We’ve all been there: You’re paying for coffee when that ubiquitous little tablet is turned toward you, prompting a tip while the barista waits patiently to complete the transaction.
The social pressure in these situations can be intense. Even if you feel a tip is not necessary, in the moment, it’s hard to decline. Beyond that, people are expected to tip for hairstylists, food delivery services, grocery pickup and more.
Some local fast-food joints also have tip jars prominently displayed. Many restaurant patrons who amped up their tipping habits during the COVID-19 pandemic are now tightening their purse strings as tipping fatigue sets in. And workers who rely on gratuities to make ends meet are suffering the consequences.
Diana Bradbury, a waitress who worked in San Francisco and Los Angeles before landing back in her hometown of Reno, noted, “After COVID, when we got back to it, I did notice a little spike there at the beginning, because we have a lot of regulars, and a lot of people who are just so excited to be out again.” Bradbury, who worked at the same establishment before the pandemic, said the uptick in tips didn’t last for long.
Though tipping is ingrained in American culture as a way to show gratitude for services, a recent Bankrate survey indicated that 66 percent of Americans have a negative view of the practice. In addition, 41 percent of respondents believe the burden of a livable wage should fall on the shoulders of the business owners, not their customers.
“I think the root issue … is that business owners are pawning off their labor fees (on patrons),” said Bradbury, who has worked in the service industry for more than 15 years. “So if you’re renting a kayak, and that person expects a tip, that’s because (the business) owner doesn’t want to pay them more money.”
Expectations of tips, particularly in businesses other than sit-down restaurants, often create awkward situations for both employees and customers.
“That’s what people, I think, don’t see when they approach something like that,” Bradbury said. “They think, ‘Oh, this person in front of me wants my extra money,’” when it’s really a matter of trying to make a living wage.
This year’s Bankrate survey found that 65 percent of adults “always” tip their server at a dine-in restaurant, a significant drop from 73 percent in the 2022 poll. Tipping fatigue can partially be attributed to the technology that allows suggested tip amounts to be tacked on to a digital restaurant check. According to the survey, 32 percent of adults have negative feelings about those tablets, and 30 percent of adults think tipping culture has gotten out of control.
“Inflation and general economic unease seem to be making Americans stingier with their tipping habits, yet we’re confronted with more invitations to tip than ever,” Bankrate analyst Ted Rossman said when the survey was released.
Nevada law requires businesses to pay employees at least a minimum wage (now $10.25 an hour). But the statute also allows employers to deduct part of a worker’s tips as “tip credit” when customers pay with a bank card, effectively shifting the cards’ service fees onto the backs of servers. Nevada law also mandates that whatever mandatory gratuities employers may set, such as an 18 percent charge for parties of six or more, do not have to be passed on to the servers—the business owner may keep the gratuity. Tip pooling is allowed in Nevada, which means employees may be required to add their tips to a pool to be evenly distributed among staff at the end of service. This may or may not include back-of-house employees such as cooks.
The no-tipping model
A growing number of restaurants in bigger cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are experimenting with living-wage models for employees. In San Francisco, employees at the French restaurant Zazie make from $30 to $65 per hour, for example, and have a profit-sharing plan and benefits.
In Reno, Perenn, a bakery, has joined the no-tipping trend. According to its website, the owners “incorporate an equitable compensation fee within all of our pricing to ensure fairness and equal treatment of our team members.” Prices may be a little higher, proponents say, but diners will know the added cost goes toward paying staff members who aren’t reliant on tips. Perenn’s sister restaurant, Claio, also uses the no-tip system.
This shift to no-tip signals a broader trend within the hospitality industry that is driven by a desire to address income inequality and ensure stable livelihoods for staff. Servers often rely on tips to supplement their minimum-wage base pay. That income can fluctuate wildly based on factors beyond the servers’ control, such as experiencing sexual harassment or tip disparity based on race in the workplace.
Karen Amos of Reno, who has worked as a waitress and food runner for nine years, said most of her past employers made servers pool their tips, to be divided equally among the wait staff. That system, she said, can be a disincentive for employees.
“So if I get a really good tip, because I provided excellent service, it goes into the kitty, and I get the same (share) as everyone else,” she said. “It’s not fair. … All servers don’t do their jobs the same way or rate the same tips. I’d rather just make a living wage and not have to worry about what my income is going to be based on other people’s performance.”
Others oppose the no-tipping option. Business owners argue that maintaining the tipping model helps keep menu costs lower and that restaurants may have trouble absorbing the cost of the higher wages. Greater employee turnover may be an unexpected outcome of the no-tip experiment. In an opinion piece published in NH Journal, servers wrote: “For the remaining workers, our motivation would plummet along with our tips. It’s like telling a salesperson they can no longer work for commission; where is the incentive to go above and beyond if you won’t be rewarded accordingly?”
Bradbury has mixed feelings about the no-tipping system. She supports a living wage but doesn’t think she would like working in a place where tipping isn’t allowed.
“I feel like personally, I would end up not really feeling the benefit of a place like that,” she said. “I think because I’ve been doing this job for 15-plus years in one facet or another, when you make the same amount of money no matter what you do, it’s soul-sucking after a while.”
Tips for tipping
So far, relatively few restaurants have adopted the no-tipping model. We still live in a tipping-centric culture, which got more confusing as the pressure to tip increased. How much should you tip your barista or budtender? What’s a fair gratuity for haircuts or bellhops? Here are some guidelines to help navigate our tablet-filled world.
• In restaurants, it’s customary to tip wait staff around 15-20 percent of the bill before taxes. However, some establishments might include a service charge, so check the menu. Bartenders generally receive $1-$2 per drink or 15-20 percent of the total tab. For food delivery, a tip of 10-15 percent is standard, with a minimum of $2-$5.
• Hotel services come with their own set of norms. Bellhops typically receive $1-$2 per bag, while housekeeping can be tipped $2-$5 per night, left in an envelope in the room. Concierge services, like booking reservations or arranging tours, often warrant $5-$10 per request.
• In the rideshare era, rideshare drivers should receive 15-20 percent of the fare. Taxi drivers, on the other hand, can be tipped around 10-15 percent. Tour guides and personal drivers can be tipped $10-$20 per person per day, depending on the length and quality of the service.
• For personal services, hairstylists and barbers generally receive 15-20 percent of the service cost. Spa services warrant a 15-20 percent tip as well. For services like pet grooming, 10-15 percent is suitable.
• For budtenders, tipping based on a percentage of the purchase amount can get very pricey. For a basic transaction, a buck or two is a good standard. For anything more complex, $2-5 is a good range, depending on the extent of the service and size of the purchase. And if you’re really making them run around for a large order, consider throwing $5-10 in the tip jar.
Sources: RN&R research and Potguide.com.