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Has Tipping Reached a Tipping Point?

Tipping seems to be much in the news these days. Some etiquette experts – something I most certainly am not – have dubbed the current situation “Tipflation.” Across the country we are tipping more, tipping folks we never used to tip, and being asked, or pressured, into tipping.

According to a recent Pew Research Center 72% of U.S. adults say tipping is expected in more places now than five years go. 

The reasons vary but include the Covid-19 pandemic, labor shortages and technology that makes it easier to leave a tip with just the touch of a hand held computer screen presented by a server who is watching which box you pick. 

And what happened to 15%? Now the suggested tip is 18%, 20%, 25% or more. 

Even if the server did little more than hand you coffee or simply bring the food you ordered at the counter to your table a tip seems to be expected when the bill arrives.

Of course you can pick “no tip” or “custom tip” on these screens but more and more people chose the path of least resistance and select one of the suggested choices. 

According to Pew more Americans oppose (40%) than favor (24%) businesses that suggest tip amounts either on a computer screen or on the bill. The remaining folks neither favored or opposed suggested tips. 

Another study, this one done by a company that makes hand-held digital payment devices, found tips at full service restaurants increased more than 25% in the third quarter of 2022 over the previous year and almost 17% at counter service restaurants.

The Pew survey found the vast majority (92%) who eat at sit-down restaurants always or often leave a tip. The majority of people getting a haircut (78%), having food delivered (76%), buying a drink at a bar (70%) or using a taxi or rideshare service (61%) always or often tip. 

There is a small minority (2%) who said they never leave a tip at a restaurant. 

So how much does tipping benefit service workers? It depends largely on where you live.

When my wife attended San Diego State, in the previous century, she worked part time as a server at a coffee shop near the campus. She didn’t stand behind a counter taking orders, but helped to seat customers, brought them menus, made suggestions, delivered their selections to the table, made sure their brew was always warm and cleaned the table when they left. 

For this she was paid the princely hourly rate of 65 cents below the legal minimum wage. I won’t embarrass her by saying what that minimum wage was back then, but it wasn’t much. The idea of paying less than minimum wage – which was legal – is that she would make up the difference with the tips she received.

Decades later this is still the practice in many states, but not California. Federal law requires tipped workers to make a base rate of as little as $2.13 an hour. When tips are added, it has to even out to the Federal $7.25 minimum wage or the employer makes up the difference. 

California is one of a handful of states that requires employers to pay workers – including tipped workers — the full state minimum wage. Service workers here receive the $16 per hour California minimum wage plus any tips you leave for them. 

In November voters here will be asked whether the minimum wage should be raised to $18.

Currently the minimum wage for California’s fast food workers, in restaurant chains with more than 60 locations nationwide, is $20 an hour.

The rule about who to tip and how much is simple – there are no rules. Most people say it depends on the situation. Quality of service, by far, is the primary reason for tipping. 

It always pays to tip quality service, but no one should feel pressured into tipping more than they feel is justified.

Written by John Hunneman

For three decades John Hunneman was a reporter and columnist for both The Californian and Riverside Press-Enterprise newspapers. He retired in 2020 after serving as the Communications Director for California State Senator Jeff Stone.

John currently serves on the City of Murrieta Parks and Recreation Commission and is on the Board of Directors of The Nature Education Foundation at the Santa Rosa Plateau.

He recently concluded two years of service on the Riverside County Civil Grand Jury.

John is a proud Vietnam-Era U.S. Navy veteran and a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

He and his wife Yvonne have lived in Murrieta for 35 years. Both of their sons graduated from Murrieta Valley High School.

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