Jesse Jones

Jesse Jones: Have escalating expectations around tipping gone too far?

It’s a choice that consumers are forced to make repeatedly - to tip or not to tip.

Jesse Jones asked restaurant owners at the Pike Place Market and their customers if the tipping culture has gone too far.

“This is very complicated,” a customer said. “We’re all being asked to pay tips almost everywhere.”

Some suggested tips are 15%, 18% and 20%. Some people have even been asked to tip 30%.

“I think people who work in places where they need more money, yeah, tipping is necessary,” the customer said. “But then it puts pressure on people to tip more who might not have enough money top tip.”

According to payment processor Square, over the past two years tipping at fast food and full-serve restaurants have exploded.

Tips at fast food restaurants went up 68% in 2021, while full-serve restaurants went up more than 100%. Then even after that seismic jump, tips went up again by over 15%, year after year, for both categories.

At Ezell’s Fried Chicken, a Seattle mainstay for 39 years, CEO Louis Rudd has seen tipping culture go from mild to spicy.

“We want (customers) to leave feeling loved and cared for,” Rudd said. “And if they leave a tip, that’s fine. But we’re not demanding it. That’s what we do anyway.”

“I don’t like walking in and ordering a cup of coffee. But what did they do? They took my order,” said customer Brian Holmes. “It’s their job. That’s good. That’s, you know, I think there’s a borderline there.”

Kaitlyn Rich is a barista at Shoreline’s Black Coffee NW, and she says that she says tipping will often vary from person to person.

“Some people will write $0.00, which is no big deal,” Rich said. “But then sometimes people flip it upside down and sneak it to you as if they’re almost embarrassed to not tip. Which is interesting because it doesn’t affect how we serve you, but it’s very interesting.”

Shoreline’s Black Coffee NW owner Darnesha Weary said tips really help her employees.

“It is very important for us to have that for our staff because they are mostly students,” Weary said. “It’s expensive to live here. It’s expensive to maintain our lifestyle and to supplement with tips is it’s a blessing, actually.”

Tip money at Black Coffee NW and Ezell’s are split among employees by the hours they work.

In the end, the choice to tip or not to tip, is best made through one’s values. Just like the musicians at Pike Place Market. It’s not just about the music, it’s how the musicians make you feel.

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