Electronic tipping may put pressure on customers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — New technology has taken some of the guessing out of determining a tip in a restaurant — but is it also pressuring patrons to leave more of a tip?

In coffee shops, tip jars are being replaced by “e-tipping” — a series of tablets and apps that let you leave a tip with your credit card with just the tap of a button.

“E-tipping is nice because I don’t have to have change in my pocket,” said Michael Holmberg.

Officials say programs often give patrons three options, sometimes pressuring people to leave a higher amount for their server.

“You feel kind of like a jerk if you don’t do it right,” one customer said.

Some restaurants are also using electronic tipping and some salons offer an app so you can book an appointment, pay and tip before even walking through the door.

“We’re trying to eliminate that little awkward exchange that sometimes happens at the end of an appointment,” said Ashley Groves, director of marketing at Whittl App. “So it’s all done through the app or online.”

Workers don’t object to the new way of tipping, saying the new method is paying off for them.

“I’ll take your money however you want to give it me,” said food truck owner Emily Darland.

And studies show that people are more generous when they are faced with a screen. But etiquette expert Patricia Napier Fitzpatrick said customers should only tip if it’s earned.

“We tip based on merit,” she said. “It’s up to you how you feel about the service and whether you want to or not, but don’t feel guilted to do it if it wasn’t warranted.”

In most cases, a customer has to physically press “no tip” if they don’t want to leave one — and officials say that, alone, is a reason why many people end up tipping more than they usually would.

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