Understanding Guilt Tipping & What You Can Do About It

Has tipping culture gotten out of control? Avoid the guilt with these tips for making active gratuity choices.

Published July 26, 2023
woman buying coffee

We all know that moment. You're paying for your purchase at the coffee shop or your favorite doughnut place and they spin the iPad around for you to sign, revealing that final (and very public) question of how much you'd like to tip. Labeled "guilt tipping," this super visible way to add a gratuity has changed the way we tip.

Why Is Tipping So Weird Now?

In the past, tipping has been a private, subtle transaction. Think slipping a five-dollar bill to the person who carries your bags at a hotel or telling a cab driver to "keep the change." Talking publicly about money is a cultural taboo, and tipping is part of that. We keep it on the down low because that's just part of our culture.

Digital tipping has changed that. Traditionally, a restaurant server would run your credit card or bring your change, and you'd secretly leave whatever tip you felt was appropriate. The server wasn't right there watching you do the math and make your tipping decisions. Today, on the other hand, the server is standing there waiting while you decide how much to tip. They can see exactly what you choose to give them, and this can lead to guilt tipping.

Fast Fact

When confronted with a digital tipping screen, Americans tip 15% more than in standard situations. Why? It's possible it's the tipping guilt. 31% of people report feeling pressured to tip, and 23% feel guilty.

Guilt Tipping Is Getting More Attention

Although it might seem like the use of technology would add some distance to the tipping transaction, it may actually lead to more tipping guilt because of how public it is. And this entire situation has been getting more attention lately.

TikTok user Aubrey Grace perfectly captured the awkwardness in a video that went viral. In the clip, she pretends to be a barista watching while a customer selects the tip amount. The video resonated with a lot of people, wracking up thousands of comments about how tipping has gotten out of control.

@aubreygracep The awkward moment when they can see what you’re tipping #squarereader #tip #tipping #baristatok ♬ original sound

Where You Might Encounter Tipping Pressure

Guilt tipping doesn't happen everywhere. It's something you see in point-of-sale transactions, usually with an electronic screen. It can also happen when there's a prominently displayed tip jar, but the pressure tends to be less intense in those situations. These are some places you might be faced with a public tipping dilemma:

  • Cafes
  • Ice cream shops
  • Food trucks
  • Kiosks
  • Some retail stores
  • Take-out restaurants

How to Respond to Guilt Tipping Situations

It's normal to feel a little weirded out by the tipping pressure and be unsure about your response. The key here is thinking before you hit a button so you can ensure you're making a choice you actually want to make and not just responding to tipping guilt.

Be Prepared for the Screen

The point-of-sale tipping screen is becoming a fixture in many places we buy things, so don't be surprised to see it. You can even plan how much you're comfortable tipping before you even walk up to the counter.

Know How Much to Tip

How much you should tip depends on the situation you're in. If the person is performing a service (such as making you a burrito to your specifications and packaging it up with silverware and stuff), you should tip. Same goes for coffee and ice cream.

  • Tip 10% for take-out or situations where the person did not have to do a lot of work to help you.
  • Tip 20% for custom-made coffee drinks or ice cream.
  • Tip 20% if you have a relationship with the person serving you, such as being a regular customer and knowing one another's names.

If you're just buying something like a pre-made sandwich or a bottle of water or a sweater, do not feel obligated to tip. You're not receiving a service in these situations.

Make Your Choice Quickly

Reduce the social awkwardness of the situation by not lingering over the tipping screen. Know your choice before you see the screen, make the choice, and then move on with the transaction. That way, you don't allow the tipping guilt to change your behavior or make you uncomfortable.

Combat Guilt Tipping With Planning

It's natural to feel like every place asks for a tip now and that tipping culture has gotten out of hand, but ultimately, the only thing we can control is our own decisions. If you know how you want to handle tipping before you're confronted with the tipping screen, you're less likely to experience tipping guilt and more likely to make the choice that best fits the situation.

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Understanding Guilt Tipping & What You Can Do About It