Tips are being solicited more than ever, and travelers are prime targets

Here’s a tip for your next trip: Get ready to tip more.

Gratuities, once limited to restaurant servers, bellhops and concierges, are being solicited more than ever, and travelers are prime targets. It’s happening at a time when tipping is reportedly being phased out, leading to confusion and the inevitable question: When should I leave a little extra money on the table?

Consider the experience of Robert Rose, a television producer from New York, who was visiting South Beach in Miami recently. He needed to fix a cuff on a pair of pants and found a nearby dry cleaner. That’s when he noticed a tip jar next to the cash register.

“I declined their services,” he says.

Hands are out in all kinds of places, including fast-food restaurants, coffee shops, food trucks, ski rental stores and even public restrooms. Usually, the gratuities are optional, though they can be strongly encouraged with signs or payment systems that pressure you into adding a little extra. But not always. Some cruise lines automatically add gratuities to your final bill “for your convenience,” and they can be difficult to remove.

It’s a bewildering time to be a tipper. Last year, Joe’s Crab Shack eliminated tipping at some locations, becoming the first major restaurant chain to do so. Another company, Union Square Hospitality Group, said it also planned to end tipping at its restaurants. That led to breathless predictions that tipping was on its way to extinction.

If only. Travelers report that solicitations are alive and well, and in the places you’d least expect them.

When Ariel Nicole, a social worker from Jacksonville, Fla., recently visited a county fair, she encountered something new: an attendant directing women into stalls, wiping the counters and handing out paper towels. “She also gave women a spray of perfume or dab of lotion if requested,” she says. “She had a tip jar.” Nicole didn’t know how much to tip a restroom attendant, so she declined to do so. (Generally, the tip is about 50 cents, in case you were wondering.)

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Hilda Mitrani says she was stunned when the South Florida bowling alley she frequents solicited a tip from her when she paid for her game, asking her to fill in a gratuity amount on her credit card receipt.

“I found that odd,” says Mitrani, a marketing executive from Hollywood, Fla. She also didn’t leave a tip.

The inequalities created by the spread of tipping are a concern to experts such as Holona Ochs, an associate professor at Lehigh University and co-author of “Gratuity: A Contextual Understanding of Tipping Norms From the Perspective of Tipped Employees.” Her research suggests that more gratuities are not necessarily good for workers, either.

The trend coincides with a decrease in real wages and what she calls the “de-professionalization” of some jobs. In other words, as servers, concierges and other professionals become more reliant on gratuities, they become a less professional workforce; that can lead to lower service levels for consumers.

Tip jars and lines on credit card statements are a form of pressure that perpetuates tipping, Ochs says. “For example, tour guides and shuttle drivers will sometimes clip bills to a clipboard or some other place visible to customers,” she says. “In these cases, people may be pressured by other customers to tip.”

It worries travelers such as Peter DeForest, a consultant based in San Francisco. “This has been happening more and more,” he says. “When I pick up a takeout order from a restaurant — even a small order — I see either a tip box by the cash register or get an expectant look and get a tip line on the credit card receipt. I’m just waiting for a tip jar at the supermarket to start showing up.”

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Actually, the wait is over. Benjamin Glaser says he recently saw a tip jar at the checkout counter of a grocery store in Manhattan, and, like DeForest and Rose, he was hard-pressed to see the benefit of giving the cashier a gratuity.

“I guess it’s a good way to show thanks for a bagger who doesn’t put eggs on the bottom,” he says.

But over the long term, he doubts the benefits to customers. “Tipped employees regularly receive a lower mandated minimum wage,” says Glaser, who edits a consumer website based in Huntsville, Ala. “I think it’s important to note that, when employers and the government factor in tips in wages and therefore allow a lower minimum wage, it’s they who are asking customers for more, not the employees.”

Escaping the growing tip vortex is possible, if awkward. To stop the spread of tipping, you have to stop tipping. Travelers have to reward businesses that pay their workers a fair wage and reject tips. But they also need to decline to fill the tip jar in places where the cost of the product should cover employee salaries, such as coffee shops or food trucks.

That’s what Elizabeth Megan did when she was confronted with a tip jar at a doughnut shop in Boston. Megan, who runs a tour business, says she thought the chain had a no-tipping policy, “but I think some stores ignore the rule.”

That made it easy for Megan to ignore the tip jar.

Have tips gone too far?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • The Cosmic Avenger

    Peter DeForest needs to think about what’s required for a takeout order from a nice restaurant. Usually a server has to take time from their tables and gather and package the order, include all the extras (condiments, utensils, napkins), and at the places I frequent, they label the meals for our convenience. I always tip on takeout orders from places where I would tip if dining in. Sure, it’s less work, so I don’t tip as much as I normally would, but not tipping has them doing all that for $2.13 an hour, and that’s definitely not fair. Until we can abolish the travesty of the “tipped minimum wage”, we need to remember that most waitstaff are making most of their income based on voluntary contributions from customers.

  • Rebecca

    Yes, this. I order takeout often; we have 2 small children and it’s much easier that getting to a restaurant. But the waiters that get all the food ready are making $2/hour. It isn’t their fault their employer makes them do this additional job. I don’t tip as much as if we ate there, but usually tip 15% or so.

  • pmcw

    I’m generally a tipper, but not a “guilt” tipper. In other words, just because there is a jar, or a line on the cc ticket, I don’t feel compelled to leave a tip.

    I think restaurant carry out merits a tip. I usually tip there 10% to 15% versus 20%+ for table service. I usually give drive up window people at a fast food restaurant that are good and courteous a buck or two. When I stay in a condo for a week, I usually leave a maid that has done a good job $10 or $20. When there is live music somewhere, and I enjoy the band, I usually look for a tip jar so I can drop in a $5. And the list goes on.

    I’ll never forget after spending a long evening at a bar in Thailand (with my wife) where tipping is not customary, I left the waitress a 20%’ish tip. The service was excellent in every regard. The waitress chased us down as we walked towards the door to leave, where she insisted on hugging us both and saying a short prayer.

    However, unless a dry cleaner or cashier does something special, I feel no obligation to tip. I think the bottom line here is put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If from that perspective you think it’s appropriate to tip; do it. For some people the tip, and in some cases, the acknowledgement that you appreciate their work, means more than you might be able to imagine.

  • Regina Litman

    About 20 years ago, we stayed in a hotel where we not only had to pay for parking, but it was valet-only. I prefer self-park. On the day we checked out, the valet went to get our car. My usual traveling companion tipped the wrong valet by mistake. The correct valet would not surrender our key until we also tipped him.

    Here’s a question – As I’ve stated here before, I’d rather have the cost of parking at a hotel included in the room cost or a resort fee. If this is the case, would I still need to tip a parking attendant or valet?

  • DAVE

    I have an interesting perspective on tipping. I have an outdoor food vending operation where my primary price point is either $2.00 or $3.00 depending on the location and event. In the beginning I did not put a tip jar, but people consistently offered tips as part of payment. When I hesitated accepting them, people seemed put off and even insulted that I would not accept them. I now put tip jars out and cannot believe the amount of tips we receive on a regular basis. I am still uncomfortable accepting tips, but the people who help me are thrilled.

  • Maxwell Smart

    Australians & Japanese don’t tip. Good luck trying to extract a tip from some of them.
    All wages & benefits are very high in Australia. eg. Most Australian full time employees get a 17.5% loading on their normal weekly pay, when they take their 4 weeks + annual leave.

  • Mel65

    I do tip, and I’m fairly generous (and I’ve been a waitress and my brother is a bartender). But what most people forget is this: Yes, that waiter is making $2.15 an hour “on paper”, BUT if the average check at a decent restaurant is, say $40, and ONLY ONE table per hour tips 20%, that waiter has made $10 per hour or more. Some hours they’ll make $50 an hour or more in a busy or upscale location. And do not forget that according to the Dept. of Labor, “If the employee’s tips combined with the employer’s direct wages of at least $2.13 per hour do not equal the federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must make up the difference” so no that employee is never ONLY making $2.15 an hour. Worst case scenario, they make minimum wage for a shift and if the bulk of their tips are in cash and therefore don’t show up in a sales report for the day (which only detils tips added to CCs) they’ll make minimum wage PLUS all those unclaimed tips. I’m not saying they’re getting rich of waiting tables, but it wasn’t unusual for me or my brother to go home with $200 at the end of a 6 hour shift–in cash.

  • 42NYC

    Currently in Vegas and the demand/requests for tips out here are absurd. Happy to tip the waiter the bellhop the cab driver (though in Vegas it’s uber only for me) and even tipped the blackjack dealer $20 after a winning streak.

    The person who handed me a towel at the pool expected a tip. The valet who unsolicitedly followed us to our uber to open the door and give the driver our destination (despite him already having it) expected a tip. The Starbucks in the casino had a suggested gratuity noted on the receipt. None of these three got anything from me.

    I respect some people rely on tips for a living and am happy to tip generously when I think it’s warranted. But taking two seconds to pick a towel up from a pile to hand it to me does not warrant a tip.

    Admittedly I don’t get why we tip barbers and cab drivers but I respect its commonplace and therefore so so.

  • 42NYC

    Personally I think if the service is so poor as to warrant a small tip the better move is to talk to the manager. I also think that when service is slow it can often be due to something outside of the waiters control.

    That said, if I was ever chased down the street requesting a larger tip, my 10-15% would quickly become 0%.

    The first night I ever spent in Japan my tip caused me to get chased down the street. The waitress wanted me to have the money I accidentally left behind. No tipping yet amazing service with people who dontheir jobs well because they want to have pride in their work.

  • Peter

    At the restaurants I frequent, the food is prepared and boxed in the kitchen.

    How many dollars do you give someone for dropping a little bag with a napkin and plastic utensils into your order and handing it to you? When someone is serving me (ie involving some significant physical effort), I tip. If not, like handing me a bag, I don’t.

    Flight attendants work pretty hard and don’t earn all that much. I wonder which airline is going to break that barrier?

  • Peter

    You have just described the future of tipping. Where it becomes an expected part of every transaction, like a VAT, and is independant of service quality or effort.

    I’m old enough to remember when tipping was a reward for excellent and attentive service. When tipping is uncoupled from service and becomes an expectation, you get scenarios like service staff chasing after you for getting “only” 15%.

    Like most people, I am frequently guilted into tipping more than the service was worth. My normal tip for good service is 20%. But a waiter who never fills my water glass, or is very slow to clear a table, or brings food when it is cold, is probably not getting that.

    But in a busy restaurant, where the staff are already being well compensated, I just can’t see leaving more than a dollar or two when someone hands you a bag. 10% seems excessive to me.

  • redragtopstl

    And then there are the expected tips on motorcoach excursions (i.e., bus trips).
    We’ve taken two group vacations via motorcoach in the past year. First one was lovely; the more recent one, not so much.

    On both trips, SOP was to pass out envelopes to the passengers at some point; these were designated for gratuities at the end of the trip for the tour guide/leader, and for the bus driver. Not to mention, when there was a city tour with a “step-on” guide du jour, tips were expected for that person as well. Fortunately, all of this was not a surprise; the info and suggested tipping amounts were part of the itinerary package sent from the travel agency/tour packager prior to boarding the tour. Yes, you’re told by the travel agency and by the tour leader that these tips are not obligatory, but …

    We didn’t begrudge the money to the tour leader on either trip, nor to the bus driver on the first trip. Second trip: While the bus driver’s driving skills were fine — he had to go through some hellacious weather en route and awful traffic both ways — he just didn’t have the personality of the first trip’s driver, although he was always nice about helping people on and off the bus at the various stops.

    Long story short: You may think a bus trip is a cheap way to vacation, but you’re still going to be on the hook for tips before it’s over.

  • RobertSDF

    It really depends on where I am. When in Mexico, which I frequently am, the wages are so pathetic that most cannot live without tips. You could not believe what the beach resorts pay the workers for a 6 day week, with no benefits. Then they ship the huge profits back to the country where the resort is based.
    Regarding the supermarkets. Many are unaware the baggers in Mexico receive no pay. They work strictly for tips. In this case, I usually tip generously.

  • Pat VanHooser

    What about expensive spa treatments? Even medical day spas. I never know what’s appropriate. And massage therapists…I just don’t know.

  • cscasi

    So, if the people in the kitchen prepare and package the food and send it to the pickup counter for pickup and then the person at the counter collects the amount due from you and any tip you give, do you think that will go to the kitchen personnel who actually did the work? Perhaps, if it is done on a credit card. But, even then, most of the bills/receipts have the name of the person who rang it up (like servers do in a restaurant when they run your bill on the computer). So, I am just curious if it does go to the deserving people in this case, or not?

  • Stephen0118

    If you ever go to Universal Studios Hollywood and do the VIP experience, make sure you have at least $5 cash with you. You are expected to tip the tour guide at least that amount.

  • cscasi

    Some countries require restaurants, cafes, etc., to pay the wait staff a living wage and therefore customers are not expected to tip. Some od leave small change on the table, i.e., round it up to the next Euro, etc.

  • Maxwell Smart

    guilted into paying a tip.
    If anyone trys that give them a big note in some dodgy currency (many currencies in non-EU countries & South America are worthless outside of that country.
    Give an obnoxious waiter a 10,000 peso note & say have fun.
    Stop tipping. Have seen plenty of Americans who don’t tip anything.

  • pmcw

    How tips are shared is usually dictated by restaurant policy, but it’s not uncommon for tips to be shared to at least some degree, and for policies to acknowledge the varied levels of contribution with the sharing policy and wage levels.

  • Susan A. Slicker-Nemeth

    We have been asked outright for tips from young Caribbean women working in retail shops at the Port in Grenada. We have seen the same young woman several times. The first time I purchased some merchandise after she helped me find things, Not too difficult in a retail store, she asked me if I had a little something extra for her help. I was astonished at how blatant it was.

    Different trip a year later, we were in the same shop just looking. We had already bought our merchandise at another shop. We saw the same young woman again and she recognized us. I told her we were just looking, we had to get back to our ship as it was close to the time we were to leave port and I also told her it was good to see her again. She told me that we should buy her lunch. I said if we were going to lunch we might consider taking her along (no it that I would have!), but we were leaving and did not have time to go to lunch. She replied that we should still buy her meal for her. I laughed and told her, We’ll see you next year!”. But she was serious. I had heard her asking others if they had a nice tip for all her help….So, YES, tipping has gotten out of control in some places more than others. But it is not for me to pay a young woman who helps find tee shirts in a retail store her wages. Crazy!

  • Susan A. Slicker-Nemeth

    That is insane!

  • DChamp56

    Part of the tipping problem in restaurants is, the tips are pooled, and everyone from the busbuy/table cleaner, to the cooks themselves sometimes split the tips, SO, the tip you gave for good service? Maybe 10c of that went to the person. THAT is sad. Especially when one person hustles their bottom off, and another is lazy. (been there)

  • RBXChas

    I’ve heard some interesting things about tipping. I used to have my hair cut by a guy who owned the salon, and I tipped him as I would have any other stylist there. However, someone told me that I shouldn’t tip him because he owns the salon. Also, there’s a husband and wife team who run shuttles back and forth from a particular hotel to a cruise port in Florida. We’ve taken this shuttle on three different cruises, and it’s always the same husband and wife. It’s my understanding that they own the business. We pay the hotel for the shuttle to/from the port, which is inexpensive ($5/person/trip, I think, for a 10-minute drive). I’m sure the hotel takes a cut, but there’s always a tip jar at the front of the bus. The husband and wife are super friendly/talkative and help with bags and whatnot, so we’ve always tipped, but I guess my question is, what is the protocol when you’re dealing with the owner of a business?

  • MarkKelling

    The tour company I travel with insists you do not tip the tour guide or bus driver. And they do refuse any tip you try and give them. So those options are out there.

  • Mel65

    Miss Manners says that owners of businesses shouldn’t be tipped and shouldn’t ask/expect them either–something to do with basically getitng the post-expense profits from the business already. Having said that, the nail salon I go to is owned by a Vietnamese couple and they both accept and expect to be tipped because they were tipped as technicians before they bought a business and they prolly aren’t familiar with the “owner” etiquette rule.

  • Mel65

    I tip my massage therapist and I also tip the spa technicians when I’m on a cruise or at a resort. Usually $10-$20 per treatment. Maybe because it’s pretty blatantly a “service” and if you’re putting your hands all over me, my hair, whatever… I feel like I should tip. What I don’t get is the annual Xmas expectation to tip the postman, the garbage man etc… Hell both of them make a lot more money than many folks I know!

  • Mel65

    Not all restaurants pool them. Ours weren’t pooled although we did have to “tip out” 10% of our CC tips to the baretender–you were supposed to give 10% of all tips, but of course most of the servers claimed to have gotten “no cash tips” which was BS but… I was surpised to learn that casino workers tips are pooled though when we were in Vegas. After that I started tipping less than I used to, because it irritated me to learn that the person I found engaging, helpful, etc.. at the blackjack table or whatever was not going to be the one benefitting from the generous tip I gave.

  • TMMao

    The parking attendant may or may not receive a small % of the parking or resort fee, depending on their company policy. You could always ask them, or just give them the $2-5. It’s worth it to see the smile on their face.

  • DepartureLevel

    Ignorance at best.

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