Are we past the tipping point?

Christina Jelski

Without fail, nothing divides traveler opinion more dramatically than the topic of tipping.

A recent story I wrote on digital tipping, which focused on startups and hotels experimenting with mobile tipping solutions, elicited a surprising wave of negative feedback on Facebook. Of the 100-plus reactions to the post, more than 60 were angry, red-faced emojis.

Taken aback by the strong response to what I had thought to be a relatively uncontroversial piece, I decided to do something I rarely ever do: read the comments.

Among the post’s handful of hot takes were several commenters taking umbrage at the idea of tipping hotel staff in any format other than cash. Others, meanwhile, voiced their support of digital tips.

One commenter, who apparently decided to chime in without reading the story, emphatically disagreed.

“Why wouldn’t you tip?” this user wrote. “I encourage my clients to tip. It’s the right thing to do … and don’t ‘at’ me.”

(It’s important to note that at no point in the piece did I take any stance on tipping as a practice.)

Lastly, one lone commenter posited that perhaps now “would be a great time to get rid of the tipping culture” altogether.

That some have hit a tipping point when it comes to tipping culture isn’t entirely unexpected. 

Tip jars, both physical and digital, have proliferated across a wide range of less-than-traditional venues, from grab-and-go coffee shops to takeout-only restaurants. 

Similarly on the rise are suggested gratuity amounts, found either at the bottom of a receipt or on a point-of-sale screen.

These shifts have led to a phenomenon called “tipping fatigue,” which some say has left consumers burnt out on tipping culture and, presumably, more likely to tip less. That’s certainly bad news for hospitality staff dependent on tips, including housekeepers, bellhops and valets.

In the restaurant industry, some pioneering players have tried to solve the tipping problem by removing tips from the equation entirely. One of the sector’s most memorable forays into tip-free territory was led by famed restaurateur Danny Meyer, who took a high-profile stand against tipping in 2015, eliminating tipping across his Union Square Hospitality Group restaurant portfolio. Under the company’s “Hospitality Included” compensation model, Meyer said Union Square would bake livable wages and benefits for all employees into its menu prices.

Amid the pandemic-era shutdowns of 2020, however, the company abruptly abandoned the model, and it was never reinstated.

The hotel and resort industry, meanwhile, has yet to see a similarly widespread “no-tip movement” gain steam, but that’s not to say there isn’t a company that has set a successful precedent on this front.

Sandals Resorts International, for instance, is famous for its largely tip-free environments at its Sandals and Beaches properties. A recent tipping-related post on the official Beaches Resorts by Sandals blog confirms that “tips and gratuities are included in the cost of your vacation package at Sandals and Beaches Resorts.” 

And any additional tipping isn’t just discouraged, it’s largely prohibited, with the vast majority of Sandals and Beaches employees not permitted to accept tips. 

There are, of course, a few exceptions.

“You are welcome to tip butlers, tour guides and massage therapists to show your appreciation,” the blog post states, while adding that “tipping is entirely up to you in these situations!”

Sandals and Beaches seem to have struck the right chord when it comes to going (nearly) tip-free. To battle tip fatigue, perhaps more hotel and resorts will follow suit. 

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