By Pearl Phillip
With inflation rising, patrons are cutting back on gratuities. The scales are tipping.
At the height of the pandemic, New Yorkers dug deep into their pockets to recognize the hard work and health risks faced by workers in every aspect of the food business — servers, cooks, cashiers, and delivery workers. For many customers, adding a generous tip for a takeout meal was a way of showing appreciation and the least they could do to assist essential workers.
“Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows how hard the everyday hustle can be and how much tips matter,” said Brendan Sweeney, CEO and Co-founder of Popmenu, a company that specializes in transformative online and on-premise technologies that help restaurants increase brand visibility, guest engagement, revenue and profitability. Sweeney added, “Tipping behavior may fluctuate depending on market conditions, but the intent to support restaurants remains strong and gratuity, in general, leans toward higher percentages today. Half of restaurateurs recommend that guests tip a minimum of 20%, and many consumers are more than happy to oblige, especially over the holidays.”
But now tipping feels mandatory, rather than voluntary. And many people say the expectation for a tip has gotten out of hand. It seems like a tip is requested everywhere food and beverages are served, whether picking up, driving through, or even serving yourself.
Also, the upcoming increase in the minimum wage looks will possibly affect tipping and the restaurant industry.
To Tip or Not to Tip? That is the Question
Customers, including those working in the food-service industry, revealed they felt uncomfortable with the many invitations to tip and were compelled to give more. As a result of inflation, menu prices and gratuities have increased. In some cases, restaurants add service charges and gratuities to the bill that some patrons may not notice immediately.
Additionally, with technology and the pandemic, touch screens have replaced the tip jar. When you are checking out, a suggested percentage pops up on the screen. Deciding whether to tip or change the recommended percentage takes extra time and effort. And as the customer chooses, the food-service worker stands there, looking on. Awkward.
“When it comes to the topic of tipping, my views are two-fold,” said Ariel Brown-Lewinski, a 30-year old computer technician. “Growing up, my single mother was the breadwinner for a family of four. She worked in the service industry and was paid little to nothing. Most times, we were grateful for those tips because it was how we’d make up for other expenses around the house, such as groceries or lunch money for us kids during the week.
“As I got older and entered the service industry myself, I also, at one point, relied on tips to make up for the wage that I was being unfairly paid. I understand that some days people just don’t have the money to tip, because most times, we are low-wage workers tipping other low-wage workers. Sometimes just buying that meal is all we can afford, but other days it would make me sad because I knew that for that week, my “pay” was going to be a bit short.”
“However, it is not the responsibility of the customer to make up for the wage of my crooked boss. As a customer myself, I find it unwelcoming and unbecoming when a server accosts me for a tip. Sometimes the service is not even tip-worthy, and the server has an entitled attitude. They shouldn’t be rewarded for just doing the bare minimum of their job.”
Lisa, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, said she feels social pressure to leave tips, even when they might not seem justified. She explained, “I went through a drive-through and there is a request for a tip. I hate tipping because it uses up my limited disposable income. Prices are going up, and my income is not. It’s hard to make ends meet. I feel embarrassed when I can’t afford to give a tip. It’s not because I don’t want to. It’s just that sometimes, I can’t afford it.”