A few months ago, Roger Couturier of Greene and a group of about 15 companions celebrated a friend’s birthday by taking the fellow to his favorite restaurant in a nearby town. It was a very nice dinner, everyone seemed to agree, and a good time was had by all.  

It was when it was time to leave a tip that things got dicey. 

“We knew due to the  the size of the group they would automatically add a 20% tip to the individual checks,” Couturier says. “To be expected, and all were fine with that. What was totally unexpected was the restaurant adding an additional 20% on top for a total tip of 40%. When questioned about the additional 20%, we were told it was for the kitchen staff.  Everyone was livid but because the owner was known to one member in our group, no one wanted to make a scene.” 

They paid the tip, which Couturier described as “exorbitant,” but they never quite understood the logic behind it and the whole experienced was soured. 

“The ultimate loser in this case is the restaurant,” Couturier says, “as none of us will be returning in the future and word of mouth will cost them much more than the 20% surcharge.” 

It’s not just Couturier and his band of diners, either. A lot of people are put off by restaurants that automatically add tips to the bill, which takes all decisions out of the hands of the customer. 


“Tipping is personal and should be based on the service received from the server,” says Anne Beaudoin of Lewiston. “No tip should be AUTOMATICALLY added to someone’s tab. Tips added to someone’s bill does not incentivize the server and could encourage poor service.” 

Let’s face it. The matter of tipping has gotten weird since the pandemic.  

It used to be so simple. You’d start with a 15 to 20% tip and either add or subtract, depending on the service provided by your waiter or waitress. Some people are big tippers, some are tightwads, but almost everybody has a system. Nowadays, though, the tipping lines are getting blurred and it’s not always clear when to leave a gratuity, if you need to leave one at all. 

At some coffee shops, vape stores, pizzerias and even tiny vendor kiosks, the clerk who checks you out will often spin a tablet in you direction, and on the screen are options for tipping. Waddaya say, big guy? Want to tip 10%? Twenty-five percent? Maybe even 40% for the clerk who didn’t do much at all but ring you up? 

“People have gotten greedy expecting tips everywhere and for everything,” says Lisa Jones of Lewiston. 

Now, Lisa herself is a server, so she appreciates the importance of tipping. But like others, that almost passive aggressive form of tipping —  known in some circles as the “guilt tip” — is a bridge too far for many. 


“Some places had tip jars — or ‘karma jars’ — before there were tablets everywhere, and perhaps people tipped in them,” Jones says. “But now people get very in-your-face suggestions to tip 20-25% when someone has barely done any work.” 

One thorny issue with this point-of-sales tipping is that the customer doesn’t have the option of just avoiding the matter altogether. To skip the tip, one has to actually click a button that says “no tip” or something of that nature even as the doe-eyed clerk stares on, waiting to see exactly how much you value his service. 

Although that may be an unfair characterization. Some baristas, who have no say in what tipping software the business uses, report that it is every bit as awkward for them as it is for the customer. They’re not supposed to talk about the tips, they just turn that screen and let the customer sweat over it. 

Even the people who design the tipping software get the fact that digital tipping can be uncomfortable, although they generally tout the system as the latest, greatest thing. 

“Behind the scenes, striking the right balance with preset tipping options is a delicate process for small-business owners,” according to a survey of tipping software companies on Nerdwallet.com. “Set them too high and you could upset some customers. Too low, and you could be leaving money on the table. The right tipping system helps encourage customers to tip generously and provides a smooth experience for people on both sides of the transaction. Small-business owners can use their point-of-sale systems’ customer-facing screens to collect other useful feedback, too.” 



When faced with the tablet tip screen, the customer also has no idea where his money is going to go, if he or she does decide to throw in a few bucks. Does the clerk get it? Is it split among the staff? You can ask, but you won’t always get a straight answer. As we suggested earlier, tipping has gotten weird. 

“I recently got take-out from a local restaurant,” Jones said. “Ordered online, went inside to get my food, gave a couple bucks to the person who handed me my bag — and she turned around and handed it to the bartender. I’m tempted to ask management for clarification on that.” 

What’s interesting is that the people who cringe at the idea of digital tipping, are not, as a rule, opposed to leaving gratuities when they are earned. A waiter or waitress who hustle all night bringing you food and drink? Of course they should get a tip, and a big one if the service was good. 

But the bored guy behind a counter who merely pushed some buttons and took your money?  

“I went to the Maine Mall last week and bought some sneakers,” says Kelly Archambault of Auburn. “Rang in my card and I was asked for a tip! Tipping has gotten out of hand. Waitresses earn their tips with the small wage they make, they deserve their tips.” 

Duke Harrington worked in restaurants from 1985 until 1998. Back then, he says, rules were fast and hard. The norm for a tip was 15 percent. One had to be particularly attentive to earn 20 percent. 


Business owners were never tipped, even if they were out there waiting tables themselves. 

“And you never tipped on counter service,” Harrington says. “Thus, it was unheard of to tip at a place like George’s or Sam’s.” 

By an large, most of the people we talked to for this story were not fans of the tablet form of tipping at the point of sale. They find it manipulative, even a bit dishonest. Culturally, it’s no longer considered just a minor inconvenience. Memes are everywhere ridiculing this form of tipping. The hilarious images portend a future where police ask for tips after handing you tickets; where priests spin the ol’ tablet around in case you want to be a little generous after that vigorous confession; where even an executioner might ask for a gratuity before pulling the switch. The idea of digital tipping has become part of the zeitgeist, for better or for worse. The term “tipping rage” is a real thing in these strange times. Also, “tipflation.”

Yet there are signs that customers are actually warming to the idea of them. The payment processor Square reports that in the fourth quarter of 2022, restaurants using its system saw a 16.5% increase in tipping. Other studies show that, while the point-of-sales style of tipping might generate larger gratuities, it does poorly in the areas of customer satisfaction and retention. The customer might click that 30 percent button, in other words, but he or she is more likely to leave annoyed and dissatisfied. 

Yet, some people insist that the notion of tipping at the counter is not always a terrible thing. It all depends on what’s going on back there. 

“I tip at the counter at Subway, mostly 15 percent, because they are there making the food right in front of you,” says Donna Castleberry of Greene. 



By and large, most people are happy to tip when the circumstances call for it. In fact, people might be tipping bigger than ever.

“I think people started being more generous during COVID,” says Jones. 

Most diners say they like being able to control how much of a tip they leave based on the quality of service they provide. But not everybody agrees that the customer should dictate how much a waiter or waitress is paid.

“Good service is just a basic expectation. It’s not something you should have to pay extra for,” says Ben Low, owner of Side By Each Brewing Co. in Auburn. “Honestly, I don’t think it should be up to the customer how much an employee gets paid. It should be up to the management of the business.” 

Low isn’t just blowing wind, either. At Side By Each, which serves food along with its beverages, he’s done his best to eliminate the concept of tipping altogether, preferring to pay his staff a heftier-than-normal wage so they don’t have to rely on tips. It’s been this way since the business opened and as far as Low is concerned, his system takes care of a few problems right out of the gate. 


“In the tipping environment, it can be tougher to get a team atmosphere,” Low says. “People tend to kind of scratch and claw for the best shifts because those are where you make the most money. But it’s just as valuable for us to have somebody here on a slower shift. That employee is just as valuable being here on a Tuesday night as it is on a Saturday night. So this is more fair all around and we don’t have employees fighting with each other over who gets Friday night.” 

Not that all servers would be thrilled with that kind of arrangement. Depending on the restaurant, some of them report making so much on tips on busy nights that exchanging that for a better hourly wage would be madness. 

“I was a server and bartender for over 20 years,” says Melanie Therrien of Lewiston, “and I made more in a few shifts than people with degrees at full-time jobs make, plus I had a flexible schedule.” 

“No server would advocate for getting rid of tips,” says Jones. “I made more as a server in my Ground Round and Gritty’s days than I ever did as a teacher.” 

At Side By Each, diners pick up their food at the counter, so employees are not waiting on tables in the traditional manner. And Low’s no-tipping strategy is not without its drawbacks — because he’s paying his waitstaff more than is typical in the industry, he’s had to nudge his prices up to absorb the cost of paying those salaries. 

“There’s a lot of price pressure on us, because when people look at the menu, they just see the price,” Low says. “The steak and cheese here might be $15. Down the street, it might be $12, but you’re going to be adding that 15 or 20 percent tip. When people take that first look at our menu, there can be some sticker shock. They don’t calculate in the fact that they don’t need to leave a tip. Our prices, when you factor that in, are extremely competitive. Even without factoring that in, our prices are not crazy.”



All over the internet, you can find articles with headlines that bemoan the state of tipping in America. 

“Tipping in the U.S. is Out of Control,” goes one from The Guardian. 

“Survey: 66% Of Americans Have A Negative View Of Tipping,” according to a headline on BankRate.com 

“Americans are Getting Tired of Tipping,” according to FoxBusiness.com. 

“Tipping backlash,” according to The Hill. “These Americans are giving the least in 2023, study finds.” 


And that’s not to mention the countless Reddit threads and angry screeds across social media about the confusing — and some would say overly aggressive — nature of tipping in these strange times. There are even stories afloat about people who have been prompted for a tip at a self-checkout line. No, really. We’ll let you try to figure that one out on your own. 

And yet there are plenty of people who remain unperturbed. They have their own personal systems of tipping and they see no need to depart from them. 

“As a woman who frequently eats alone in restaurants, I have decided to tip each wait person $5,” says Dot Schmidt of Wilton. “That usually is more than 25% for one person, but it seems really cheap to give someone the recommended $3.68 — which is about 25%, depending of course on what I had. The waitress has to make five or six trips to the kitchen and she’s usually got a dozen customers and the places are always short-staffed. I figure that if I can’t afford to give the waitress a decent tip, I shouldn’t be eating out. I tip my hairdresser and sometimes throw a few coins in the tip jar at Subway. But I only tip people who have actually provided a service. Waitresses don’t make a lot of money, and I feel like they are working for me more than for the restaurant, and a decent tip ensures that they remember me when I come back next time. And they do!” 

“While I understand how expensive it can be to eat out lately, my husband and I started tipping more once restaurants reopened post COVID,” says Laurie Marquis of Rumford. “Fewer patrons meant less tip income. We generally tip 30%, but if the waitstaff has an attitude, we’ll tip 20%. That has only happened once, and it was recently. Might I add a ‘tip’ for keeping your restaurant bill reasonable? We usually stick to coffee, tea or water for beverages. Appetizers and/or desserts are for special occasions such as a birthday or anniversary. We’ve been blessed with a good income from my husband’s years as an electrician/instrumentation technician at our local paper mill. We know others struggle to make ends meet, and we want to lighten the load.” 

“I tip 20% or more in any place with waitstaff, no matter what,” says Megan Parks of Lewiston. “If it’s takeout and they’re paid a normal wage, I don’t usually tip — even if you spin the little machine toward me asking for a tip. If it’s delivery, I tip, but if there is a super high delivery fee my tip will be less. In hair salons, I tip 25% or more. Same for tattoos.” 

“Considering that servers get one-half minimum wage, I tip 15-25%,” says Bill Lepack of Livermore. “In a place where the help receives at least minimum wage, I don’t tip. I’d just as soon see us go to the European and Canadian style of paying the help a decent hourly wage and no tipping. Save all this confusion and squabbling.” 

For the time being, though, confusion and squabbling seems to be the name of the tipping game, and God only knows where it will go next. And least we haven’t reached a point where newspaper reporters expect tips after delivering a long and tediously reported story such as this one.

Although, now that I think of it, if you wanted to leave a little something I wouldn’t be opposed. Ten percent, 20 or 40, you decide.

It’s much appreciated.

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