Mastering the etiquette of the tablet tip

TO THE POINT: Gypsy Queen Cuisine employee Dave Campbell is pictured with the restaurant’s tablet point-of-sale system. Campbell says he appreciates how the tablet keeps all customer transactions online and organized in a spreadsheet. Photo by Laura Hackett

The cashless economy is on the rise, and that’s particularly clear in the way transactions occur in the service industry. More often than not, when paying for counter service — whether it’s for baked goods, coffee or sandwiches — consumers who swipe a credit or debit card are now faced with a swiveling tablet and a decision to make while the cashier and other customers in line wait. Would you like to add a 15%, 20% or 25% tip?

“I try to go do something else or just look past in the distance,” says Elyssa Melton, a cashier at Gypsy Queen Cuisine, with a laugh. “I’m not going to be like, ‘What are you tipping?’”

Melton has worked in the service industry for the last eight years and confirms that she’s seen an increase in tips as a result of the pay card reader’s prompts. That’s one of the reasons she’s enjoyed the new technology.

“I think they feel the pressure,” she notes. “As someone who works in the service industry, having the amount set is nice because a lot of people aren’t aware of what 20 percent actually is. But sometimes when I go to a coffee place, I wonder, ‘Do I tip 25% on a $4 drink?’”

“I think people tip more. It’s more convenient. It’s mindless. It’s more discreet. Overall, if you can appeal to more people, you’ll make more tips,” says Beth Saine, a barista at Double D’s Coffee & Desserts.

“It confuses the older generations, for sure,” says Adam Grabowski, a bartender at The Brew Pump. “Sometimes they won’t even know what to do, and they’ll just walk away, which actually defers payments and cancels the transaction when it times out.”

Pros and cons

On the most popular apparatus, the Square device, operators can program the tip prompter however they please. Generally, the options are $1, $2 or $3 for a transaction under $10, and a choice of 15%, 20% or 25% for transactions above $10. There’s also the choice of selecting a smaller “no tip” button or typing in a customized number. The Square readers are best at processing simple orders and are used by many counter service establishments, food trucks and contractors such as massage therapists and tattoo artists.

So far, this major shift in tip technology has been heralded as a perk by many Ashevilleans, but it’s also elicited annoyance from service workers and consumers alike.

“What I like about the system is it’s fast and convenient,” customer Joe Schnellmann says over a pint of beer at The Brew Pump. “What I don’t like is it’s assumed that you’re going to do something [for gratuity], and it’s sort of forced a little bit. I don’t like to be persuaded. But in a way, it’s good because some people who are not usually tipping maybe are tipping.

“There’s instances where it’s like, yes, you’re tipping for service. And there’s certain instances where it’s like, just add it to the price and pay the people more,” he continues. “When the transaction is simple, like a coffee and muffin, and the bill is already $7 or $8, and someone wants another dollar for that … it seems a little like you’re taking advantage of the consumer. But I totally think if you’re working for your tips, you deserve it.”

Chris TeBeau, an event manager at The Hop Ice Cream Café, understands the value of a tip firsthand, but he also says he doesn’t enjoy how the card reader systems turn a gratuity into an obligation.

“It’s too in your face,” he says. “It almost feels like someone’s asking for money. A tip should be a gift for good service. If I’m being friendly or going out of my way to have nice conversation, a tip is a nice gesture of goodwill and humanity. It feels good to tip and be tipped, but it shouldn’t just be treated as part of the bill or essential to a worker’s wage.”

Deanna Maldonado, a server at UpCountry Brewing Co., worries what this new technology does to our everyday interactions. “I know how to think, but I feel like [the tablet’s tip calculator] is trying to think for me,” she says. “I just think it takes away from the engagement. People slide the card and flip it the other way, and there’s no ‘Thank you’ or ‘Goodbye’ or ‘Have a good day.’ It’s kind of just like, ‘Flip, bye.’”

While Blue Dream Curry House owner James Sutherland enjoys how his Square reader has streamlined tipping and automated the math work for customers, he doesn’t like the way Square “corners the market” and captures customer information in a separate database that it doesn’t provide to the business. “It would be nice to see more options and more competition among readers,” Sutherland says.

Here to stay

Despite the existing criticisms, these pay card readers do not appear to be going anywhere. In fact, the global pay card reader market is expected to grow by about 44 percent during the forecast period 2017-23, according to a report by Market Research Future. Moreover, the tips garnered by these devices remain an integral piece of many service workers’ wages and play a large role in helping workers make ends meet.

“I’m happy about the tablets making it harder not to tip. I think it is a moral good that it’s now kind of an expectation,” says Clay Krollman, a barista at High Five Coffee. “I think that awkwardness is good. I think we should be forced to confront why we feel like a coffee shop might deserve less than a restaurant. I think we should be forced to deal with why we think service industry workers either do or don’t deserve a tip.”

Even at establishments like Gypsy Queen, where employees are guaranteed a living wage of $13.65 an hour, much of that income is still sourced from tips. “Even though we are living wage certified, the way that works is basically two-thirds of our ‘employer’ is the tips. So although we do make higher than minimum wage, most of what makes us actually living-wage is the tips that we get. And we all split them among the house,” Melton explains as she gestures at the “Living Wage” sign at her counter. “I think this sign is misleading because people think we make, like, $15 an hour without tips, and that’s not the case.”

So, to answer the question above, should we tip 15%, 20% or 25%? One, two or three dollars?

“I see 100 to 200 people a day, and the majority of people tip, and that’s wonderful. But I never expect everyone to do it, and I never judge people who don’t,” says Krollman. When asked about how much he tips, Krollman reports that he tips 100 percent everywhere, whether that be at a coffee shop or a restaurant. “I am deeply socialist in my politics,” he explains.

The most common answer given by locals? When in doubt, tip around 20 percent for all counter service. At coffee shops or breweries, $1 per drink. For a more complicated drink, consider $2 or $3. When it comes to ice cream, TeBeau says that $1 is a nice gesture.

“I think there’s a misconception that because it’s counter service, you don’t have to tip. Fifteen to 20% is appreciated. Tips are a huge portion of the funds I make,” says Page, a cashier/cook at Rosetta’s Kitchen, who chose not to give her last name. “With any aspect of service industry, even if it’s not table service, there’s still work involved. I think it should be a baseline thing people do, and I wish people realized that more. Mostly, the people who do tip are younger, work in service industry themselves — they also realize how dependent everyone is on tips.”

“Twenty percent across the board, counter service or otherwise. Round up to the nearest dollar until everyone makes a living wage,” says Aaron Kreizman, a local real estate agent.

“Twenty percent is my baseline. I go up from there if I want to show genuine appreciation,” says local service worker Amalia Grannis.

“Keep tipping,” Grabowski recommends. “It goes a long way. People do get by a dollar bill at a time, even when it doesn’t look like it sometimes.”

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5 thoughts on “Mastering the etiquette of the tablet tip

  1. Curious

    If we are to tip the person at the food counter for ringing up our order, why shouldn’t the cashiers at gas stations, grocery stores, convenience stores, department stores, pharmacies, etc., also get tipped? What about the sales clerk at the shoe store who helps you find the right pair of shoes and try them on? What about the person at the deli counter at Ingles, who slices the meat and scoops up the cole slaw or actually makes the sandwich?

    • ashevillain7

      Curious,

      None of those should be tipped, nor should any counter service. Unfortunately you’ll never stop people from fishing for tips by setting out tip jars and using these new suggestive pay card readers.

    • luther blissett

      Because the other categories of workers you mention have a minimum wage of $7.25, not $2.13?

      Why reiterate the Tipping Argument for the millionth time?

      • Chris

        Legally, the only people making $2.13 an hour are waiters at full service restaurants. Baristas and other counter service workers are required to be paid at $7.25 or more an hour.

  2. J King

    Tipping 100% isn’t socialist, it’s generous. Tipping is important when it’s earned. The fact that Gypsy Queen advertises that it supports a living wage but funds “2/3 of it” with customer tips is fraud. Disappointing news, because I really like this place. Mountain Xpress, where’s your expose on this and, presumably, other businesses that are exploiting the good will of people with “living wage” claims?

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