During the COVID pandemic, it started to become commonplace to tip the people who were hard at work making sure the world kept spinning. Delivery drivers, who brought us essentials while working overtime, certainly appreciated the gratitude in the form of sanitized dollar bills.
Meanwhile, restaurants that had shifted from mostly sit-down service to takeout were being strained. So even though tipping on a pickup order of fries and a submarine sandwich—to be taken home and eaten on the couch—had never really been a standard practice, it kind of became one.
The pandemic, coupled with contactless and digital payment technology that makes it easy to add an option for tipping, has given Americans the option to tip pretty much anywhere they go. At first, it felt like spreading a little extra kindness during tough times. But now, it feels to many like it’s making times even tougher. The trend has even been dubbed “tipflation,” because it feels like yet another way that our wallets are being tugged at a bit too hard.
A new survey published by Pew Research Center demonstrates just how confused we all are about when to tip, and how much: 72% of respondents agreed that tipping is suggested in more places than it was five years ago. But that doesn’t mean it’s better understood. In fact, the opposite is true. When it comes to tipping, we’re all over the map.
Only 34% percent of U.S. adults say it’s “extremely” or “very” easy to know whether to tip for a service. And only 33% are confident in how much to tip. Most people believe that whether to tip depends on the situation, while 29% feel it’s obligatory, and 21% view it as a choice.
That makes for a lot of confused customers, whose views on tipping are about as all over the place as the prompts for suggested tipping amounts that often show up on checkout screens of payment platforms. Those now feel like they’re everywhere—you can find them at your local pizza place, grocery store, or even your gas station. But according to the Pew survey, they aren’t exactly appreciated by customers: More respondents opposed (40%) than favored (24%) businesses suggesting tip amounts to their customers. Maybe that’s because the amounts aren’t exactly helpful. They can go from zero to 20%, 25%, even 30% and higher in some cases.
It does feel increasingly hard to know how much to tip, even in restaurants. While 15% used to be the standard, these days 20% is largely viewed as more acceptable. Some restaurants will automatically add gratuity, which is often done in an effort to ensure servers earn a living wage. But it seems that added gratuity has spilled over into other businesses. However, in those cases, it’s called a “mandatory service fee”—when it’s actually a forced tip.
One thing seems like less of a gray area: 72% say they don’t like those added service fees. That might be one thing Americans feel confident about when it comes to tipping—but for a lot of other aspects, it’s everyone’s best guess.