Lewis: The tipping point | VailDaily.com

Lewis: The tipping point

I was skiing at Beaver Creek the other day and stopped in at Talons for a quick bowl of chili. They have added new registers now that show a screen to include a tip. You cannot ignore it. You have to hit a predetermined amount, enter a specific amount, or hit a button for no tip. I must admit that I didn’t really know what to do. 

For all of my life, a tip was neither expected nor required for just ringing up a bill. In the Talons case, I get my own tray, select my own food, get the drinks myself from a machine, bring the food to the table, and then take the tray back and throw away my trash. The cooks make the food, but aren’t they supposed to be paid by Vail Resorts?

Yet the world as I knew it had apparently changed, there on the terminal in front of me was a recommendation for a 20% tip (that was the amount in the middle button). It just seemed wrong that a cashier spending 10 seconds checking me out would deserve the same level of tip that I would give a server that might spend an hour or more serving me at a restaurant.

These Square terminals are popping up everywhere, especially in fast-food restaurants, coffee shops and small merchants. The company even provides strategies for how to maximize tipping revenue such as putting in higher “recommended” tip amounts and preferring the use of credit or Apple Pay instead of cash.

I understand the philosophy of credit over cash. It’s one of the reasons casinos want you to use chips instead of cash for gambling. Chips add a mental separation between you and your money. Simply put, you will gamble (and lose) more with chips than cash. Electronic payments work the same way.

Support Local Journalism

According to data from the company, coffee shops using the Square Terminal are getting tip revenue that averages 20%. That is amazing given that tipping in coffee shops was practically non-existent just a decade ago. It is also interesting that, in this case, we now are asked to tip before we actually receive any service.

While I consider myself a reasonable if not generous tipper, I do think it is important to receive the service first and then tip accordingly. To me, if tipping is expected before you receive service, then it is a tax, not a tip. The whole concept of tipping is that it provides a reward for good or excellent service.

Amazingly, research has found that 30% of people will leave a tip, even when they feel it is unwarranted if they are forced to hit a “no tip” button to opt out of tipping. I can see how that works. You are standing there with the cashier facing you, there are people in line behind you and you are staring at a screen telling you that “normal” people are tipping 22%. It’s a brilliant form of persuasion.

I expect that this trend will continue, with people being pressured to tip in more and more situations and in higher percentages. I have even heard that some movie theaters are offering the option to provide a tip to the cashier when you buy movie tickets. Businesses like tipping because it effectively goes to their bottom line as they can pay people less in direct wages. Employees see it as a wage increase, although I bet that is not always the case.

I think that most of us want to be fair and even appropriately generous to those that provide us with good service, but we need norms and guidelines. We all know the guidelines for servers in restaurants but what is appropriate for a cashier that spends a few seconds ringing up your food?

I wish we confined tipping to areas where a significant personal service is performed and paid others a fair wage. If the cashier at Talons deserves a higher wage, then raise the cost of the chili by 10%. I am afraid, however, that we may have reached the tipping point — so to speak — and there is no going back. There is no telling where it will stop now.

Mark Lewis, a Colorado native, had a long career in technology, including serving as the CEO of several tech companies. He retired from technology last year and is now writing thriller novels. Mark and his wife, Lisa, and their two Australian Shepherds — Kismet and Cowboy, reside in Edwards.

Support Local Journalism