Is tech-driven ‘tipflation’ leading to more tips for restaurant workers? It appears not

Tipping fatigue has set in with gratuity options almost routinely suggested now, even for counter service or takeout.

Diners may feel guilted into tipping better, but despite the shift to nudging consumers to do so, only 8% of tipped workers responding to a survey by SpotOn said the prevalence of new technology has led to higher tip income.

“It is more that the consumer feels that tipping has gone up because we are seeing it more than ever before,” said Kevin Bryla, chief marketing officer at restaurant tech company SpotOn, whose portable point of sale systems are used by restaurants nationwide. “When a consumer sees all of those experiences, they feel like tipping is out of control. But for the restaurant worker, tipping has stayed largely stable.”

SpotOn’s survey found 28% feel the shift has hurt their tips, and 64% said it has had no impact.

Being handed a tablet or handheld payment device by the server can be awkward, especially if the server hovers over the diner waiting for the bill to be finalized. It is creating an etiquette learning curve for those in the food service industry.

“Some leave the tech at the table and walk away. Some leave it at the table and speak verbally and make a conscious effort to say don’t feel pressure, and put in what you feel is fair,” Bryla said. “Either way, it is an adjustment in behavior for all parties, even for servers.”

Even so, those in the industry are generally optimistic about predefined tip amounts, with 43% of respondents saying it is helpful for both customers and servers.

Tips aside, those portable point of sale devices are becoming common in restaurants, both fast casual and more formal.

They are good for restaurants because servers can handle a few more tables, kitchen order errors are reduced and restaurants can do more with fewer employees. They are also good for diners, according to SpotOn.

“If someone is at your table using their handheld, they take your first drink order and it goes electrically to the bar before the server even walks over there,” Bryla said. “Same with the food order to the kitchen. So the ability to get faster and more accurate service through the technology is definitely a guest benefit.”

SpotOn’s comprehensive report, “Beyond Gratuity: Perspectives of Restaurant Staff on Tipping Practices,” asked employees who rely on gratuity about their thoughts and experiences.

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Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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