10 Examples of American Tipping Culture Getting Out of Hand

“Tipflation” wasn’t part of mainstream American vocabulary until recently. Now, this phrase rolls off many frustrated customers’ tongues.

According to a Bankrate report, 30% of Americans feel tipping has gotten out of control. Tipping has also transitioned from an act that many people feel good about to one they do out of feeling social pressure.

To be clear, Mindfully American isn’t anti-tipping. On the contrary, given low federal minimum wages for tip-based employees, we support tipping service workers. However, there are situations when tipping has gotten out of hand, and these are some examples.

1: Expensive Haircut

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One for the price of two, anyone? In February of this year, the New York Post reported on barber shop Sweeney Todd encouraging customers to tip up to 90% of the cost of their $15 haircut. The screen showcased 50%, 70%, and 90% tips as options. Two choices in smaller fonts sat beneath these suggestions: “Custom tip” and “No tip.”

2: Go Hungry

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In the fall of 2023, DoorDash started warning customers who didn’t include a tip when booking their service that their delivery could take longer. The popup message went on to explain that Dashers are allowed to pick the orders they want to take, so they’re more incentivized when a tip is present. While there’s certainly a case to be made for tipping delivery drivers, isn’t there also a case to be made about tipping after receiving your goods based on the quality of the service?

3: Guilty as Tipped

$5 tip.
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For much of American tipping history, people generally felt good about tipping. But according to a Forbes survey, nearly one out of every four customers feel guilty about tipping nowadays. Feelings of pressure, overwhelm, and embarrassment also ranked high. The bottom line? Tipping often doesn’t feel as satisfying as in the past, and it can even lead to downright frustration. If that’s not a sign of tipping getting out of hand, we don’t know what is.

4: Self-Checkout Woes

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What’s worse than not feeling great about the high tip you pay for mediocre service? Answer: Tipping a machine when you did the work. The Newark Airport has done just that, with a self-service snack kiosk asking customers if they want to leave a tip. And we’re not talking about a small tip; the suggested gratuity is 15% – 20%. Who wants to tip a machine for having to provide the customer service themself?

5: Critique From the Server

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You know tipping culture has gotten out of control when the server starts critiquing their customers on the amount of tip they’re given. Case in point? A DoorDash driver sent a passive-aggressive message to a customer commenting on how nice his house is and thanking him for the $5 tip. However, that $5 tip was a 33% gratuity for the dinner that cost the customer $15.

Yes, there’s a point to be made that delivery service drivers don’t go through much, if any, extra work based on the value of an order. So, in theory, for the same 20-minute drive, the DoorDash driver could have made significantly more money on a $100 order. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable that in the case of the 33% tip, the customer wasn’t intentionally trying to under-tip his driver.

6: Nearly a Quarter More

Fancy restaurant.
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Up until the pandemic, the tipping rate in America averaged 18% to 20%. Mind you, that was also before prices spiked. Fast forward a few years later, and it now costs Denver, Colorado, residents 24.2% more to eat out. This isn’t a tale unique to Denverites; not only is it common for the service industry to encourage tipping starting at 25%, but with the increased cost of food, it’s an even larger tip burden.

7: Fast Tip

Cafe worker holding coffee cup.
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Coffee shops and fast food places used to be a way for Americans to make fast, often relatively inexpensive purchases. However, getting a morning coffee at McDonald’s, lunch at Panera, and a pick-me-up frappĂ© at Starbucks in the afternoon involves customers having an iPad shoved in their faces three times, all with requests to tip.

The rate of quick-service restaurants asking for tips from their customers has increased by about 10% between 2020 and 2023. However, in 2022, Americans started tipping less, from 16.4% to 15.9%. Experts theorize that part of the reason for this decrease is that consumers are overwhelmed by the number of places that ask for money. As a result, they’re becoming less generous.

8: Grocery Budget Out the Window

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Tiny Grocer is a small, upscale grocery store in Austin, Texas. They claimed a moment of unwanted fame when a customer shared their disbelief online about being asked to tip their cashier. After the standard grocery store checkout process, the cashier turned a dreaded tipping iPad towards them. The recommended tipping amount? Twenty-five percent.

9: Takeout Troubles

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Some Americans never thought about tipping for takeout meals they pick up themselves. That is, until some restaurants started requesting tips at payment. Experts recommend that when you’re picking up your own takeout food, it’s reasonable to skip tipping if it was a simple order. If the order was more complex, tipping around 10% is reasonable.

The reasoning behind this? Although you’re not receiving a sitdown service with takeout food, there were still cooks and other employees behind the scenes working to prepare your meal. Since tipping helps compensate restaurant workers for low base wages, the logic applies that tipping a little for your takeout meal is a reasonable expectation. However, tipping 20% or more seems excessive.

10: Expensive Merch

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Many people love buying themselves memorabilia when attending a concert. Traditionally, it’s been normal for there to be a tipping jar where concert attendees can make a cash gratuity if they wish. But with the rise of digital payments, merch stand workers may earn even more.

For example, TesseracT drummer Jay Postones was surprised to learn that some of his merch sellers were making over $30,000 in tips from up to a six-week tour. His gripe, though, was that the sellers should have distributed the tip money among all band members. Some could argue that a better gripe to have is asking fans to tip when they’ve already spent money on buying merch and the concert ticket.

Digital Demise

iPad for tipping.
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Americans aren’t inherently a skimpy bunch when it comes to the concept of tipping; seventy-six percent of respondents in Forbes’ tipping survey said that they tip always or often. But statistically, digital tipping is causing them to lose more money. Almost 65% of customers leave a tip of at least 11% more when tipping digitally versus doing so with cash. Ouch.

No, Thanks

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According to a PYMNTS survey, Americans who make more than $100,000 per year report being more likely to eat at home than in the past as a result of tip fatigue. In contrast, those making less than $50,000 per year are the least likely to eat at home more frequently despite the expectation to tip higher.

Tipflation

Cashier at fast food restaurant.
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Tipflation started during the pandemic when customers began tipping more out of appreciation for essential workers. Many companies latched onto this sentiment, increasing the recommended tipping percentage on digital and paper receipts.

The problem, of course, is that in our post-pandemic world, tipping recommendations haven’t backtracked to their pre-pandemic amounts. The result is an American culture that’s becoming fed up with exorbitant tipping expectations.

Study Up

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Although it’s common for customers to calculate a tip on the total amount they owe, tipping before tax is socially acceptable in the U.S. Tipping on the pre-tax cost of your meal or service can save you big bucks over the long run.

Employer Issue

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It’s impossible to talk about tipping issues without touching on the employer’s role. The average federal minimum wage for tipped employees is a measly $2.13 per hour. So, by law, employers are allowed to let customers do the heavy lifting to increase their employees’ wages to a liveable (or relatively liveable) income.

There are more issues on either side of the employee wage aisle than we can cover in this article. However, experts argue that another downside of a tipping-based pay structure is that it creates disparities between employees at the same job. For example, the wait staff sometimes makes more in tips than those behind the scenes in the kitchen.

9 Countries Where Tipping Is Rude or Uncommon

A small tip on a plate.
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If you’re tired of American tipping practices, you just might want to visit (and perhaps move to) one of these countries. Yes, some countries view tipping as downright rude.

9 Countries Where Tipping Is Rude or Uncommon

15 Times Banks Failed American Customers

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Many Americans put their trust in banks, depositing their hard-earned money to grow their savings. But some have had the wool pulled over their eyes.

15 Times Banks Failed American Customers

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