These days, when dining out, you might expect to be asked whether you’d like to add a tip when paying electronically. Ride share services often prompt customers to add an extra dollar, or three or five. Some online ordering or payment platforms will even automatically include a tip in your bill, unless you opt out.
This is a relatively new phenomenon in Australia, a country where consumers are generally not expected to tip. It led to me wonder: Is our tipping culture changing? Is the practice becoming more common?
It seems to be a point of pride for most Australians that we’re not like the U.S., where the minimum wage is so low for many restaurant workers that consumers are effectively required to subsidize their pay through tips. (The minimum wage here is 21.38 Australian dollars, or $14.34 — about double that of the U.S.)
But tipping is not unheard-of in Australia — tip jars are common in bars and cafes, and it’s accepted that you can leave a bit of extra cash on the table at the end of a meal if you feel you’ve received fantastic service.
What’s changed is that now, instead of leaving it up to the customer’s discretion, an increasing number of apps and online payment systems are actively asking whether you’d like to leave a tip, which can feel “more in your face,” said Tony Green, the chief executive of Australian Foodservice Advocacy Body, which was founded during the pandemic to help the hospitality sector recover.
“It seems to be becoming something that is more often being requested,” he said.
Mr. Green believed that part of the reason was that consumers are increasingly paying with debit or credit cards instead of cash, and more online payment systems and apps have built the option into their interface.
Another factor: The hospitality sector is still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic and successive lockdowns, he said, and is grappling with labor shortages and inflationary pressures.
“Everyone is doing it really tough at the moment,” he said, “Customers have got less money to spend, and restaurants and cafes don’t have enough staff to operate seven days a week like they used to. So I think there’s a real pinch point, and I think tipping, or being requested to tip, is almost a bit of a sign of that.”
But Mr. Green noted that even though more venues might be prompting tips, that didn’t mean more customers were tipping. “I think the requests are building but from what I’m hearing, that doesn’t mean the number of tips is increasing,” he said.
It seems that tipping became more normalized during the pandemic, as a way for Australians to support the hospitality sector. A survey conducted last year by OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation platform, found that 27 percent of Australians polled said they were more likely to tip than before the pandemic.
Dario Mujkic, a director at the United Workers Union, suggested that during the pandemic, tipping might have become “a social contagion, a little bit,” and something that venues hoped would continue. But with inflation increasing financial pressures on households, it is unlikely that many people are currently tipping, he said.
He noted that it can be unclear whether tips are actually going to workers, especially when given through online platforms. “On a machine, where’s the checks and balances on that? At least in a tip jar, you can count it,” he said.
The risk with establishing more of a tipping culture in Australia is that employers could use it as an excuse to not give workers pay increases or to improve working conditions, Mr. Mujkic said. For example, “instead of getting a few dollars above the minimum wage an hour, you’re on the minimum but told that you might get $20 at the end of your shift in tips.”
“The more it’s normalized, the more it suppresses wages,” he added.
Things should become clearer once the cost-of-living crisis subsides, Mr. Mujkic said. Will consumers start tipping more again when they have more discretionary income? Or was the uptick in tipping during the pandemic just a blip?
But right now, there is little sign our tipping culture is changing, he said.
“The point of tipping is for exemplary service rather than subsiding the worker through consumerism,” he said. “It’s the owner’s responsibility to pay people and pay people fairly and well. It’s not my responsibility to be subsidizing that when I’m buying a meal or drink.”
Now for this week’s stories: