Josh Freed: We’ve reached a tipping point with ‘tip creep’

When you pull your own sandwich out of a cooler and clean your own table, you shouldn’t feel pressured to tip 15 percent or more.


I was in a grocery store the other day buying milk, when the bored-looking waiter turned his credit card machine on me, displaying the option of a 15, 20, or 25 percent tip.

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This for taking my own two liters of milk from the fridge and having the clerk point me to the credit card machine. In essence, I would be tipping you for asking for a tip.

It’s a fast-growing trend today as we’re pressured to tip everywhere from grocery stores, bakeries, and fast food places to some auto repair shops.

About the only places that don’t ask for tips yet are ATMs, but I’m sure banks are working on it. All the others are. Whats Next? Asking for tips at self-service gas stations, where should they tip us?

Tipping has always been complex. We do it in restaurants, hotels and taxis, but not in supermarkets; we tip hairdressers and pedicurists, not shoe salesmen. Sommeliers earn four times the tip for opening a $120 bottle of wine than for a $30 bottle that requires the same labor.

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I’ve always believed in generously tipping service people, but lately it’s a reflex I have to suppress, because absolutely everyone wants a good tip.

Recently, at a Plateau bakery, I ordered three loaves and a frozen quiche, and the screen showed tip options from 15 to 30 percent. There wasn’t an option for “no tip” but there was a line behind me so I hurriedly hit a key that said “other amount”.

I didn’t have my reading glasses so I stared at the multiple options on the new menu for too long and the machine froze. The clerk had to redo my bill and return the machine to me.

I felt grunting behind me in line, like I was buying 14 lottery tickets whose numbers I was deciding, while carefully calculating the date, my lucky numbers, and my birth zodiac sign.

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I didn’t want to waste my time again, so I guiltily pressed the 15 percent option for wasting the server’s time, but only when I left did I realize, “Wow! I just left a $4 tip for the bread.”

Some of this “tipping surge” began during COVID-19 when restaurants were only serving takeout, and employees were stressed and confronted by some stubbornly unvaccinated and unmasked diners.

So we all contribute more to newly appreciated frontline workers by leaving better tips, a kind of hero’s hazard pay for keeping the world going in an age of germ terror. He has been nicknamed the Great Pandemic Tip Boom of 2020.

But while the pandemic has calmed down, tips continue to rise and we may have reached a tipping point.

Aside from hoarding tips, cash has all but disappeared, replaced everywhere from farmers’ markets to food trucks by small smartphone-connected card terminals that automatically request a minimum 15 percent tip.

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Again, there is almost never a “no tip” option. You have to look up the “custom amount,” usually under the guilt-inducing gaze of the employee you’re considering tipping.

Once you tip, the machines often display programmed messages like “BRILLIANT!” for 25 percent, “EXCELLENT!” for 20 and “OK” for less.

There are even reports that some garages and plumbers have requested tips of 15 percent and more in repair bills of $2,800 (that’s at least $420).

Expect car salesmen to follow suit, asking for 20 percent tips on a new $32,000 vehicle.

Now that electronic tips have become routine, many underpaid cashiers insist that employers keep the tip option on screen. I don’t blame them, but I also feel like it’s the employers job to pay them to pay cash, not mine.

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We should tip people well for their work, especially waiters who earn about $3 less ($11.40) than the Quebec minimum hourly wage ($14.25), as they are expected to compensate you with tips.

They work hard and stay cheerful with often demanding clients that probably drive their spouses crazy. The same goes for latte connoisseurs, struggling kitchen staff, dishwashers, busboys, and bartenders.

But when you pull your own sandwich out of a cooler and clean your own table, you shouldn’t feel pressured to tip 15 percent or more.

We should also tip delivery people well, as well as hairdressers, tattoo artists, and other personal services. But when you’ve brought a 24-pack of beer to the cash deposit, it’s crazy to be asked for a $4 tip.

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It used to be easy to drop 50 cents in a tip jar on the counter for coffee, but they’re disappearing as fast as cash, replaced by automatic on-screen suggestions. At the jazz festival I bought an ice cream bar from an outdoor vendor for $6.75 and normally would have left 25 cents change.

But none of the vendors were accepting cash anymore, so I was faced with the usual 15 percent request, for him to hand over the bar, and declined. In the future, I’ll try to carry a plastic bag of cash, and if someone doesn’t want my dollar, I’ll just tip.

Thank you for reading. Choose one of the following tip options: $5 … $500 … $5,000.

$5,000? SPARKLY!

[email protected]

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