Tipping an American self-service establishment—an obligation or a choice?


Tipping in America has changed drastically over the years. Some businesses have tipping options even though they are self-serve. Many customers feel obligated to tip when it is not necessary.

America differs from other countries in the way tipping is asked and received. The tips are not included in the original price, instead coming at the end of the payment. Businesses such as coffee shops, restaurants, retail stores, and service industries may use a digital screen for transactions with cards. 

Graphic by Lilly McAndrews

The digital screen is used to place orders and collect payments from customers. In the beginning of the transaction, the screen is faced towards the employee, but when it is time to pay, the screen is flipped to the customer. Then the customer pays for their service or goods and is often faced with the question of a tip.

Many feel obligated to tip in this scenario due to the pressure of the employee watching or the opinions surrounding tips. Partners Healthcare describes normal American customs surrounding tipping as: “Giving tips for certain jobs is standard in the U.S. Waiters, waitresses, bartenders and taxi drivers are always tipped 15% of the bill for adequate service, 20% or more for very good service, and no less than 10% for poor service.” 

When the employee is watching, the customer choose the tipping percentage they want to give. It reflects back on the services, whether there was one or not. “I don’t feel like I have to tip at a self service business, but if there is some sort of service being provided, then I do tip,” junior Gracie Lampert said. 

It is customary to always tip a waiter, barista, but has it gone too far in places where the service is done by yourself?

Tipping is a major component to some businesses and a huge area for profit, but some customers feel as if the methods and use of tipping is too much handle: “For industries that are not reliant on tips, such as car services (think routine oil change) or a visit from a handyman, Birardi suggests that tipping is optional, “but you can tip 10% to 20% if you felt they went above and beyond with their service,” said Dr. Jamie Peters to CNBC on tipping culture. 

As the feeling of obligation to tip in places that are not direct service rises in America, many find themselves not even questioning why there is a tip requested and giving it anyway. If the employee is not completing a task, then a tip should not be expected. 

As the tablet is turned to face the costumer, the presence of the employee, and societal norm to tip weigh over the payer’s head. The finger reaches for the 20% option and the employee smiles knowing that they only had to ask a few questions and push a few buttons. But tipping is always expected. The “no tip” icon is left untouched and the establishment receives the money. 

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