Should You Tip for Counter Service? Expert Weighs in on Gratuity Debate

Do you tip for counter service or only for sit-down service? There are no set norms (yet) but an expert shares his opinion about tipping culture in America.

Kathryn Underwood - Author

Oct. 10 2022, Published 1:11 p.m. ET

A tip jar
Source: Unsplash

Chances are if you’ve entered a quick counter-service restaurant over the past year or two, you’ve seen the shift in tipping culture and habits.

No longer only for sit-down restaurants, those paying via tablet for counter service (when buying a coffee, for example) must decide whether or not to add a tip.

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The jury hasn't fully decided yet on whether counter-service tips are required, however, many feel stumped when it comes to deciding whether to tip or not for counter-service.

small business tips
Source: Getty Images
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Should you tip for counter-service?

The question of tipping for counter service largely comes down to what and who the tip is for. In a sit-down restaurant, customers offer tips because of the physical labor the waitstaff performs in bringing meals and drinks.

However, when there isn't inside dining available or you’re just picking up something to-go, you may wonder why you should tip.

Many coffee shops and small eateries now allow customers to pay via Square’s electronic payment system or something similar. Within that system, patrons swipe their credit card and then are asked if they wish to add a tip, and often a range of suggested percentages is listed.

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Market Realist spoke with Michael Lynn, professor of consumer behavior and marketing at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, who has studied tipping habits extensively.

"Okay, let me begin by saying I'm not an etiquette expert. I studied this a lot. Study what people do. And I don't hold myself out as kind of the moral authority. Having said that, as someone who studies it a lot, I don't tip for counter work. Or if I do at most I leave loose change," he told us exclusively.

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He went on to explain that while there is already a set norm for tipping for sit-down service, the same can not be said for counter-service. However, he did note there has been a shift when it comes to more and more businesses asking customers to tip.

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"Certainly, anecdotally, my impression, the impression of most people is that these things have proliferated. And what's more, they're even more obnoxious now, because it's not just a jar on the counter. It's a tablet that's being turned around and you're being asked to make an explicit decision," he explained.

"Before no tipping was a passive decision. Right. Now it's an active decision, right? And it's becoming more explicit and requiring an act of, you know, positive action to avoid tipping. But that's just my kind of personal experience and talking to other people, reading the press, and so forth... there isn't good research on it."

Will tipping ever go away?

will tipping go away
Source: Getty Images

With the option to tip almost everywhere — from your Uber to your local coffee shop— the question then becomes will compensating workers ever fall completely on employers and not customers.

According to Lynn, he does believe that tipping will go away, at least not anytime soon.

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"There are seven states in the United States where servers, tipped workers, make the regular minimum wage. And in some of those states, the regular minimum wage is substantially above the federal minimum... people are still tipping in that 15 to 20 percent range, regardless of how much servers are being paid," he added. "So I hope that servers start getting paid better, but I don't think it's going to impact tipping."

So, if you are still undecided about whether to tip or not next time to run out to grab a cup of coffee, you can also look at it as "good karma."


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