Watch CBS News

Americans have "tipping fatigue" entering the holidays, experts say

Study: Americans confused by tipping culture
Americans confused by tipping culture; most say tips are expected in more places, study finds 05:11

Ubiquitous tip prompts on touchscreens appear to be affecting Americans' propensity to generously tip service workers in the flesh, as was once the norm around the holidays.

The growing number of prompts asking consumers to add gratuities to all manner of bills have worn out Americans on tipping, particularly as inflation chews into their own budgets, a new survey shows. 

Sixty-two percent of Americans say they don't plan to give holiday tips or buy gifts for service workers this year, according to the survey from digital personal finance company Achieve. A different survey from Bankrate last year found that 54% of people planned to tip the people they normally do, including waiters and hairstylists, more generously around the holidays. 

Bankrate also found in its annual tipping survey in June that Americans are tipping less in general, despite the growing number of requests for something extra. 

Only 65% of diners said they always tipped waitstaff at at sit-down restaurants, compared to 77% of diners who said they did so four years ago.

An "annoying trend"

"Being asked for tips on even the smallest in-person purchases is a presumptuous and annoying trend that's making people less generous this holiday season," said Achieve co-founder and co-CEO Andrew Housser. 

Indeed, the prompts appear even when a consumer has been served by a machine, making it unclear whose pocket the tip would actually line. 

Housser said the makers of the cashless payment apps sometimes earn a cut of a bill's total, and therefore may have an incentive to get retailers to charge consumers as much as possible.  

"That's the frustration. It's about the ubiquity of point-of-sale tipping," Housser told CBS MoneyWatch. "And if it's driving behavior to not tip people who you'd argue probably are deserving of a tip, that would be an unfortunate outcome."

Other factors are eating away at Americans' generosity too.

Dwindling savings

People are close to depleting excess savings they built up during the pandemic, thanks to government stimulus programs. "That is rapidly burning down and it's projected to run out by early to mid-next year," Housser said. 

At the same time, Americans are carrying more debt than they ever have, currently owing more than $1 trillion on their credit cards, and $17.3 trillion in all kinds of debt combined, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York

"Excess savings are running out and people have more debt, and we're in an uncertain economy, too," Housser added. "That, combined with the ubiquity of point of sale tipping prompts, has people throwing their arms up and saying, 'This has always annoyed me and now all of a sudden it is a much bigger problem than it was because the economy is so uncertain.'" 

Creating confusion

Digital payment systems' tipping prompts have also generated new confusion around when it's appropriate to tip, upending the old consensus that tips are generally owed in exchange for exceptional service. 

A recent study from Pew Research Center found only 34% of Americans say it's easy to determine whether to leave a tip. These days, many aren't even sure what tipping is for. 

"Is tipping something we're supposed to do because society tells us to do it? Is it something we're supposed to do because we're obligated to the server to do it? Is it something we do because we choose to do it?"  Pew Research Center Drew DeSilver told CBS News. 

Of the 38% of Americans who do plan on handing out holiday bonuses, 17% say they'll make donations to charities. The category of worker most likely to receive a holiday tip includes mail carriers, package delivery and newspaper delivery people, with 12% of consumers saying they'd tip these workers, according to the Achieve survey. 

Only 6% of consumers said they would tip their hair stylists and beauticians, followed by 5% who said they would tip their garbage collectors. 

Even fewer Americans responded saying they would tip their housekeepers, childcare providers, pet sitters fitness instructors and building staff. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.