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How to Enable Tipping at Quick Service Restaurants Without Alienating Your Customers

Unless you’ve completely sworn off social media at the moment — and if that’s the case, no one would blame you! — you’ve probably heard some chatter around the new tipping model at Starbucks.

Long story short: Everyone has an opinion. 

Some customers (and employees) feel that they’re being put in an awkward position because a tip isn’t warranted when there’s minimal guest-employee interaction. But others are grateful for the opportunity to give a small show of thanks for stretched-thin service providers. Plus, those tips can make a meaningful impact on employees’ take-home pay. 

We’d venture to guess that this little firestorm isn’t just about Starbucks, but part of a much more layered conversation about tipping practices in general: how they’ve evolved in our digital age, and especially how they’re being embraced (or not…) by quick-service restaurants.

Real talk: Here at Kickfin, it’s no secret that we’re a pro-tipping team. We believe whole-heartedly that service industry employees make the world go round, and that tipping often increases their earning potential far beyond what revenue constraints would allow their employers to pay them. And of course, tipping can benefit employers, too.

But we can’t forget about the guest experience. Ultimately, tipping is voluntary and should always, always be at the discretion of the customer. 

While QSRs are wise to keep pace with the times and digitize their tip jars: read on for a few best practices that will ensure your guests embrace the change (no pun intended…) and continue to think of tipping as an option, not a requirement.

But first: Is “Guilt Tipping” Real? 

It happens every day: You place your order at the counter, the cashier turns the iPad around, and you’ve got to choose to leave a 20, 25 or 30% tip for the staff. (It seems like those percentages just keep climbing, right?)

Does a 30-second interaction necessitate a tip? Maybe, maybe not — but you find yourself frantically hitting a button because you don’t want to be the jerk who didn’t leave a tip. 

There’s a name for that: guilt tipping. No one wants to short-change a service industry worker, and many of us even see tipping as some kind of barometer for morality. 

Since tipping has expanded into new areas, there isn’t really a set custom for the “appropriate” amount to tip. Is it 20%, like you would at an FSR? Is it less? This uncertainty often leads people to panic-click on the most reasonable option on the screen out of guilt. Whether real or imagined, feelings of guilt around tipping can lead to major backlash from customers — and displaced anger at employees. 

How to make QSR tips work for everyone

The truth is, most employees enjoy the wage boost that tips provide, and customers want to reward good service, even when they don’t have cash on hand. However, the benefits of credit card tips can be overshadowed by the awkward social customs around tipping. That’s why enabling credit card tips requires a bit of finesse. 

Here are a few suggestions for enabling tipping without offending customers. 

1. Change tip amounts 

Rather than prompting customers to tip based on percentage, think of your credit card tips as a digital tip jar. Make the tip suggestions similar to what people would toss into a tip jar — like 75 cents, a dollar, or even just rounding up to the next dollar. Customers won’t feel the whiplash of their coffee order suddenly costing $3 more than it used to, but they still get the option to reward baristas for good service. 

2. Avoid verbal tipping prompts

Nothing is more awkward – for employees and customers alike – than asking for a tip out loud. Employees don’t want to pressure their customers into leaving a tip, and no one wants to confidently say “no” in front of a line of people. Some customers may also feel uncomfortable stating how much they’d like to leave — as if they’re announcing how “good” of a person they are.

Instead, keep the tip prompts as private as possible. Include the prompts on the POS or credit card reader so your customers can silently decide on their tip amount. 

3. Make it clear that tipping is optional 

In the United States, most customers at FSRs are aware that servers rely on tips to supplement their take-home pay — and that they should tip appropriately for their service. But at a QSR, the lines get a little blurry. Is leaving a tip now an expectation (or even a requirement) for counter service? 

Take the pressure off the customer, and leave no questions unanswered. Make it apparent that employees are paid hourly and that tips are just an optional bonus to their income, not their bread and butter. 

You can also include language in your tip prompts that explicitly reminds customers that tips are optional. That way when the iPad swivels around to the customer, they know it’s not a moral question but rather just an extra thank-you to their regular barista. 

Take digital tipping to the next level 

Of course, now that you’re accepting more credit card tips, you’ll need an easy way to distribute them to staff. And we’ve got a few ideas. With Kickfin, you can instantly transfer tips straight to your employees’ bank accounts — meaning no cash runs and more financial freedom for employees. Request a demo of Kickfin today to learn more.

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