Some diners said gratuities allow business owners to shift responsibility for paying a living wage. Gabriel Ramirez, who works at a smoke shop in Los Angeles, said he would prefer to see labor costs reflected in menu prices rather than leaving it up to customers to tip.
“It’s our social duty to make sure the person who feeds us feeds themselves,” said Mr. Ramirez, 24. “Employers shouldn’t look at the tip jar and say, ‘This is how my employee is doing this month. ‘”
For many employees, especially those in companies that pay lower wages to employees who qualify for tips, the extra money is a lifeline. And there’s evidence that the pandemic has made customers more acutely aware of that need, as staff shortages and impatient diners make hospitality jobs even more difficult.
Bryan Solar, who manages restaurant products at Square, one of the foodservice industry’s leading point-of-sale tablet systems, said people were more generous in tipping customer businesses in the United States early in the pandemic. In April 2020, the average tip at a fast food company was 23.5 percent, compared to 19.6 percent a month earlier.
But that figure has since declined steadily, to 19.8 percent last month. (At full-service restaurants with Square systems, the decline was less sharp, falling to 20.7 percent last month from 21.3 percent in April 2020.)
Mr Solar said the new touchscreen technology generally encourages tipping. He recently helped out El Arroyo, a decades-old Tex-Mex restaurant he frequents in Austin, Texas, purchase the Square system. The restaurant owner reported that tips have increased by 50 percent, he said.
Anxiety and social pressure play a role in the decision to tip, Mr. solar.
“The act of standing in front of someone while they have that screen — they know if you’re tipping, not tipping, or going to custom screens,” he said. “People are much more likely to be generous and tip at that point.”