Tipflation: What Are the New Norms Around Tipping?

Look, we’re in favor of tips around here, but we can all probably agree that over the past few years, tipping has gotten…weird. (Are you already picturing the iPad?) 

Most people know and practice proper tipping etiquette at FSRs, bars, and at fast-casual restaurants. But now, you might be prompted to leave a 30% tip at a self-service restaurant. The phenomenon – aptly named “tipflation” – has many of us questioning if we need a $9 chai latte today.

So what’s the new normal? And how should customers respond to rising costs due to the expansion of tipping? 

Why are we expanding tipping? 

It’s not like there was some major event that completely changed how most of the public sees the service industry and tipping as a whole … oh right, Covid. 

In the early days of the pandemic, restaurant workers at QSRs and takeout spots were deemed essential workers, and they were genuinely risking their lives to keep working in person. Since they were at such high risk of getting sick, many of us felt compelled to leave higher tips as a huge thank-you for their work (and for saving us from another night of spaghetti at home). 

Also, the pandemic ramped up cashless and contactless payment options — resulting in the meteoric rise of tablet tip acceptance software. With almost all restaurant operations going digital, restaurant owners opted to streamline their tipping systems as well.

And of course, restaurant owners saw the trend of higher tips as a way to mitigate the effects of the labor shortage. By expanding tips to less-traditional environments, owners could promise higher wages to potential hires — even during a time when business was unpredictable. 

Online Backlash 

As tips continue to creep up, people are taking notice — and sharing their opinions online. Last summer, TikTok creators poked fun at the awkward moment in front of the iPad, while others just shared their genuine frustration with the increasing pressure to tip. Even employees shared their discomfort with the “turning the iPad” situation. 


@maddiemischak It’s funny because I am indeed this employee  #tips #tippingculture #icecream #serviceindustry ♬ original sound – poop

And if you go through the #tippingculture on TikTok, you’ll see a lot of videos discussing whether or not we should be tipping in all of these less-traditional scenarios. In the comments, customers share the most surprising place they’ve ever been asked to tip (like at a self-checkout) as well as past and current service industry employees reminding us that people rely on tips for their livelihoods. 

Tip Etiquette in Our New Normal 

Our main takeaway? Tipflation leaves a bad taste in your customers’ mouths — even if they leave a tip in the moment. But good news: you can implement tipping at your business without offending your guests.

Because really, tipping isn’t the problem — in fact, tipped employees are overwhelmingly in favor of tipping because it significantly increases their take-home pay beyond what normal revenue constraints would allow. (Case in point: Many of the restaurants that have tried out no-tipping policies have reversed course because employees preferred the opportunity to earn more.) Plus: customers like the opportunity to reward great service.

But there’s a way to navigate tipping in a post-pandemic world without the awkward situations and risk of alienating customers. 

Here are a few tips for new-normal tipping:

  • Set the right options on your POS: Most people are happy to leave a tip for great service — but they don’t want to double the cost of their daily coffee. Set realistic tip prompts based on your business. For example, it might make sense for a bartender with many regulars to offer higher tip options of 15%, 20%, and 30%, but at a coffee shop, consider options like $0.50, $1, or rounding up to the nearest dollar. That way, customers don’t feel frozen in their choice between an over-inflated tip amount or no tip at all.
  • Make sure your customer has an option for “custom tips”: On the customer side, we often feel rushed to click on a tip option and move out of the way, completely ignoring the “custom tip” button. But think about it: you leave custom tips all the time at full-service restaurants — what’s the big deal about doing it at a QSR or coffee shop? So if you don’t immediately see a tip amount that feels right to you: stop, take a breath, and remember the custom tip button is there for a reason.
  • Give your guests some space: We all get a little shy when leaving a tip right in front of a server or cashier — and the employee usually feels pretty awkward, too. But you can make the interaction a little more comfortable for everyone involved. Rather than waiting for the customer to fill in their tip, suggest to your employees that they step away for a second. They can go get started on the guest’s order or check in on another table while the customer fills in their tip in private.  
  • Reserve judgment: Tips are great, but they don’t define people’s worth. Rather than viewing the iPad as a barometer for your customers’ morality, see it for what it is: an opportunity for servers to boost their salary and a little incentive to go the extra mile. 

If your restaurant is expanding your gratuity options, don’t make it awkward for your customers (or employees for that matter). Be mindful of the new tipping culture so that your employees can earn more money and your customers won’t leave feeling robbed. 

And of course, make your tip distribution easier with instant digital tip-outs. Request a demo today.