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Americans feeling 'tipping fatigue' post pandemic

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Posted at 11:44 AM, Sep 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-12 18:22:11-04

DENVER, Colo. — You’ve probably noticed that companies are asking for more generous tips than they used to, and studies are showing that a lot of consumers are getting sick of it.

“Being asked to give more, it feels like a big ask right now,” said Kelly Goldsmith, professor of marketing at Vanderbilt University

At the beginning of the pandemic, the sentiment was different. Goldsmith said the quarantine and struggle small businesses endured created a sense of community and inspired people to donate extra tips. Now, those higher tipping rates look like they're becoming standard.

“Sometimes, the default tipping amount is quite high. We're talking 20%, 25%, and it forces people to take a step back and say, ‘What's going on?’” said Goldsmith.

Two years later, research shows shoppers are starting to feel less generous.

Software company Square found that tipping at sit-down restaurants has remained stable at around 20%, but when it comes to takeout, people are tipping less.

The average tip at places like cafes and coffee shops fell from 17.2% in March 2021 to 15.2% in February 2022.

“I think for some of us, it's pushing our boundaries, especially at a time when there's discussion of an economic recession, when there's discussion of inflation. This is a time when we need to protect our own financial well-being,” said Goldsmith.

Goldsmith says tipping fatigue is growing because technology makes tipping faster and we're being asked to tip more often and for things that don't usually require tips.

Now, many people are wondering, are these tipping practices here to stay?

“We'll see if they really push it too far—if consumers start complaining— because when that starts happening, you can imagine businesses are going to listen,” said Goldsmith.

Goldsmith said she hopes businesses will give customers more tipping options because it could cost them far more if they don't.

“What can happen over time is you're less likely to go back to that restaurant,” said Goldsmith. “Go back to those old methods, make it discretionary, have the tip jar. People gave tips in the past and we are pro-social. We do want to contribute to others. We just don't want to feel like we're being tricked into it by new technology.”

Goldsmith's biggest piece of advice to all of us tired tippers out there: don't feel pressured by technology. Maybe carry cash to control what you tip or remember that it's okay to skip the tip from time to time.

"You need to take care of your own financial bottom line. So, if you're going to a coffee shop and you can't afford to leave a 35% tip and that's the default, don't do it, and don't feel bad about it," she said.