The Tipping Point: Examining America’s Culture of Gratuity

Tipping has established itself as a common cultural practice in the US. For a variety of services, such as food service, hair styling, taxi trips, and more, it has been normal to add somewhere between 15% and 20% of the entire bill amount as a tip. But what happens when the custom of tipping becomes excessive? Is a new period of social gratuity beginning, one that hasn’t kept up with inflation, among other things?

For the majority of Americans, tipping has been a way of life since the late 1970s and early 1980s. The poorest-paid workers in the nation at the time were many bartenders and servers, who received subminimum pay. Today, however, tipping is accepted at fast food restaurants and other similar businesses.

The practice of tipping has come under a lot of criticism, especially as tip jars start to appear in more establishments like coffee shops and even gas stations. As inflation continues to have an impact on consumers, they are growing weary of the rising prices of meals, and the expansion of tipping alternatives is placing more burden on an already fragile economy.

The tipping discussion has increasingly focused on the food service sector. The New York Times published an investigative article in 2015 that revealed restaurants were progressively shifting costs, such as salaries and benefits, onto patrons by asking them to tip a larger portion of the overall price. According to the study, this pattern has widened the pay disparity between restaurant staff and those who don’t receive tips.

But the practice of tipping is not just prevalent in the food business. In locations where tips were not previously expected, such as rental properties, hotel lobbies, coffee shops, and convenience stores, we now see tip jars propped up. Platforms for concerts are now following suit as they start asking for significant gratuities from spectators.

Tipping, a fundamental aspect of American culture, is now a contentious political topic, with candidates coming out in favor of or against it. One ardent supporter of raising the minimum wage and abolishing the tipping system that hasn’t worked as intended is US Senator Bernie Sanders.

Although we are not yet at the tipping point, it is becoming more urgent that we address the long-term effects on our economy and society as a whole as tipping culture spreads. How long before tipping culture hits its breaking point and is finally put to rest?