The tipping point: Service workers aren’t to blame for tipping culture

A student urges peers to redirect their anti-tipping sentiment towards employers providing low wages rather than service workers.


In recent years, many consumers have argued tipping culture has spiraled out of control. 

Two-thirds of Americans have a negative view of tipping, with more companies encouraging customers to tip at counters than ever before, according to a June 2023 survey by Bankrate, a consumer financial services company.

Viral social media posts on Twitter, TikTok and Reddit show users unhappy with changes in tipping practices, including the increased use of automated tipping prompts upon checkout.

However, out-of-hand tipping culture is a reflection of employers and government policies that don’t pay a living wage and, instead, have their employees rely on tips. Students should tip what they can without financial strain and redirect their dislike of tipping away from service industry workers and toward unfair business practices in the field.

Rallying against tipping culture is irresponsible and unfairly undermines service workers’ labor and tenacity.

Paige Rambo, a sophomore biology major, works as a restaurant server and believes the prominence of establishments where tipping is requested, negatively impacts the tips received by service workers who rely on it the most. 

“I think that honestly, restaurant workers are getting the brunt of it because people are thinking like, ‘Oh, we don’t need to tip them anymore,’ and then minimum wage is only like $5,” Rambo said. 

In Pennsylvania, employers are only required to pay tipped employees $2.83 an hour. If the employee doesn’t make minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, then the employer must make up the difference. 

Even for single adults without kids, the current minimum wage doesn’t cover the cost of living for full-time workers in any state nationwide, CNBC reported

For a single student with no children, the living wage in Philadelphia is $17.53, according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator. However, 31.2 percent of Pennsylvania’s are still earning under $15 per hour, according to Oxfam America, a global organization fighting poverty. 

Due to the damaged system, tipped employees end up relying on gratuities to survive.

Although tipping has historically been standard in American restaurants, people may be feeling pressure to tip in places they wouldn’t expect, like coffee shops, fast-food establishments and merchandise stands at concerts. 

With inflation and the rise of digital kiosks prompting tips at the register, people have further debated excessive gratuity requests. 

Mary Conran, a marketing professor and the associate dean of Fox School of Business, believes Americans have a lot of guilt when it comes to tipping service workers.

“If we’re in a position to order something, or to have a service done, get our nails done, get our hair cut, we tend to think well, ‘These people are providing a service and therefore I should acknowledge the value that has to be beyond the utilitarian transaction,’” Conran said. 

Despite the pressure consumers may feel at the register, tipping is never obligatory, but a way to show appreciation to employees for a job well done. 

Students should not tip on smaller, everyday services if they can’t afford to, or feel guilty when they don’t, as many college students have tight financial situations. 

Nearly three in five college students experience basic needs insecurity, meaning they struggle to afford necessities like food and housing, according to a March 2021 study from the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.

In instances where tipping is standard, students should ensure they have the ability to tip at all before engaging in the activity and leave what they can.

Often, the anti-tip sentiment claims the work certain employees do, like making lattes or selling T-shirts, is not worthy of a tip and businesses should be paying their workers rather than the customers. While employers should be adequately compensating their employees, all labor deserves payment and customers shouldn’t be dismissive of the services provided to them. 

Cole Murray, a senior sport and recreation management major, spent years working in the service industry, receiving tips through his employment at a pizzeria and bakery.

“Now when I go into a store, buy something for like $3, and they turn the screen and they’re looking at me waiting for me to tip,” Murray said. “I mean, I was that guy at one point. But it’s everywhere now, which I don’t think is necessarily bad, but it’s just different.”

Consumers irritated by constant requests for tips should redirect their focus to addressing tipping culture’s root issues, like the inadequate minimum wage in Pennsylvania and employers’ reluctance to provide liveable compensation.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill in June to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by Jan. 2026. Students can call their elected officials to express their support for the bill, as well as an even higher minimum wage, as the bill goes to the Senate for consideration.

“As we begin to see the basic wage increasing, I think people are saying it’s still not enough,” Conran said. “And so tipping will continue until it’s truly an equitable wage.”

Employers and governments should be held responsible for ensuring workers in all industries are paid a wage that allows them to fulfill basic needs and live comfortably. Students should point their frustration with tipping culture toward those who have the power to create change and improve the lives of those who work to provide heavily relied on services.

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