Service workers left behind as Americans cut tips

Jipping has been essential in the United States for generations, but it’s becoming increasingly rare to leave a few $1 bills on the table – now when we pay for an Uber, buy a coffee or order takeout, a screen asks for know how much we want to tip, with a clear focus on the ethical decision. Thirty percent? Twenty percent? A measly 15%? Would anyone dare to go lower than that?

Before the pandemic, says Carlos Tavares, he was getting tips of up to $75 a week driving his gray Toyota Camry for Uber — nothing life-changing, but a nice bonus after working long hours in New York. Now that’s dropped sharply, he says, to $20 to $30 a week. “I don’t really know why,” he said. “Maybe people are just trying to save money.”

At Poetica Coffee Shop, a chain of cozy cafes in Brooklyn, customers also backed off. Although nine out of 10 customers leave a tip, they tip less than before, says Parviz Mukhamadkulov, CEO and founder of the company. “During the peak of Covid”, from May 2020 to June 2021, “customers tipped an average of 50% of the total amount. Everyone felt the need to support the small businesses and local baristas they knew. It has since fallen to 15%.

New research reflects this more miserly tipping trend, as the urgency of the pandemic fades and inflation pressures mount. According to a survey released this month by Popmenu, 43% of consumers say they tip their servers at least 20% of the check, compared to 56% of consumers who did the same last year. Thirty-two percent of people said they tip delivery people 20% of their order, up from 38% a year ago.

Tipping service workers is a longstanding American social norm — one that carries obvious risks: It can play into racism and sexism, and it puts workers at risk of wage theft. But while some U.S. restaurants have tried to eliminate tipping, many have backtracked when revenue has fallen for workers and the business.

Business owners say tipping is often an emotional response; studies have shown that tips tend to increase during the holidays. Mukhamadkulov says Poetica Coffee recently saw a spike in tipping after its baristas — some of whom are Ukrainian — staged a donation campaign to support the Ukrainian people.

tip jar with the words
Tipping standards vary widely from industry to industry, although the effort required is similar. Photography: Catherine McQueen/Getty Images

But tipping standards also diverge widely across industries, even if the effort involved is comparable. Data collected in 2021 by Driver’s Seat, a platform focused on construction workers, revealed that while 85.8% of customers tip for food delivery, only 24.8% do the same for Uber and Uber drivers. Lyft. And a survey conducted last month by PlayUSA found that while 98% of restaurant workers receive tips, only 39% of café workers do.

It’s frustrating for Tiana, a worker at a newly opened counter cafe that sells freshly made boba and sandwiches in the famed Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. She says only about a third of her customers leave a tip because they don’t consider it a tipping establishment. “I guess that’s how the rich stay rich,” she says.

Mimo Guzman, a 28-year-old barista who works a few blocks away, says she saw tips falling from her nose at her former employer, a busy Starbucks in Manhattan, after the peak of the pandemic. Fortunately, his current employer, Blank Street, offers a salary guarantee: the base salary is $16.50, but if the tips don’t total $23, the company makes up the difference. “You can’t get away with minimum wage, not in this job. We depend on tips,” says her colleague, Masena Sadeghi, 20.

The same goes for delivery people, who largely depend on tips to survive. Gustavo Ajche, the founder of Los Deliveristas Unidos, a New York-based labor group, says that in a good 12-hour day’s work on DoorDash, he could make $250. But of that amount, nearly $200 could come from tips. Even then, Ajche suspects “they’re not giving us the actual amount”: in 2020, DoorDash admitted to using customers’ tips to subsidize workers’ base pay. Although the company claims to have ended the practice, Ajche says he still sees strange discrepancies between the revenue the app promises and what it brings home.

The lack of transparency from gig companies also affects ride-sharing workers. Nicole Moore, a Los Angeles-based Uber driver and organizer of the Rideshare Drivers United task force, says platforms like Uber have driven up passenger prices without passing additional revenue on to drivers. “Because passengers pay such high fares, they don’t think drivers need tips,” she said. “But in fact, the driver’s income is even lower than before.” A study commissioned by the labor group found that after factoring in the costs of running businesses, rideshare workers in California bring in just $6.20 an hour.

That’s why gig workers are pushing for wage guarantees. The New York City Council recently proposed a one-of-a-kind minimum wage for delivery workers of $23.82 an hour, excluding tips – although Los Deliveristas Unidos demanded an additional $5 to cover the cost of their e-bikes, their safety equipment and the risk of injury. It is also a protection against the unpredictable behavior of customers: “In the event of an economic crisis, tips are generally the first thing to do”, explains Hildalyn Colón Hernández, director of policies of the group. “That’s why tips can’t be the income of these workers.”

But there is at least one group of Americans who are determined to keep tipping well: the workers themselves. Tiana, the cafe worker, says she recently started increasing the tips she leaves every time she makes a purchase, even if it’s just takeout. She says it’s simple: “I know what it’s like on the other side.

#Service #workers #left #Americans #cut #tips

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *