Figuring out the new norms in a world of “tipflation”

Etiquette Matters columnist explores the increasingly hazy realm of tipping

By Cecilia Pita

Tipping shouldn’t be confusing, intimidating or uncomfortable, but the rise of ‘tipflation’ has raised a lot of questions. Photo: Pexels
Tipping shouldn’t be confusing, intimidating or uncomfortable, but the rise of ‘tipflation’ has raised a lot of questions. Photo: Pexels

Remember when cab drivers, pizza delivery drivers, servers and salon staff were the only people we had to tip? It was a simpler time when people still used cash and it was easier to tip specific people directly, like the person who shampooed your hair, if they were different from the hairdresser.

Today, however, tipping has become more complex and we’re being pushed outside our financial comfort zone. Chances are you’ve noticed unduly higher tip-prompt amounts a.k.a. tip inflation, or “tipflation.”

Higher tipping amount prompts on pay terminals place an expectation on consumers; this erodes the element of choice in what should be a discretionary decision. Yes, it’s done for convenience, but this kind of pressure leaves many with a bad impression, especially when the amounts are more than what customers are used to.

Businesses should be sensitive by offering a “no tip” or a custom option on pay terminals so we are free to tip what we’re comfortable with.

It’s important to note that, in restaurants, we’ve traditionally always tipped on the pre-tax amount but when we’re handed a pay terminal, we’re being prompted on the after-tax amount.

So, to combat tipflation, calculate your tip before you’re handed the pay terminal.

Non-service related tips

You may have also noticed prompts for tipping at businesses that are not traditionally service related. Everyone seems to be asking for tips. So much so, they’ve even come up with a name for it: “tip fatigue.”

If pushed too far, will consumers throw their hands up and say, “no more?” I hope not. Growing up, my family worked in the service industry so I can appreciate the effect and importance that tipping has on a family’s quality of life. There has to be a happy medium. At the end of the day, nobody likes to feel like they’re being taken advantage of.

From an etiquette standpoint, we should continue to tip for services like taxis, rideshare services, restaurants and salons. How much? As a guideline, tip 10 percent on a taxi or rideshare, 15 to 20 percent in a restaurant and 10 to 15 percent at a salon.

However, these percentages are a guide. Please be more generous if you’re able, especially if someone has provided you with a really memorable experience. Even if an experience is less than stellar, perhaps the tip could be on the lower end of the range, but provide feedback so the service can be improved for the next person.

When to not tip

Now, what about when we walk in, order a coffee, and walk out? Or walk in, pick up our take-out, and walk out? No tipping is required. However, there are nuances to consider. If I’m sitting in coffee shop and the barista brings me something, then I’m inclined to offer a nominal tip for the service.

As for take-out, if I’m picking up a large order or making custom requests, and I want to cultivate my relationship with the restaurant, then yes, I offer a tip.

Food delivery services have grown in popularity but not everyone reads the fine print. Sometimes the tip is built in. If it isn’t, offer a 10 percent tip or more if, for example, the food is coming from across the city, or the weather is bad. We’ve always tipped the pizza delivery person so why wouldn’t we tip any other food delivery person?

Tipping shouldn’t be confusing, intimidating or uncomfortable but tipflation has resurrected a lot of questions.

  • Why can’t we pay staff a living wage so that they aren’t so tip-dependent?
  • Why are consumers responsible for topping up someone’s income?
  • What if we tip our attentive server generously but then find out tips are shared amongst staff?
  • Why do we have to tip on take-out or other non-service businesses, when we never did before?

Then there’s the perspective that says if we can afford to go out, we have enough disposable income to tip generously, too.

Tipping is a long-standing and accepted custom in our society but, while we’ve come to expect to tip for certain services, it’s still discretionary. We always have the choice of where, who and how much to tip.

We’re paying more for everything these days but, as we navigate the changing tipping landscape, our choices and influence as consumers will ultimately define the new norms, and the etiquette will evolve accordingly.