Guilt Tip

A few US bills and a note that says "for housekeeping" on an unmade hotel bed

One thing the pandemic has taught us is the value of the nation’s workers. Grocery store employees are essential. Nurses and PSWs are indispensable. This causes me to wonder how essential oils were placed in such a category. But I digress.

We can probably agree that people doing these crucial jobs are underpaid and underappreciated. But should we tip them?

While there probably hasn’t been a nurse or PSW who’s asked for a tip, just about everyone else has. Since financial interactions went mostly contactless, tapping a card or a device to make a payment made the process virtually painless. The machine also does the math for you. Would you like to tip an amount or a percentage? Here, let me calculate that for you.

When the only available food besides our own was takeout, I’d tip when I picked up the occasional meal. Here were people working in hot kitchens while most others stayed home. They deserved some appreciation. Perhaps, like me, you were freer with your tips during lockdowns.


The payment service Square exploded in popularity during the peak of COVID times and became the market leader. It’s super convenient. And once you’ve given a merchant your email and number, you’re done. If you pay with Square at a new merchant, they too can email or text your receipt if you choose. Most have turned off the tip option when it’s not relevant to their business. But some haven’t. And that’s where the question of whether to tip comes in.

Requests for tips have come from the electronic gizmos of apple-picking orchards, concert merch vendors and even some produce sellers. You have to press “no” to advance to the checkout page. For some people, that “no” comes with a heaping serving of guilt.

It’s in Square’s (or any service’s) interest to have the merchant ask for tips. The merchant pays fees to Square based on the transaction amount, and that includes tips. The bigger the transaction, the bigger the fee. And there’s a “what the heck” factor. The merchant thinks, I’ll leave the tip option up and see what happens. What can it hurt?

The Economics of Tipping – Journal of Economic Perspectives. Ofer H. Azar, spring 2020

Tipping is supposed to reward excellent service. But it’s clear that it’s also a form of social pressure. That’s a powerful burden to put on customers, especially when the setting doesn’t normally call for tips.


In my short-lived career as a server in a fine-dining establishment long ago, one tipping experience stands out. An obviously wealthy man who was traveling alone said I reminded him of his daughter. He asked me about the restaurant’s tipping policy. I told the truth: we pooled our tips and shared them with the kitchen staff. He over tipped me to an outrageous degree on my promise that I’d keep his tip for myself. I said I would so we could end the conversation and go on with our lives.

I slipped into the kitchen and tucked the wad of cash in our communal tip bowl, to be divided equally later. Imagine my surprise when I turned around and saw the customer behind me. “I’m very disappointed”, he said, and walked away. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I had pocketed the money. Lying to him was a lesser evil in my mind. The moral of the story is, ask about the tipping policy if you’re concerned. And expect the server to stick to it.

Some people (my husband) can hit “no tip” when the situation doesn’t call for it, and let it go. Other people (me) feel a pang of pending regret and tend to tip even a small amount, just to avoid that guilty feeling. Tipping makes me feel good, like I’ve done something positive for the universe. These differences emerge when we travel. Derek happily tips generously when he feels it’s warranted: in a sit-down restaurant or for valet parking. But for housekeeping at a one-night-stay hotel and staff at take-out restaurants we have an unspoken agreement. I’m gonna tip and he’s gonna stay silent on the issue. It works for us.

When in doubt, consult an expert: Emily Post’s Tipping Etiquette 101. Emily Post says guilt shouldn’t motivate tipping. A tip jar at a coffee shop with a cute or funny label always makes me open my wallet but Post says there’s no obligation. However, not tipping at a restaurant is unthinkable. Even if the service is bad, no tip makes you seem like a boor. A tiny tip makes the point clearer. And if they’re sharing tips, the rest of the crew still deserves a little something for their efforts.

12 thoughts on “Guilt Tip”

  1. When living on a fixed income tipping can be a financial constraint so I have limited it to sit down meals at a physical location. The other deciding factor when ordering online has been, how accessible is the online service and how much cursing it takes to place my order. Over the past several years I’ve advised the creators of the Swiss Chalet App as to its lack of accessibility and improvements have been made becoming more accessible and when I no longer struggle to place my order, I may consider tips and that goes for any other online service.

  2. I noticed the last time I golfed, in Port, not naming names, but there was a tip option on the debit machine. I am sure they could of gotten a machine that did not have this option, but the person behind the counter said it was ‘new’. Did they expect me to tip them for letting me golf there? I know that there is a new policy, not always enforced, where the company can pass the credit card fees onto the patron. I wonder how many will jump on board for this option and how will patrons feel about it. I wonder if that is why they changed machines. Will it be transparent or hidden fees….deep thoughts.

  3. Pooling tips? Why that’s communism!
    You raise some good questions. But there’s a question on the other side that needs to be addressed: What is the proper way for a business to respond if the customer chooses not to tip?
    A relative once told me, after getting awful service, she chose not to tip at a restaurant in the States. The server followed her out of the eatery and onto the sidewalk, yelling at her.
    Some people, for whatever reason, are going to choose not to tip. Then what happens?

    1. That server is a idiot. However, tipping in restaurants is part of the experience. No tip at all makes it appear that the customer is just a boor. A tiny tip for terrible service gets the point across. That’s what I learned from being on the other side.

      One time, my friend Lisa and I met for dinner in Oakville. Our server was amazing and dinner was great. We were gabbing and had shopping bags to manage and in our minor frenzy, we split the bill and completely forgot to tip. I got home and realized it and I called the restaurant. I wanted to put a tip on my credit card. I felt awful! This guy was exceptional! All I knew was that his name was Chris. The person I talked to explained that there were 4 servers named Chris on duty. My description didn’t make one stand out. She told me to just let it go and that it was alright. But I still remember…

  4. Part of the reason I turned off the tip option on my Square machine at my establishment several years ago is because I never understood why tipping is expected at beauty and hair establishments. I’m the owner, so I set the prices to ensure I can cover my costs and buy groceries that week. Why do I also need a tip on top of that? It is more sustainable for my business to have clients leave a Google review, buy a product, refer a friend, etc than it is for me to receive $5 or $10 extra.

  5. I read your blog yesterday morning before I left for the nursing home. After a stressful 8-hour day there, I headed out to get something to eat at 4:00, so I could get back to help my family member with supper. At the fast-food place, I paid by credit & was prompted to leave a tip. I had to hit the “no tip” button at least 4 times. If I leave a tip, I prefer to leave cash. I did not know that the provider charges more based on the total bill. Now I will never leave an “electronic” tip, so the merchant has to pay even more in fees. That is ridiculous! Thank you for the information. As always, I find your advice helpful. Pam

  6. When I was younger I waitressed for a year or so and I always tip at sit down restaurants – often very well if the service is exceptional. Servers make the dining experience – they take your order, bring your food and drinks, deal with any issues if there are any and are the intermediary between the customer and the kitchen.

    They earn those tips, especially if they have to deal with really irritating customers like one little boy I still remember who screeched at the top of his lungs that he wanted a “batman drink”. His apologetic and embarrassed parents explained that a batman drink was a Shirley Temple. I got him his batman drink and the evening went on.

    I had a friend back then who waitressed in a club back then who served a group of Americans and they gave her a dime, and that was a minuscule tip even in 1980. She handed it back and suggested they keep it for a phone call. That small tip wasn’t because of her service. They thought that tipping wasn’t done in Canada, like France. They gave her a better tip after apologizing.

    But I’m with Derek. I’m not tipping for take out and I refuse to be guilted into it. I did during the pandemic because small restaurants needed all the help they could get and I wanted my favourites to survive. But why tip for someone to carry a bag from the kitchen to the cash or pour a coffee and put a scone into a bag?

    My massage therapist has a sign saying that she doesn’t expect tips and she’s amazing. If she accepted tips, I’d tip her.

    I wish tipping was completely outlawed and businesses charged enough to be able to pay their staff a decent or better wage. Customers shouldn’t have to subsidize a business’s payroll. Some high end restaurants in Toronto are doing that now. They’ve upped their prices by 18% along with their servers’ pay.

    Oh, and staff in takeout places have the option to turn that automatic tip request off on the debit machine. I occasionally pick up a small pizza at our local Pizza Hut and one day noticed that tip request was absent and commented on it. The guy said he felt it was his bosses’ job to pay his salary and that customers shouldn’t have to.

    1. It would be great if everyone was paid a decent wage but sadly, that’s just not how it goes. The person putting a scone into a bag is making minimum wage, and sometimes they go above and beyond. Plus, having done that job for a few hours a year (McHappy Day, Tim’s Camp Day) it’s harder than it seems and people are just awful to front counter staff. So I will continue to tip when they’ve earned it. 🙂

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