Is tipping culture in America getting out of hand? Now that point-of-sale kiosks are standard at most establishments, it’s a question that everyone is asking, including budget-conscious Redditors.
In a trending thread on r/Frugal, one of the subreddit’s members recently asked the community whether customers should tip for takeout orders. In just a few hours, the post had accumulated nearly 300 comments, and the consensus was clear.
“Tipping culture is insane. It's everywhere! Pay your employees better!” one top comment reads. “Definitely not tipping for takeout. That's why I get it instead of going to a sit-down restaurant.”
The vast majority of top-rated comments agreed, with some Redditors saying that they only pay in cash to avoid the dreaded digital kiosk altogether. Of the few commenters who said that patrons should tip for takeout, the majority said that they had first-hand experience in the service industry.
“As someone who worked in service, my heart does go out to other service workers and I do always make a point to tip,” one user wrote, adding that many people underestimate “how hard the job is.”
Tipping at full- and quick-service restaurants in the U.S. soared from 2020 to 2021, with growth continuing into 2022, according to data The Atlantic received from Square. Despite consumer sentiment online, tipping was up 17% at quick-service restaurants and 25% at full-service establishments in the third quarter of 2022.
While the proliferation of point-of-sale kiosks from companies like Square accounts for some of that increase, another explanation is that consumers wanted to support frontline workers through the pandemic.
Many workers rely on tips to survive, with most bartenders and waitstaff earning more in tips than they do from hourly wages. That’s especially true in the 16 “tipped minimum wage” states, where tips count toward a worker’s $7.25 federal minimum wage. In Alabama, for example, an employer has to pay just $2.13 in direct wages, provided the worker earns at least $5.12 in tips.
These separate tipped minimum wages deepen “racial and gender inequities” and lead to “worse economic outcomes for tipped workers,” according to the Economic Policy Institute.
The solution, the EPI says, isn’t necessarily to reduce or stop tipping to push employers to pay higher wages. Instead, tipped workers should be paid the same minimum wage as other employees, as they are in states like California and Alaska.
“Whereas tips had once been simply a token of gratitude from the served to the server, they became, at least in part, a subsidy from consumers to the employers of tipped workers. In other words, part of the employer wage bill is now paid by customers via their tips,” Sylvia Allegretto and David Cooper write for the EPI.