Jul 30, 2023 - Business

Tipping in Charlotte has gotten “out of control”

When you’re in the checkout line about to pay for a pack of gum, a takeout meal or a little gift from a boutique, and the employee swivels around the credit card reader and it asks you for a tip — what do you do?

What’s happening: Tip-flation. During the pandemic, customers started tipping frontline employees more frequently, but the habit stuck.

  • Tips are a way for businesses to pay employees more without having to raise prices, NPR’s Stacey Vanek Smith reported.

Zoom out: Businesses have long had tip jars; tipping isn’t new. And customers have long expected to tip professionals like hairstylists, taxi drivers, bartenders and servers — all situations in which a service is rendered.

What’s new is how often and how frequently customers are being asked to tip, notes Mason Jenkins, a clinical assistant professor of marketing in the Belk College of Business at UNC Charlotte.

  • The ubiquitousness of tipping comes at a time when more and more businesses are moving toward cashless transactions — meaning the option to tip is automated — and as inflation has made everything we buy way pricier than it was a few years ago.

Zoom in: Jenkins has heard of requests for tips everywhere from self-service car washes to concession stands at movie theaters. He says customers who continue tipping on all sorts of transactions are helping establish a new standard for what’s expected of customers.

  • “Tipping in these low-service situations has not always been the norm,” Jenkins tells Axios. “If customers are going to go along with this, they’re almost creating a new norm with their actions.”

Yes, but: A few years ago, when the pandemic fueled a tipping bump, several local business owners told Axios’ Michael Graff that customers should base their decision about tipping on the transaction type, and that customers should tip “when it feels right.” Local retailers are aware of the awkwardness of the tip requests on small transactions.

  • Customers should tip “in general if we’ve given good customer service,” Rhino Market owner Rob Rondelez tells Axios.

What they’re saying: Earlier this month, we asked Axios readers about tipping. Dozens of readers responded — and most agree tipping at places like bars and sit-down restaurants is expected. Many readers, however, expressed frustration at the state of tipping today. (The same is true on a national level, fwiw.)

Here’s what some of our readers had to say about tipping.

  • “I’m going to start off by saying tipping is now out of control. I’m old school and believe a tip is for a personal thank you or acknowledging a job well done or above. I would personally be thrilled to pay a higher price and never see a tip line on a receipt (or tap button on a screen) ever again.” — Nick Allen
  • “As a rule, I am offended with the dramatic increase in credit card machines that ‘ask for a tip’ of 15%, 20%, 25% or custom amount on take out ice cream stores, delicatessens, pizza parlors, Chinese food, etc. In those cases I have always left a moderate tip of a few dollars, and thus ALWAYS leave a custom amount, unless there was extraordinary service or a special effort involved.” — Jeff Freeman
  • “I resent being asked for tip at retail stores or for doing tasks that are in the job description and ‘part of the job.’ I fail to understand why employers are not responsible for offering a living wage but I am asked to supplement normal wages with tips. Something seems wrong with the system. I want to be fair and I appreciate many who provide services.” — Jill Perry
  • “Small businesses cannot afford to pay employees what they want to be paid to show up; tipping helps keep employees and run a small business … It is pathetic, but it is the society we have evolved into.” — John Quirin
  • “During the pandemic, my wife and I purposefully did takeout more often to support our local businesses. We’d tip 20%+. It was our way of showing support to our favorite spots! Even now, I tip more at my local go-to spots – 15-20%+. About 10-15% everywhere else. My motto is to always take care of the folks who handle my food!!” — Jay Canty
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