Guilt Tip

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 (Richard Swerdlow)

Richard Swerdlow shops as much as the next guy but there’s one easy-pay option that has him squirming every time he encounters it.

Our high-tech age has made shopping convenient, providing instant access to anything you'd ever want to buy. Thanks to Alexa, you can order toilet paper at 3 am by just asking for it from your bed. You can buy cake mix, shampoo, even a car, from any place at any time.

But one computer shopping innovation has me actually avoiding shopping. The Guilt Tip.

The guilt tip is the hipster term for suggested tipping amounts displayed on iPad cash registers, ubiquitous in small shops and cafes in the digitally obsessed Bay Area. You swipe the tablet with your credit card and tap the tip prompt - or no tip - while the server watches. And I hate to be a cheapskate, but sometimes I'm just buying one already expensive cup of coffee. Nevertheless, I’m usually embarrassed and add 20 percent to a tablet transaction.

Service workers work hard, and I don't begrudge them tips. And it's not the employees' fault that customers are forced to deal with that pushy computer-generated tip prompt. Maybe it's just as awkward from the other side of the counter.


But the gilt tip works - a study showed the average person is twice as likely to tip when the server is standing right in front of them with an iPad. If you feel publicly shamed when tapping no-tip, you're not alone. The whole coerced-into-tipping phenomenon has inspired dozens of internet rants about the awkward etiquette of iPad tipping.

I always tip for table service or for a special order. What I don't like is feeling judged when I'm only grabbing a cup of coffee to go, and I’m less likely to grab one these days knowing coffee comes with cream, sugar and humiliation.

Maybe the solution is bigger than a tablet - how about a livable minimum wage, so nobody needs to feel guilty for tapping no-tip.

Do you cave when facing iPad tipping pressure? It's a digital etiquette question Emily Post never had to face or tap.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.