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Central Albertans are drawn into the when-to-tip-and-how-much debate

A lot of businesses are now asking for gratuities that never used to
Tipping has moved beyond restaurants to many businesses that have never traditionally required gratuities. (File photo by BLACK PRESS news services)

Tips are no longer just something you give your restaurant server or hair-dresser.

Some Uber drivers and cafe workers have their hands out, as well as some workers at drive-through windows and even certain therapists and service repair people.

Central Albertans are used to tipping at hair salons and sit-down restaurants. But when tip percentages are automatically solicited through debit machines for everything from a coffee purchase to a costly plumbing job, it’s causing some griping on social media.

Some commenters have pointed out that getting to the “no tip” function on debit machines requires some maneuvering, embarrassing them in front of the person who would be benefitting. “It’s often based on guilt and putting you in an awkward situation,” said a person on Reddit.

The idea of giving a gratuity to a person who’s paid to pour coffee “ is a bit ridiculous,” said another commenter. “I’m sorry, but I’m not tipping someone for putting a donut in a bag and handing it to me.”

Another Albertan reasoned on Quora that nothing has changed in how we value service or tipping. “What has changed is that some companies have capitalized on the psychology of reciprocity and now have technology that can do the tough job of normalizing asking you for more money.”

The parameters of tipping have certainly been broadened in recent years.

Kate Hickey, a sociology instructor at Red Deer Polytechnic, believes the pandemic, with its focus on no-touch payments and news about the hard-hit service industry, has created more impetus for people to show some largess.

A recent customer survey done by U.S. gambling site showed that 51 per cent of customers who tipped for a service after getting a technological request (such as percentages popping up on debit machines) had not been planning on tipping beforehand, and would otherwise not have given a gratuity.

Tipping is a societal norm and technology is often accepted as a form of authority in our world, said Hickey. Bring the two together and she understands why it can be hard for a person, who might be able to ignore a tip jar, to disregard a direct tip request from a debit/credit machine.

The downside for businesses that push tip percentages is some people will be so offended by the request they will not tip at all — or not return to the establishment.

Hickey said customers should consider that some service workers do not expect a tip, even though the request has been programmed into the payment technology.

She believes there are other ways of countering tipping pressures. She advises people to consider beforehand whether this is a service they might want to leave a gratuity for before getting to the payment desk.

If the type of business has never before asked for tips and is now breaking a societal norm to do so, she believes there’s nothing wrong with people sticking to their convictions and not tipping, for instance, therapists who are better paid than some of their customers.

Of course, many tipping situations fall within a grey area. Some meal delivery services are now asking for a tip up-front, before the food is even delivered, and there’s always the cafe worker who hands over a tip solicitation for serving up a coffee.

It can be a thorny issue, admitted Brandon Bouchard, manager of Tribe Restaurant in Red Deer. But his own philosophy is be generous if you can.

The restaurant manager said his staff are paid a living wage but count on tips to supplement their earnings. Customers usually tip 15 to 25 per cent, on average, and Bouchard said this can lift servers who earn a $15 minimum wage to $20 to $30 per hour.

Often restaurants will pool tips received by wait staff and share it with the table clearing and kitchen staff to promote equity. “It makes it more of a team” atmosphere, he added.

Bouchard knows some people are starting to feel that tipping is becoming an obligation, though it should be optional. But he reasons if a service is valued, and you can afford it, why not add a tip and help make someone’s day?

“Personally, if I have the option to tip where tipping is the normal thing, of course, I tip. I don’t feel obligated to do it. I see it as my opportunity to do something good for someone.”

“We’re all struggling. If you have enough money, be the good in the world.”

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