You probably tip the person cutting your hair. Should you do the same for the person who mows your lawn?
Customers are increasingly seeing the option of tipping at card payment machines in industries where tipping has never been part of the cost, from auto dealerships to fast-food giants like Subway and Domino’s.
The phenomenon, called “peak creep,” is leaving a bad taste with some consumers who have asked online if they want to pay 15 percent or more on top of the price. takeaway pizza, oil change or refilling the propane tank.
“Tipping is expanding to a lot more places right now, so where we weren’t encouraged to tip before, it now seems to be much more common,” says Simon Pek, an associate professor at the University of Victoria’s Gustavson School. business who examines tips practices.
With customers moving away from carrying cash, it’s easier than ever for any business to ask for a little extra cash by adding an automated prompt—what psychologists call “toe poke” — to their payment machine.
A decade ago, the tipping feature on payment machines was an “afterthought” for most businesses, says Alex Povolotski, co-owner of PBH Canada, a provider of point-of-sale terminals and other business services.
Today, the tip function is automatically activated for bars and restaurants, but it is increasingly required by other companies.
“Anyone can have it — a bakery, a taxi driver, a mechanic, a supermarket,” says Povolotski.
‘It’s definitely a reward’
Gilbert Mofleh is one of those mechanics. When he and his business partner bought and took over The Car Clinic in Ottawa earlier this year, the card payment machine was already tip-enabled — and they decided to keep it that way.
“As a mechanic, you get a few people who appreciate the fact that you worked on their car and give you a small tip, but it’s not very common,” Mofleh says. “When that happens, it’s definitely a reward, like you’ve done a good job.”
He says few customers complain about the tip option, but he’s careful to skip it before handing over the machine if it’s a particularly expensive job.
“I don’t want to add a tip to a $2,000 bill.”
But why do Canadians tend to tip their hairdresser and not their mechanic?
Mofleh ponders the question for a moment.
“If I had to guess, I’d say because of the cost,” he said. “If you go to the hairdresser, you’ll spend $100, maybe $200, maybe less… But if you put 15 percent on the mechanic, you’ll spend another $300 if [the price] was $2,000.”
Possibility or expectation?
The contradiction creeps into other service industries as well—most people will tip a bartender a dollar or two for serving a can of beer, but what about a bartender at a distillery?
In private liquor stores in British Columbia and some independent beer stores in Winnipeg, it’s not uncommon to see a tipping option at the register – especially in places that share a license with a hotel.
“We’ve always had a tipping option as far back as I can remember,” says Arlene Guillemette, longtime general manager of Tudor Liquor Store in Surrey, B.C., where tips are shared among workers.
He sometimes gets a backlash from customers who don’t normally shop at private liquor stores, but many regulars are happy to sign up, he says.
“There was a time when our machines broke down, we got new ones, and the tip option wasn’t turned on, and customers were actually saying, ‘Hey, where’s the tip option?’
“So we put it back on.
Both Mofleh and Guillemette say customers shouldn’t feel pressured to tip their businesses: it’s an option, not an expectation.
“Most important [thing] is to tip your servers and your delivery drivers,” Mofleh said. “It is not obligatory or important to tip if [worker] he doesn’t rely on it.”
Continued creep of creep tips
There is limited research on what is motivating more businesses and industries to opt for tipping, but Pek suggests that the pandemic is a likely factor.
“There was a moment when people wanted to show appreciation to essential workers [through tipping]” he says, pointing out that many businesses have stopped accepting cash for hygiene reasons.
Inflation is another likely driver: faced with rising costs, employers may see tips as a way to address workers’ demands for more pay without actually raising their wages, he says.
“We’re still going to see a lower sticker price, we’re still going to buy the product and then add 10 to 20 percent — it can be frustrating, but people end up doing it anyway, and that’s often cheaper for the company than having to pay those wages.”
Although a small number of businesses are moving in the opposite direction, abandoning tips in favor of higher wagesPek says he expects tipping to continue into more and more businesses unless there is a broader public discussion about where, when and why we tip.
Povolotski agrees it’s time for a rethink. Personally, he’d rather see workers paid a living wage than rely on tips being processed by his point-of-sale terminals.
“I just hope that the culture of tipping — no pun intended — tipping — toward tipping for really good service, not as a standard, because then the point of tipping is lost.”
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