning that screen creates undeniable social pressure. You are being gently but forcefully nudged into giving a tip. You don’t want to be a jerk, and besides, the server would only have to move his hand six inches to “accidentally” shove his thumb into one of your hotdogs. So, you just press “20%” to get out of that awkward situation.
Then, as you walk back to your seat, carrying your hotdogs and Coke, you shake your head and mumble, “What just happened?”
Besides ballparks, tablets on stands and the pressure-packed “screen turns” are now ubiquitous at coffee places, sandwich shops, and many other retail establishments.
This guilt tipping thing is kind of annoying. I just hope when I pay my electric bill online next month, Eversource hasn’t added a new “tip page” to the process. Trust me, 20% of what those guys charge nowadays is not spare change.