How to use tipping apps

Tipping used to be simple. If someone provided excellent service, you would reach in your wallet and offer them a few bucks. But in recent years, as people carry less cash and increasingly depend on debit and credit cards, tipping has become more complicated. For example, what do you do when you feel obligated to tip a hotel concierge or bellhop but don’t have any money on you?

Sure, you can theoretically ask if the person has the Venmo payment app, but one could argue that these conversations are a little more awkward and time-consuming than the days when you’d just whip out a few bucks.

“Technology is being created at lightening speed,” says Lisa Grotts, founder and director of, an etiquette consulting firm in San Francisco. “All of this convenience is wonderful, but it’s getting complicated. (Tipping) 15 to 20 percent used to be the norm, but now people are asking, ‘How much should I tip? And should It be in cash or in credit, or should I tip at all?'”

[See: The Tipping Bible: Who to Tip and How Much.]

The tipping issue gets even more murky because many businesses, often using credit card processing systems such as Square and ShopKeep, ask customers to tip before they receive a product or have a service completed. If you never enjoyed tipping in the first place, in this brave new world of tipping, you are probably liking it even less.

In any case, if you’re often stymied when it comes to digital tipping, here are a few, um, tips.

First, download a tip app to your phone. There are a number of apps that are designed to make it easier to tip without cash, from leaving money for a hotel’s housecleaning crew to showing a street musician your appreciation.

Tipping through an app is pretty straightforward. Generally, if you’re making a payment for a product or service, you simply add the tip (with some companies, like Uber, you can even add a tip up to 30 days after your ride). Typically you select an amount that has been preset or enter a different amount.

If you’re tipping someone outside of an initial payment — for instance, the street musician or hotel staff — it can get a little more complicated, depending on the app. Often, you can only pay a stranger if you both have the same app, and you’ll need to know his or her name. This is why it’s now no longer uncommon to see street musicians with signs that share information on how to tip with your smartphone.

[See: Check, Please: Paying the Bill in 6 Awkward Situations.]

Explore the wide world of tipping apps. Search for tipping apps, and you’ll find names like Gratitude, GratZeez and Tipsta as well as quite a few tip calculators. They’re all pretty similar, but some tipping apps that may stand out from the others include:

Bravo ( This became wider-known after an appearance on the ABC series “Shark Tank.” If your valet or mover has the Bravo app, for example, you can search for their name and tip them. No personal information will be exchanged, like your email address or phone number. Just your money.

Global Tipping ( This app offers information on tipping in 30 countries and helps you split the bill if you’re out with friends or colleagues. It includes a calculator that allows you to plug in numbers for things like “nondrinkers” and “drinkers,” since the drinkers obviously are spending much more. You can also divide up the tab with “food bill” and “drink bill” and separate the taxes from the food and drinks, since some people prefer to tip based on their pre-tax bill.

TipGenie ( This is aimed at people in the service industry. A hotel maid or a valet can leave a card with you that directs you to download the TipGenie app, and then you can type in the maid or valet’s username or scan your phone over their QR (a type of bar code), and you can pay them that way.

TabbedOut ( This is an app that allows you to pay your bill at a restaurant, including the tip, from your table — and then you can leave. No waiting for the server to make the transaction for you. That’s the genius behind the idea, but of course, it’s a little more complicated than that. You do need to warn your server that you’re paying with TabbedOut (if you don’t want the waitstaff tackling you at the exit). Assuming the restaurant is set up to use the system, you review your bill on your phone, set the tip amount, tap “pay tab” and then you can leave.

Tipping isn’t likely to become less complicated. Even as apps may make the process of tipping people easier, the agony of deciding how much to tip and if tipping is appropriate isn’t going away. Alex Tran, a Seattle-based digital marketing strategist with Hollingsworth, an e-commerce and logistics company, says she uses the Starbucks app to pay for her coffee and to tip, but she gets irked that the app has her tipping after the purchase but before she receives her order.

“I feel this option would be more effective if there was a way to deploy the tipping notification after the order is fulfilled and delivered,” she says. She often ends up closing out the app, intending to tip after she receives the order but admits that doesn’t always work out. “I then forget to tip and by the time I remember to, the timeframe to tip has long passed within the app,” she says.

Grotts is sympathetic to the idea that it’s not enjoyable to tip before receiving a product or service. She points out that some people think of the word tip as an acronym for “to insure promptness,” as in prompt service, and she says, “If you get it, you give it.” (That said, the word “tip” did not originate from that acronym.)

With evolving technology, “etiquette rules cannot be created fast enough to keep up,” Grotts says.

[See: 12 Ways to Be a More Mindful Spender.]

She offers the example of Ubers and taxis. Uber, she points out, didn’t always offer a feature for tips, and now it does. (Other ride-sharing companies, like Lyft, also now allow riders to tip through the app.) Grotts says she wishes the tip was simply included within the fare since tipping in this case, she feels, is “an added layer that none of us need.” When it comes to taxis, she says cash made things easier.

“Once upon a time, taxi cabs only took cash, and you tipped at your discretion. Now you can use your credit card, but they give ‘suggested’ amounts for tipping. If a cab takes me one mile, I don’t want to feel guilty for giving them a small tip, but sometimes those feelings come up with these new systems,” Grotts says.

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How to Use Tipping Apps originally appeared on

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