Receive free Food & Beverage updates
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Food & Beverage news every morning.
To tip or not to tip? It’s a quandary that perplexes some Europeans, who are more accustomed to automatic service charges on their restaurant bills. Now it is causing blushes in countries with more deeply rooted tipping cultures, in particular the US.
Tap screen payment software has spread thanks to improved technology from the likes of Block and Toast, and a pandemic that discouraged cash usage. Americans can find themselves asked to tip in unusual situations, including at a petrol station or paying a locksmith.
Screens that offer preset tip recommendations from 15 per cent upwards reportedly create embarrassment for some service staff and customers alike. Tips lower than 15 per cent are normal in some countries. When customers do not want to tip, they may need help from slighted sales staff themselves.
Academic research suggests recommended tips can be advantageous for workers. This may spread tipping to countries and industries in Europe where it is less commonplace.
A 2017 Cornell University paper involving an app-based laundry service found that — unsurprisingly, perhaps — individual and total tips rose in response to higher recommendations without affecting customer satisfaction. A poll of 2,000 Americans this year showed that almost three-quarters of respondents tipped at least 11 per cent more digitally than in cash.
There are potential benefits for businesses. Higher tip revenues could help with recruitment and staff retention, according to professor Michael Lynn of Cornell University. In countries, including the UK, where hospitality businesses face chronic recruitment problems that is a significant draw.
However, customers may feel unwanted pressure to tip. This could affect whether they decide to return to a business.
Tipping has led to bust-ups in the past between corporations and their employees depending on the percentage the latter are allowed to keep.
In 2022, an internal committee at UK restaurant chain PizzaExpress reversed a decision — under pressure from the Unite union — to give higher-paid kitchen staff a greater percentage of card tips compared to lower paid servers. In many US states, employers are still allowed to include tips when calculating whether their staff receive the minimum wage.
With cash use in decline in many countries, tap-screen tipping is here to stay. Consumers and baristas may simply have to get used to daily social awkwardness when buying their macchiato.
The Lex team is interested in hearing more from readers. Please tell us what you think of tap-screen tipping n the comments section below.