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Restaurant Owners: It’s Time to Move Past “Pandemic-Tipping”

I waited tables for years, and feel a 20 percent tip shouldn’t be the minimum at restaurants this far out of Covid.

Last Friday, I was out to dinner at a sports bar with my wife. The service was fine for four beers and two entrees, but nothing worth a $21 tip.

When I asked for the check, the server brought a card reader to the table instead of a paper receipt. I put in my credit card and looked at the gratuity options: 20, 22, and 25%. My God, I thought. Since when is 20% the “new normal” for a meal out? Then it hit me, since 2020, when we started using the term “new normal” for everything.

After bars and restaurants were shut down due to the pandemic, many reopened with new touchless technology and larger gratuity. Two years ago, it felt like a subtle hint saying, “restaurant workers are struggling. Can you help us out?” And I was happy to tip more at first, but with rising inflation, it seems like a stretch.

Before I come off as a total cheapskate shaking my fist at restaurant servers, please know I used to be one.

I waited tables at a popular restaurant franchise for years while in college. Back then 15% was the standard. And when I got a 20% tip, I’d nod in approval and say “yes!” under my breath.

Because I know what it’s like to get stiffed on a bill as a waiter, I’ve always been a generous tipper. But my view of generosity is now simply expected.

A recent survey of 1,000 Americans from GOBankingRates showed more than 1 in 4 now tip 25% for good service. Rising inflation also results in rising costs at restaurants. How many times do customers need to eat the costs when eating out?

Where I live, social distancing is old news. If restaurants can allow pre-pandemic capacity of customers, I feel safe to tip at pre-pandemic rates. But it may kill guest experience for those who don’t have restaurant experience.

The scales have tipped too far

A personal finance site called Bankrate routinely polls Americans on their spending behaviors. Very recently one of its poll’s main takeaways was “66 percent of Americans have a negative view of tipping.”

Here, I thought I was alone. But then I read the headline “30% of Americans say ‘tipping culture is out of control,’ as some businesses agree to scrap tip prompts.” I kinda agree.

Many guests may have noticed new touchless technologies after businesses reopened following lockdown bans were lifted. They may have even noticed the increase in gratuity. But they may have taken a while to realize how many businesses now use these technologies including the same gratuity requests of 20 percent and more.

Ted Rossman, Bankrate’s senior industry analyst, even agrees it’s tough to keep up with financially.

“Few topics elicit as many passionate opinions as tipping. There’s so much confusion regarding who to tip, and if so, how much,” Rossman says. “A lot is changing, as technology makes it easier to tip some people and harder to tip others – as travelers who are short on cash can attest.”

I’m not saying all businesses should “scrap tip prompts.” I just think you should evaluate what your business is and how your staff is paid.

Bartenders and servers earn less than minimum wage because they rely on gratuity for a living. Guests shouldn’t have to feel guilty for now leaving a 30 percent tip when a cashier or barista flips a screen for payment at their local coffee shop.