(NEXSTAR) – Whether it’s an airport self-checkout machine or a $14 beer at a concert, the controversial tipping option is often the last step — but how many people actually tip at the suggested percentages, usually 20% and up?
A recent Forbes Advisor survey of 2,000 Americans suggests that while most people tip more when they leave a digital tip, they don’t often surpass 20%.
While the vast majority of respondents said they tip always or often (76%), the average gratuity amount was 16%.
When did tipping become so divisive?
Several factors have ratcheted up consumers’ emotions around the practice in recent years. After the pandemic crushed foot traffic to a number of service-oriented businesses, many Americans started tipping more to support their servers, bartenders, hair stylists and gig workers. Nearly a third (32%) of those surveyed said they still tip more now than before the pandemic.
Digital transactions and the seemingly ubiquitous tipping screen have only pressurized the decision to tip, and how much.
“We are subjected to that app, that screen, almost every day when we buy a coffee or a sandwich,” etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, the founder of the Protocol School of Texas, previously told Nexstar. “So we have to get used to this form of payment.”
Gottsman acknowledges that customers may feel guilty when presented with an option to tip, and Michael Lynn, a professor of marketing and management communication at Cornell University, points to studies that suggest it also makes people upset or even angry.
“People think it’s manipulative, they resent it, and their perceptions of service go down,” Lynn said, citing a 2022 study from researchers at Purdue and Temple Universities which found that, in a significant number of cases, participants who were presented with a tip screen had more “negative emotions to the payment experience” than those that didn’t — and those weren’t even in real-world scenarios.
Inflation, which has jacked up the price of just about everything, from food to a summer vacation, has only made tipping more consequential. People who found it gratifying to give a 25% tip at a restaurant in 2020 may think twice when making that same calculation on a restaurant check in 2023. While nearly a third of respondents say they continue to tip more than in pre-pandemic days, another 32% say they now tip less than they did before COVID-19.
What does, doesn’t deserve a tip?
Tips can be collected at more venues than ever before thanks to mobile payment options, forcing people to reconsider whom they should be tipping.
Respondents were asked what services they are most — and least — likely to tip for, and in a reflection of today’s divisions around tipping, many venues appeared on both lists.
Highest on the must-tip list were sit-down restaurants (58%); followed by food delivery drivers (46%); fast-casual restaurants (42%); salons and spas (40%); and bars (39%).
Food trucks, which 36% of respondents deemed deserving of tips, actually led the list of places where people think they shouldn't leave a tip (40%), followed by fast-casual restaurants (38%), picking up takeout food (36%), coffee shops (34%) and sit-down restaurants (32%).
Amid changing tipping habits and technology, there does appear to be one thing that most people can agree on, however, and that is the "why" part: 72% of respondents said the quality of service is what most affects their decision to tip.