‘Guilt Tipping:’ The pressure to tip has gotten out of control


We pass the point of no return.

Tablet payment is now the convenient norm at pizzerias, cafes, burger joints and other fast-food outlets across the city, but gadgets are quick to ask if you want to add a healthy tip to your order. Touchscreens typically prompt customers to tip anywhere from 18 to 30 percent — and sometimes even more — when they pick up and leave.

Sometimes prompts replace the old tip jar, increasing the stake on what was usually a discarded dollar or loose change. But in many cases, customers are being pressured to go to places where they were never expected to tip before – for example, for queuing for their burgers and fries at Five Guys. And they’re not happy with the sudden ubiquity of tip pricing.

“I was somewhere spending $23 on coffee and pastries and the suggested tip was an extra $8 and I just said no. I’ll give about a dollar as a custom tip amount, but let’s face it here,” said Jared Goodman, a 26-year-old recruiter who lives in Brooklyn. “Recently I had a quick bite to eat with my girlfriend and the suggested tip amounts were 25, 35 and even 40%. It’s just crazy.

Jared Goodman, a Brooklyn resident who works in Midtown, is fed up with excessive tips.
Brian Zak/New York Post

Helen Suskin, an Upper East Side consultant, told the Post that while she regularly tips on everything from coffee to baked goods, her generosity doesn’t exactly come from the heart. When you order at a counter, she says, “there’s no extra service,” but she feels obligated to tip anyway. “You can call it guilt.”

Others, however, say they won’t be intimidated by the machines.

“I don’t tip people who are just doing their job doing counter work,” Chelsea resident Stanley Vogel said, adding that he always tips servers at full-service restaurants. But, “like in a bakery, if they just give me a loaf of bread, I’m not going to tip them for it…I never tip people who are counters who just bring me something something I can get myself.”

Smart tablets haven’t changed anything for him: “I’m amazed that these people who are just doing their job expect a tip.

show me the money

Some wonder if companies do this to inflate their results.

In New York, restaurant servers often earn below minimum wage, and customers are expected to reward their hard work with tips that will boost their wages. Still, “fast food” workers — a legal category that includes baristas and cashiers — are guaranteed the full minimum wage of $15 an hour.

Popular e-payment processing system Square allows business owners to distribute e-tips in a variety of ways: they can go directly to the person who processed the transaction or they can be grouped within staff, either per transaction (i.e. a $5 tip would earn $1 for every 5 eligible employees) or based on hours worked.

But, unlike the old days when you could directly give your server 10 spots, no one seems to know where exactly counter service tips go.

Helen Suskin says tablet-style tips can make her feel guilty when shopping at the counter.
Helen Suskin says tablet-style tips can make her feel guilty when shopping at the counter.
Brian Zak/New York Post
"Nightmare on Elm Street 2" Director Jack Sholder isn't a fan of tablet flips because it feels too forced.
“A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” director Jack Sholder isn’t a fan of the tablet tilting, as it feels too forced.
Brian Zak/New York Post

The Post called four Five Guys locations to ask how tips are split among staff members. Two managers said they were “not sure exactly how”; the other two refused to answer.

“I’m skeptical about all of this,” said former busboy Bryan Reilly, 24, of Massapequa, Long Island. “I feel like it becomes my responsibility to make up for the fact that their workers are paid so little.

“This ‘tip everywhere’ thing is getting wildly out of control.”

‘Oh, he’s a stingy’

Chelsea's Stanley Vogel proudly admits he doesn't tip for counter service.
Chelsea’s Stanley Vogel proudly admits he doesn’t tip for counter service.
Brian Zak/New York Post

Due to the vagaries of new tipping requests, Vogel and his friend — “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” director Jack Sholder — feel entitled to ignore tipping.

Yet they say technology makes things inconvenient.

“I used to go to that butcher shop all the time and never spill the pot. I was friendly to all the guys, but I never tipped,” Sholder said. [digitally] and it’s like, ‘Oh, he’s a cheapskate, he didn’t tip.’ It puts pressure on me so I really don’t like it, I think it should be more intentional.

Bay Area tourist Naomi Blanco said guilt isn’t the only downside to digital tips.

When “you just push a button,” she says, staff are less appreciated. “You don’t get a lot of ‘wow, thank you so much!’ It’s just kind of like there’s an expectation on their side.

Mary Canner and Linda Flaxer are fans of the new style of digital tipping.  They like to give back at every given opportunity.
Mary Canner and Linda Flaxer are fans of the new style of digital tipping. They like to give back at every given opportunity.
Brian Zak/New York Post

Experts say that regardless of the delivery method, even a modest tip means something.

“My suggestion is that you leave a tip even if it’s small, at least it’s something,” said etiquette expert and author Jacqueline Whitmore, adding that she typically leaves a 10-15% tip. for take-out services and suggests others donate at least 10%. “The bottom line is this. Tipping is good karma…it’s never required, but it’s the custom.

The pandemic has tipped the balance

That’s why some kind-hearted New Yorkers settle for cash flow. They say the pandemic has tugged at their hearts — and their purses — the strings. Even famed restaurateur Danny Meyer has waived his famous “no tipping allowed” policy at all of his restaurants due to the financial strains placed on his staff by COVID-19.

“I would say I felt more uncomfortable before COVID, but now I know the sacrifices so many service people have made. So now I’d be more willing to pay 20%,” Jerri Batson, Blanco’s mother, said at Turnstyle Market in Columbus Circle.

Still, generosity in New York doesn’t come cheap, she noted. “It was almost $20 for those three little coffees with the tip.”

According to Californian Jerri Batson, tipping on small items like coffee is getting quite expensive.  She is pictured with her daughter, Naomi Blanco.
According to Californian Jerri Batson, tipping on small items like coffee is getting quite expensive. She is pictured with her daughter, Naomi Blanco.
Brian Zak/New York Post

Similarly, Linda Flaxer and Mary Canner left a $10 tip for two lobster rolls they ordered from a stand in Times Square.

“I love [the tablet concept], I try to be generous with tips,” Flaxer, a Lincoln Square resident and writing professor, told the Post, noting that she would even tip 20% on takeout. “These people work really hard…I want these places to stay in business.”

And despite all the kvetching, most city dwellers seem to agree: Many New Yorkers voluntarily tip 25%, according to a December Popmenu report.

Blintz Box owners Sam Ilyayev and his wife Natailya Ilyayev have seen great generosity from the dumpsters.  They created a separate collection to support Ukraine which also received many contributions.
Blintz Box owners Sam Ilyayev and his wife Nataliya Ilyayev have seen great generosity from the dumpsters. They created a separate collection to support Ukraine which also received many contributions.
Brian Zak/New York Post

This widespread support is much appreciated by Sam and Nataliya Ilyayev, the 37- and 35-year-old owners of the Ukrainian food stand Blintz Box in the Columbus Circle market.

“People have been very generous [with tipping]. We opened four months ago just when Omicron was hitting,” Sam said from behind the cash register.

“Personally, I think the tipping culture we live in has become the norm to the point where people don’t see it as a kind of pressure anymore,” he added. “Whether you want to do that or not is entirely up to the client.”

As well as a touchscreen, the husband and wife pair keep a conventional tip box, with around 20% of customers opting to show their appreciation the old-fashioned way.

In fact, Ilyayevs says their customers are so generous that they’ve also set up another fundraiser – cash and QR code – that goes directly to charities supporting Ukraine from their small take-out-only store.

“We’ve hit about $250 in the last two or three weeks,” Sam said.

New York Post

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