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Tipflation: Why you're not alone if you're being asked to tip more often

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Do you feel like you're tipping more these days or that you're being asked to tip more often? Dipayan Biswas, a marketing professor at the University of South Florida, says you are not alone.

DIPAYAN BISWAS: Over the last few years, we've seen the emergence of these digital kiosk systems that are very interactive in nature. Digital interfaces allowed companies to give the option to give tips. And companies figured out that this is a good way to get people to, like, pay more.

MARTÍNEZ: Those digital interfaces he's talking about are the tablets and other screens that you see in coffee shops, restaurants, even automated car washes. Biswas says those interfaces, along with a shaky pandemic-era economy, have fueled an explosion in tipping.

BISWAS: With inflation and wages not keeping up with inflation, companies are hoping that the tipping would make up for the difference because companies are looking for new ways to earn money.

MARTÍNEZ: According to a survey conducted by CreditCards.com, the average person tips 20% at a sit-down restaurant, 17% for food delivery and 15% for carryout. But often you don't know where that tip is actually going. Biswas says there's an easy way to find out. Just ask.

BISWAS: People usually assume that that money is going to the server or the employee. Anything paid to the digital interface goes directly to the company's account, and it is up to the company and any contract they have in place that would determine how much of that money, if any at all, gets shared with the server or the employee. Just the word tip doesn't mean anything.

MARTÍNEZ: With more places confronting customers with tips, you might be feeling a little bit of tip fatigue.

BISWAS: We all have sort of a mental account of total tipping dollars we have in mind or in our budget. So my biggest concern is what's happening is with so many places asking for tips, the real people who actually rely on tipping for their livelihood, the restaurant servers - they're the ones who would actually see the adverse effects of it.

MARTÍNEZ: Biswas says that tipping shouldn't feel like an obligation, and there's nothing wrong with considering your budget before you tip.

BISWAS: One thing I would emphasize is don't just tip because of the guilt factor. Just because there's an option doesn't mean they should stretch their budget.

MARTÍNEZ: Biswas says historically, tipping was once a way of showing off your wealth. Then it evolved into an incentive for good service. You'd think 30 years after Mr. Pink says he doesn't believe in it, that we'd have some clarity on tipping.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.