Wait, Are We Really Supposed to Tip 25% Everywhere Now?

I'm a longtime waiter and I make my living from tips, but tipping culture feels out of control.

Could it be that this pervasiveness of gratuities is dulling the senses for tip weary consumers and possibly making them leave less to the people who really depend on it?
Photo: Thomas Winz / Getty Images

I'm a huge fan of tipping. Having been a restaurant server for most of my adult life, tips have helped me pay for everything from rent to groceries to tickets to ridiculously overpriced Broadway revivals of Stephen Sondheim musicals. There is nothing like the feeling of being rewarded with a 30% tip from a customer after having made their birthday so special. In return, I enjoy giving tips to servers who take care of me when I go out to eat. But lately, I've become a teeny bit exhausted by tipping.

Let's be clear. The only scenario where I am strictly anti-tipping is in the case of cows. I'm not even remotely tired of tipping my restaurant server who is providing me with a service while probably being paid considerably less than minimum wage per hour. What I am tired of are the ubiquitous tip jars on every countertop of every place I go into. I get it, everyone wants to make a little bit of extra money, but a tip jar in some situations seems, well, not okay.

Recently, I went into a frozen yogurt shop. With my own hands, I picked up sample cups and tasted two or three different options even though I knew with 100% certainty I was going to get Birthday Cake flavor. I then chose a container and pulled a lever until that cup was the perfect amount of full. I spent far too long at the toppings bar thoughtfully deciding which ones would perfectly enhance my frozen yogurt, knowing I was 100% going to get rainbow sprinkles. After sprinkling the sprinkles, I wiped up the few errant specks of rainbow-colored sugar and dropped them into a nearby trash can, picked up a spoon and headed to the counter to pay.

There sat a young woman with a scale and an iPad before her. After weighing my yogurt and typing in a total, she rotated her screen toward me to make my payment. On the screen were three suggested gratuity amounts, 15, 20, and 25%. There were also options to give a custom tip or no tip at all. What am I tipping for? There was no service provided and the only thing she had given me was a look of annoyance when I told her I'd rather pay with cash. She handed me my change and I dropped some of it into her tip cup while using my ring finger and pinkie to subtly hold onto a quarter.

Again, I am not against tipping. It's just that when a server receives tips, it counts as part of their income, and they're required to report those tips to the IRS so taxes can be paid on them. Tips are to make up for the fact that servers are earning a reduced hourly wage rather than a standard minimum wage. I doubt the employee at the yogurt shop claimed those two dimes and three pennies I begrudgingly left as her tip. I just need a little bit more effort or involvement from someone to feel like a tip is warranted. The hair stylist who spends 90 minutes cutting and coloring the mop on my head? Absolutely. The bellhop who lugs my overstuffed luggage to my hotel room. Of course. The cashier at the deli who talked on their cell phone while I handed them two dollars for a Chapstick? No, I will not be dropping my spare coins into the Styrofoam cup that's taped to the countertop.

For me, there seems to be a tipping point for tipping and it seems to be when food is involved. I'm inclined to tip someone who hands me a cappuccino and a toasted bagel, but not so much to someone who hands me dry cleaning. I know tip jars will never go away and for every one that gets removed, two or three appear somewhere else; they're like grey hairs or spotted lanternflies.

I will continue to tip my restaurant servers and food delivery people but use my best judgment in all other cases from frozen yogurt shops to Chapstick purchases. A screen that suggests a 30% tip will always have an option for no tip as well and that's when I will toss the appropriate change, minus the quarters. But if even I am tired of tipping, then others must be completely drained by it. Could it be that this pervasiveness of gratuities is dulling the senses for tip weary consumers and possibly making them leave less to the people who really depend on it? Hopefully not, because if your restaurant server lives in Texas or one of the other states that only pays $2.13 an hour that server is as dependent on tips as I am to Sondheim musicals.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles