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Dollars and sense: Why are millennials tipping less than older generations?

How much do you typically tip? (If you're a millennial, likely not enough.) Here's a quick etiquette refresher.
Image: A couple calculates the tip at a restaurant
New research found that almost 40 percent of millennials believe tipping is optional and that nearly half want to ban it altogether. Hero Images / Getty Images/Hero Images

Mike Gnitecki, a 33-year-old paramedic in Dallas, Texas, likes to leave a decent tip when he dines out, “always 15 to 20 percent,” he says. But he’s become frustrated by the call for gratuities in just about every other type of business he enters.

“The local dry cleaner has a tip jar. I don't think that I should have to tip every time I purchase something,” he tells NBC News BETTER.

He also doesn’t like to feel pressured into tipping a set amount. “At the coffee shop this morning, the receipt to sign only had a choice of various percentage amount tip check-boxes without there being a ‘no tip’ option. I finally just left it blank.”

Have millennials reached a tipping point?

Gnitecki admits that he’s “not an expert” on millennial behavior and certainly doesn’t serve as a defining voice for the some 71 million millennials in the U.S (surely no single person could); but he speaks to the kind of pressures around leaving gratuities that millennials are facing — pressures that may play a role in new data showing that millennials aren’t tipping as well or as often as older consumers.

A new survey found that U.S millennials are the poorest tippers.

A new survey by found that U.S millennials (a population the company defined more broadly than most demographists would, as being between ages 18 and 37) are the poorest tippers: 10 percent routinely leave no tip; nearly one in three leaves less than a 15 percent tip and one in six millennials says they regularly choose the lowest preset tipping option, while nearly one in five gives no tip when presented these choices.

The average restaurant worker is a millennial, making for quite the paradox

These results may be surprising to millennials (they certainly were to me, an “older” millennial), for though we’re bogged down in debt, we tend to be savvy in our understanding of how meaningful tips are in the restaurant business, in part because so many of us have been in or presently belong to this workforce. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics identifies the median age of people working in food services and drinking establishments as 29.1.

Why would we be so knowingly disrespectful to our peers, and work against the system we very well may depend on ourselves?

Admittedly, I was doubting the credibility of this survey, wondering if perhaps the factoring in of people as young as 18 had led to a misrepresented millennial quotient, but then I stumbled upon new research from the social polling and opinion platform The Tylt, which found that almost 40 percent of millennials believe #TippingIsOptional and that nearly half want to #BanTipping.

There’s resentment not toward servers, but towards the system

This second poll, which consulted the same amount of people as the survey (1,000 adults) suggests that we’re seeing some disdain toward the traditional tipping model among millennials, and a strong desire for restaurants to implement a more transparent system, where staff doesn’t depend on an optional gratuity to earn a living wage.

Millennials as a generation are more socially conscious ... They don’t want to see somebody’s wage rely on the customer’s whim.

“I definitely see that millennials want this [tipping] system to go,” says Daniel Levine, trends expert and director of trends consultancy firm the Avant-Guide Institute. “Millennials as a generation are more socially conscious and they have strong ideas about fairness. They don’t want to see somebody’s wage rely on the customer’s whim.”

Dining out without breaking the bank: A balancing act

Is this millennial trend toward rejecting the pay model of tipping actually causing them to opt out of tipping when in restaurants? Probably not, as that would contradict their ethical rationale. It is more likely that millennials are tipping less than their elders because, firstly, they go out to eat out more than older generations and can’t afford to be dishing out 20 percent tips every time.

“Millennials are pretty conservative and cautious with their money and I can see where the average millennial would be pretty thoughtful in how they would do their tipping and plan for it when they're about to go out,” says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at “Adding 20 percent on top of everything you get makes for a much more expensive night, so it calls for a bit of a balancing act.”

The quick-serve surge

Another important factor here is that millennials are frequenting quick-serve restaurants where you pay for your food at the counter and take a tray to a table (or just head on out the door with it). In this environment, there isn’t an employee waiting on you and so tipping can feel especially optional.

“People tip far less in quick-serve type places than at a regular restaurant where this is a wait service,” says Levine. “And if they’re getting items to go, they may [skip] tipping because they think, ‘Why should I tip for a service that I’m already paying for?’ There’s also this plethora of tip jars everywhere and [millennials] tend to roll their eyes at that.”

Food on demand takes time and work — not just from the delivery person

But millennials may want to stop rolling their eyes and start opening them to just how much work goes on behind the scenes when they’re picking up to go, especially if they’re using an on-demand ordering service.

“Some restaurant workers' roles now include many duties that they did not include years ago, due to the rise of internet-based delivery services,” says Clare Levijoki, a former restaurant host. “Restaurant patrons are often not aware of this.”

Managing internet orders was in itself essentially a full-time job with no opportunity for tipping.

“As a restaurant hostess in 2016, for example, I was responsible for handling everything related to incoming orders from GrubHub, EatStreet and other delivery services,” Levijoki explains. “I was responsible for putting the orders from phone and internet into the kitchen, collecting them from the kitchen upon completion, checking to see that the outgoing orders contained all the correct items, and making sure they were given to the correct delivery driver along with the correct paperwork telling the driver where to go and listing what his tip would be. These were my responsibilities in addition to seating people and managing the floor. On most evenings, our restaurant received more delivery orders than we did in-person patrons. Managing internet orders was in itself essentially a full-time job with no opportunity for tipping, since its duties involved only interfacing with delivery drivers, not with customers directly.”

It is for this problem (and the research showing that tipping is not immune to racist and sexist biases) that Levijoki advocates for “eliminating tipping and raising minimum wage for restaurant workers instead.”

Tipping is here to stay for now, so here’s a quick etiquette refresher

There have been some signs of the change in the restaurant industry around tipping protocol particularly around pooling tips and even eliminating tipping altogether; but by and large, the burden of tipping remains on us at the individual, one-on-one level, and we should pay up if we want to be respectful of others.

“Millennials working in a service industry are far more likely to be gracious and give respectable tips,” says Jacquelyn Youst, president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Protocol, an organization that teaches social skills and etiquette. “[But in] looking at the whole picture it appears [other millennials] lack the basic social skill of proper tipping protocol. Tipping, like any other social skill, is a learned behavior, taught either by a person from an older generation or through life experience.” Here is Youst’s “Tipping 101” checklist:

  • Tip your bartender: $1.00 per drink
  • Tip your server: 15-20%
  • Tip your food delivery person: $4 (average amount)
  • Tip hotel housekeeping $2 per night, up to $5 at high-end hotel
  • Tip your valet parking person: $2 to $5
  • Tip your hair stylist: 15 percent
  • Tip your shampoo person at salon: $3-$5.00
  • Tip your dog groomer: 15 to 20 percent
  • Tip taxi driver: 10-15 percent

And when it comes to ride-sharing apps like UBER and Lyft, it's important to note that a five star rating is not a tip. If you’re short on cash but had a fine ride-sharing experience — don’t show your appreciation with just five stars or a mighty compliment in the app. Leave the same 10 to 15 percent tip you’d leave with a traditional taxi. “Advancement in technology should not take away the courteous act of tipping,” says Youst.


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