Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Has Tipping Reached a Tipping Point?

Have you noticed that everyone is looking for a tip nowadays? No, I don’t mean info about which horse is going to win the 4th race at Saratoga. I mean monetary tips, when you give money to someone who provides a service.

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.)
Anyway, that was then. Now, everybody is expecting a tip. I first noticed this tipping trend at the Hartford Yard Goats minor league baseball games. The team’s season was canceled in 2020 because of Covid. When they resumed playing in 2021 the entire ballpark had become cashless, supposedly to protect everyone from sharing germs when passing cash back and forth. All purchases had to be made with credit cards.

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.”
For the past half-century, I don’t ever remember tipping the person who sold me a hotdog. When I finally experienced this, I thought: “Tip? Really? You didn’t bring me food while I sat at a table. You just reached back, grabbed two hotdogs and a soda and put them on the counter.”

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?”
The Wall Street Journal had an article about this phenomenon titled, “You Want 20% for Handing Me a Muffin?!”

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. 

1 comment:

  1. This is an easy fix & it is something that is completely within our own control.
    Whenever I am in this situation I always select no tip. You just say no. My food has never been poisoned ..,,,..I've never even gotten a dirty look ....or any other negative consequence for that matter.
    Even if there had been one I certainly would not be willing to pay to what amounts to a black mail payment to avoid it.

    When things like this start to occur the best thing for everyone to do is resist and not respond positively. That way there is a much less change of something becoming the norm---A tip is for a service ....if it has been done well.....and if one chooses to pay is not something you ask for.
    Ruth O'Keefe