Everyone’s Asking for Tips Now

January 31, 2022

You’ve definitely noticed it too: every single one of those fancy tablets that you use to check out in cafes and bubble tea shops seems to have started demanding a tip. They’re called a Point of Sale terminal, or POS terminal, which could be a fitting initialism depending on how you feel about them.

My usual course of action is to pounce on the No Tip button as quickly as I can, while attempting to avoid eye contact with the person behind the counter like I just yanked a half-eaten sandwich from their mouth.

This person just made my bubble tea — why am I tipping them for that? What are they supposed to do, not make it? That’s kind of what I’m paying for.

The reasons for why this phenomenon has started popping up are clear: the companies that make POS software, often Toast or Square, have learned that you can convince a certain percentage of people to tip when prompted. So why wouldn’t you? If you don’t ask, you’re literally leaving money on the counter.

That’s also part of why I want to mash the No Tip button so badly. It feels like I’m being tricked by a company that has figured out how to exploit a certain percentage of people. But not me! I’m no sucker.

But a couple months ago, I asked my friend Ian what he does in these situations. “I usually leave a tip,” he told me. “I see it as some sort of wealth redistribution.”

I must admit that hearing this hasn’t realigned how I act entirely, but it’s nudged me in the Yes Tip direction. Why am I clutching my pearls over less than a dollar?

I couldn’t tell you with that much precision how much money is in my wallet right now. And if you asked how much money’s in my bank account, I’d have an idea, but to be honest I might very well be off by at least $50-$100.

So if a 83 additional cents disappeared from my bank account, would I notice? Absolutely not. In fact, if I noticed that I was defrauded of that amount by a boba shop, I likely wouldn’t think that it was worth disputing with my bank.

This is all to say that the difference in price is negligible for someone who’s relatively quite privileged, like I am (and you may very well be too).

So if the amount of money is negligible for me, isn’t it also negligible for the establishment I’m so kindly giving it to?

Yes and no.

Ian has an interesting point about wealth redistribution. The money is going from me, someone who’s relatively privileged, to the people who work at the cafe, who are likely less privileged than I am. So in a real sense, those cents have more value when outside of my clutches.

But there’s another argument to be made here: by being generous with tips, I’m practicing being a generous person. I’d like to be someone who’s generous, whether with money or with time, energy, or an ear. And tipping generously, even when it doesn’t feel compulsory, sorta encapsulates a part of who I’d like to be.

So I’m going to make an effort to tip better. And in general, to be a better human, even when the cashier can’t see my side of that POS.