The Post-Covid-19 Rules of Tipping

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For the past year, whenever

Jillian Seroka

picks up her usual almond milk cortado from Oslo Coffee Roasters in the West Village neighborhood of Manhattan, she is presented with a prompt on the point-of-sale iPad asking how much gratuity to add on top of her $6 bill. She typically tips $3.

“Sometimes, I walk away and I’m like, I probably could have gotten an appetizer at a restaurant for that price,” says Ms. Seroka, a 29-year-old who works as an advertising account manager.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, she says she has found herself tipping service workers 30% or more to champion businesses that have struggled to stay afloat.

“I feel good about it for supporting them but sometimes, by the time the tip is done and your different specifications with your coffee, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I need to get my spending under control.’ ”

Tipping on credit cards increased nationwide last summer, according to

Mike Lynn,

researcher and professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. Analyzing data from payment company Square, Prof. Lynn found that credit-card tips for quick-service and full-service restaurant delivery orders jumped from below 11% before the pandemic to above 15% in May of last year.

Ms. Seroka confesses that she hasn’t been entirely faithful to Oslo. To save money on her second coffee of the day, she uses the Dunkin’ Donuts app—where tipping isn’t an option.

President Biden has identified raising the minimum wage as a key goal of his administration, but economists and lawmakers disagree on the potential impact. WSJ asked two economists and a minimum-wage worker what the costs and benefits of a $15 minimum wage might be. Photo: Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Zuma Press

As more vaccinated Americans venture out to their favorite bars and restaurants, they are also confronted with a new set of circumstances when it comes to tipping. What is standard gratuity, for example, following a year that has wreaked havoc on the hospitality industry? Is it rude not to tip on takeout orders? How do I tip responsibly—to my waiter and for my budget?

Here’s how to transition your pandemic tipping habits as the economy reopens.

Tip generously, within reason

While tipping on credit cards has gone up, tips for workers overall have declined significantly during the pandemic due in part to Covid-19 safety protocols, according to a survey of service workers from One Fair Wage, an organization which seeks to improve wages. But with the economy reopening, it is time to rethink overtipping, said

Diane Gottsman,

author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.”

She also advises not thinking about catching up on tips you missed through the pandemic.

“It’s not necessary because we’re post-pandemic to start overtipping everyone we see,” said Ms. Gottsman. “We have to be cognizant of our own budget as well.”

Ms. Gottsman suggests tipping at least 15%, with 18% to 20% being the average, and more for exceptional service.

One etiquette expert suggests tipping at least 15%, with 18% to 20% being the average.



Photo:

Amir Hamja/Bloomberg News

Use this moment as a budget reset

Expect your budget to change from the past year, as travel and social outings begin to take shape again. This will likely be different than other kinds of budgeting you have done in the past.

“It’s not often that we’re like starting from this place that’s having sort of a break from spending in certain areas, and going into an acceleration and we’ve all had plenty of time to reflect and you know, consider what our values are and what’s important to us,” said

Kristen Euretig,

a certified financial planner and founder of Brooklyn Plans.

When planning a budget for eating out, you can include tips as part of that line item to monitor expenditures. As always, make sure your debt obligations and emergency fund are taken care of before planning for entertainment.

Reassess your motivations

There are different reasons to tip, according to Ms. Euretig. Think about why you are tipping and what that means to you. Knowing your motivations will help you set your budget.

Malik Lee,

founder and managing principal at Felton and Peel Wealth Management, suggests thinking about tipping holistically and to know your numbers. “Is this a part of your long-term philosophy and belief? Are you giving thousands of dollars a year? Are you giving $50 to $100 a year?”

Ms. Gottsman suggests considering your community first.

Create room for regular tips and subscriptions

Since the pandemic, it seems tipping has appeared in less traditional places. In addition to restaurants and bars, creators on platforms such as YouTube, TikTok and Twitch often ask their viewers to tip. Platforms are creating mechanisms to make this easier as well.

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Do you plan to tip more at restaurants post-pandemic? Join the conversation below.

Keep track of these tips, and make sure you are putting them in the right bucket of your budget.

“Those are just subscriptions, just like

Netflix

or Hulu or discovery+ or Disney+,” said

Grant Sabatier,

author of “Financial Freedom” and co-founder of BankBonus.com.

Mr. Sabatier suggests keeping a Google Sheet of recurring tips. “The challenge is, while those are small, if you don’t keep a spreadsheet with what those are, they can really get away from you.”

Yes, tipping on takeout is the new normal

One aspect of the pandemic is likely here to stay.

“Covid has caused people to start tipping for carryout and I think that could change your mind about the whole concept,” said Prof. Lynn at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.

Guidance for tipping on takeout varies. Ms. Gottsman said a good rule of thumb is a minimum of 10% in consideration of servers’ reduced hours, while Mr. Sabatier recommended 15% to 20% to directly support staff making and preparing the food.

If you aren’t sure, ask

The pandemic upended so many rules in our society and establishments, so it doesn’t hurt to ask if you aren’t sure.

“When people are in uncertain situations and are not sure how they’re supposed to behave, they look for cues from what other people are doing,” said

Zarak Khan,

senior behavioral researcher with Common Cents Lab, which focuses on financial wellness for economically vulnerable communities. “You can just ask the person, ’What do people normally tip here?’”

Or, if you are aiming to be more generous: “What do your more supportive customers tip?”

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