If you went out to eat pre-pandemic, you might not think twice about what food to order or how much to tip (not to mention a few other things). Common practice only a few years ago was about 20 percent of the bill, says The Atlantic, determined by the quality of service, timing, and general hospitality. A customer could easily throw down a decent amount of money and think little of it for a regular dine-in experience. When COVID hit in March 2020, and many food service employees became essential workers, customers opened their hearts and wallets a little more.
During the early period of the pandemic, many customers generously gave more tips for take-out meals. On average, customers tipped above 20 percent for pick-up or delivery orders, feeling it was the least they could do for workers who prepared and brought it to them, said The New York Times. Generosity and momentum steadied for restaurant workers during the first wave but slowly came back down after restrictions were lifted. Higher menu prices, the suggestion of larger tips via touch screens and added gratuity on bills have been coined “tipping fatigue,” said the Times.
Tipping fatigue stems from higher prices due to inflation, and short staff in the current food industry, says Yahoo Finance. According to a survey from the article, the number of Americans that tipped restaurant workers in 2019 has fallen by 4% in 2022. Some customers feel it’s a matter of aggressive tactics, says the Dallas Observer, stating that tip suggestions on touch screens while the server stands behind the counter might be going a bit too far for a coffee shop or bakery.
What “tipping fatigue” unfortunately is doing is hurting the workers and the restaurant owners, says CNBC. Workers whose income is minimum wage or below rely heavily on tips and are left far below the wage they need to sustain themselves. The Atlantic keenly writes that how much a restaurant worker is compensated should not be left up to a split-second decision made by random customers.
How are Restaurant Owners Responding to the New Tipping Culture?
For restaurant owners, some have tried to automatically add gratuity to the bill and give their workers a living wage instead of relying on inconsistent tipping. Although it might seem aggressive to some, touch screens encourage customers to tip more, says the Times. A restaurant in Austin, Texas, which adopted a touch screen, reported 50% more tips, said the article. Executive Chef, Paula DaSilva, interviewed by Food and Wine Magazine, asks customers to please consider giving restaurants and their workers some grace during this period of struggle, adding that this would be the time to be more generous with tips.
Still a Social Norm
Although tipping has gone down right now, it isn’t extinct; it’s still considered a social norm. According to Real Simple, in an article published in May this year, it’s suggested still to tip 15 to 20 percent at a sit-in restaurant. “Regardless of the level of service, gratuity at a restaurant is non-negotiable,” says the magazine. The same goes for take-out, tipping 3 to 5 dollars for the delivery person.
Dining out has changed since the pandemic and has perhaps created a shift in how Americans look at spending their time and money. Tipping seems to reflect of our character, giving what we can during more challenging times. It also reminds us of how we are all in this together. We may be tired, but we’re still giving.