OPINION | Tipping is getting wildly out of hand

I visited a local shop the other day. I won’t say which one, but it was the type of shop that offers a very transactional experience.

No one served me at my table. No one in the back fired up the griddle to cook bacon and eggs for me. No one walked my dog or parked my car or gave me a haircut. No one drove me to the airport.

After pointing at the thing I wanted, the person behind the counter handed it to me, and then I pulled out a debit card to pay for my purchase; the entire exchange took less than 20 seconds. The debit machine nonetheless prompted me to give a tip of either 18, 22, or 25 per cent.

A tip for what exactly, I wondered? For handing me the thing that I just pointed at?

Crazy as it may sound, I couldn’t outright decline to leave a tip. Bad gas travels fast in a small town, as they say. No part of me wants to be known as that cheap Realtor who refuses to tip customer service employees.

And as the only customer in the shop at the time with the employee standing just four feet from me, I felt immense pressure to comply (even though no part of me wanted to).

The experience I’m describing has been coined “tipping fatigue” in recent history, which is defined by the University of Guelph as “tipping with negative feelings.”

Ain’t that the truth.

Because now that every retailer, big and small, has a wireless debit terminal at their disposal, and consumers are armed with easy-peasy tap technology, tipping is no longer an option; it is expected in almost every transaction.

That wasn’t the case when consumers relied more heavily on cash. Sure, a small business might leave a tip jar out, but at no time would a cashier ask you, “How much of a tip will you be dropping in our jar?”

With tap technology, that’s all changed.

The funny part is that I’ve always liked tipping. I like being able to adjust the size of the tip I leave based on the perceived value of the service I received. All my life, 15 per cent was considered the base level tip for an acceptable job. It was the cultural norm of tipping, if you will.

In other words, unless the server did a remarkably poor job, he got 15 per cent.

But now debit machines are suggesting amounts as high as 20, 25, and 30 per cent to start.

I have no issue with giving a 20 or 25 per cent tip if the service I received was truly exceptional. But for a run of the mill transaction like I noted above, it just feels slimy. It’s akin to being charged extra for the floor mats after you buy a new car.

I know there are plenty of folks who think we should do away with tipping altogether. The argument is that employers should pay their staff more rather than passing on the difference to us as consumers, but I don’t see it that way. If wages go up, so too do prices. Either way, we pay for it.

Tipping isn’t the real issue here. The issue is who is asking for a tip and how much they are asking for.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what kind of tip I gave the shop noted above, the answer is 18 per cent; the smallest of three default amounts presented to me. That worked out to just over $2 for the employee behind the counter, which I hope she was able to put to good use.

Unfortunately for the owners of that shop, I’ll never return. I’ll simply avoid the absurdity of the whole thing next time and shop somewhere else.

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