Tipping: a hospitality tradition turned customer manipulation?

As fewer people are carrying cash, the tipping landscape has changed in recent years. With new technologies working to increase customer ease but also increase the likelihood of tipping, should consumers be worried about how expectations surrounding tipping are changing?

Whilst tipping etiquette can vary in different countries, we are seeing a common change in countries where gratuity charges are common. Is what once was a hospitality etiquette becoming an issue of affordability for the general consumer?

At times, we have all experienced a disinterested server, casually turning a tip-by-tablet system with the expectation of 10%, 20%, 30% tip. This is becoming more and more common and the percentages we are expected to tip seem to be exponentially increasing. These tablet tipping technologies are becoming increasingly popular with businesses. Is this creating a public pressure to tip which is more difficult to ignore, compared to a line on the check or a jar on the counter? After being introduced as a contact free method during the pandemic is this tech savvy system here to stay?

Interestingly, there is evidence emerging that most of the tipping done by customers does not occur due to gratitude for service but rather because of social pressure and an awareness of public perception surrounding low tipping. Does this create an expectancy in hospitality workers which is contributing to substandard levels of customer service?

Traditionally, tipping has been a way to show appreciation of a dining experience and as recognition of fantastic service. Are we seeing a cultural shift where everyone is now expected to tip? Originally, this used to be a small optional gratuity. However, due to most transactions being via card the formality of tipping is becoming something expected and, in some cases, even when the customer hasn’t even experienced an employee provided service.

Interestingly, many industry sectors have no expectation of tipping, unlike hospitality. Why do we feel low end hospitality service warrants tips for service when other sectors do not? Some would argue that tipping is a method of social equalisation; sharing wages in areas which are traditionally difficult jobs without high financial compensation. However, should this social equalisation fall to the consumer when businesses should have an obligation to fairly pay employees?

It has become increasingly common for restaurants to include higher percentage service charges in the final bill total; however, reports have shown that customer satisfaction in the hospitality industry is not commensurate with these additional charges. Less investment in employee training and a pressure created due to unfilled staff positions is lowering quality of service yet, somehow, the expectation is that the customer must now tip more. This doesn’t seem logical. What is it that we are supposedly tipping for?

Many argue, low income hospitality workers rely on tips to supplement wages which don’t meet a liveable wage. Should this cost be transferred to the customer? Do employees have a responsibility to ensure wages are appropriate without the supplementation of tips?

Like all costs in recent years tipping is experiencing inflation but must we ensure that the level of service experienced is also rising to warrant this increase or must consumers make peace with a changing culture where tips are now the unwritten norm?

Written by Lexie Cook, EP Business in Hospitality