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Here's why Americans are Feeling Tip Fatigue as a Gesture of Gratitude has Become an Obligation

What was once a gesture of gratitude for exceptional service has now evolved into an expected norm across various service industries.
Cover Image Source: Tipping Culture | Pexel | Photo by Tim Samuel
Cover Image Source: Tipping Culture | Pexel | Photo by Tim Samuel

From a gesture of gratitude for exceptional service while dining out, tipping has now evolved into a social norm with compliance expected across sectors where services are on offer. But this cultural shift towards ubiquitous tipping hasn't been as seamless as it sounds, and is causing unexpected stress among consumers, leaving them frustrated. It has also led to calls for reevaluating the compensation for workers offering services, as employers seem to get away by replacing fair wages with tips.

Image Source: Pexels|Photo by Pixabay
Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Pixabay

Being kept away from restaurants and bars during pandemic-induced lockdowns and subsequent social distancing measures made many Americans reconsider their priorities and develop a renewed appreciation for the small pleasures in life. Consequently, there has been a surge in the willingness to show gratitude through tipping, giving rise to what was termed a "tipping culture."

"Historically, tips were designed for services well performed. But it's morphed into an expectation by servers not just to tip, but tip generously or they’ll call you out," says Rob Burnette, chief executive and investment adviser at a financial planning firm.

While tipping was traditionally associated with certain service industries such as restaurants and bars, its prevalence has expanded into a wide range of settings, a phenomenon referred to as "tip creep." This expansion has led to "tip fatigue," with consumers feeling increasingly pressured to leave gratuities even in situations where they may not be warranted or deserved.

According to a survey conducted by WalletHub, a staggering 74% of respondents expressed the belief that tipping culture has spiraled out of control. This sentiment is fueled by the perception that businesses are increasingly relying on tips to supplement employee salaries, effectively shifting the burden of fair compensation from employers to customers.

Cover Image Source: Unsplash | Photo by Bimo Luki
Image Source: Unsplash | Photo by Bimo Luki

In addition to that, tip jars and payment screens with built-in tipping options have exacerbated consumer fatigue. Many individuals feel overwhelmed by the constant barrage of tipping requests, with over a quarter of respondents admitting to paying less than suggested amounts or feeling irritated by tip prompts, particularly in self-service scenarios.

"One situation in which you should not be compelled to tip relates back to the automated kiosk," Vincent Birardi, a CFP and wealth advisor at Halbert Hargrove, says.

The resentment towards tipping culture is further compounded by the perceived coercion of "guilt tipping," as many consumers feel obligated to leave gratuities, not out of genuine appreciation for exceptional service, but rather to avoid judgment or stigma.

Money in a tip jar in a Taos, New Mexico, coffee shop includes | Getty Images | Photo by Robert Alexander
Image Source: Tip Jar | Getty Images | Photo by Robert Alexander

The dissatisfaction with tipping culture has prompted calls for reform, with nearly 80% of respondents advocating for the banning of automatic service charges.

"Consumers may increasingly reject the pressure to tip and opt for establishments that do not rely on gratuities for employee compensation," suggests Tim Self, an assistant professor of hospitality at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee.

"This gives the perception that tipping is everywhere, which does seem the case. Ultimately, it comes down to the consumer making that choice, and I think more people will get comfortable saying 'no.' That's where I think a tip jar makes more sense."