Some diners said that tips allow business owners to deflect the responsibility for paying a living wage. Gabriel Ramirez, who works in a Los Angeles smoke shop, said he would prefer that labor costs were reflected in menu prices rather than leaving it up to customers to tip.
“It is our social duty to make sure that the person that is feeding us feeds themselves,” said Mr. Ramirez, 24. “Employers shouldn’t be looking at the tip jar and saying, ‘This is how my employee is going to make it this month.’”
For many workers, particularly those in businesses that pay a lower wage to employees eligible for tips, the extra money is a lifeline. And there’s evidence that the pandemic has made customers more acutely aware of that need, as staff shortages and impatient diners make food-service jobs even more difficult.
Bryan Solar, who manages restaurant products at Square, one of the leading point-of-sale tablet systems in the food-service industry, said people were more generous in tipping early in the pandemic at its client businesses in the United States. In April 2020, the average tip at a quick-service food business was 23.5 percent, up from 19.6 percent the previous month.
But that figure has steadily fallen since then, to 19.8 percent last month. (At full-service restaurants with Square systems, the decline has been less sharp, to 20.7 percent last month from 21.3 percent in April 2020.)
Mr. Solar said that in general, the new touch-screen technology encourages tipping. He recently helped El Arroyo, a decades-old Tex-Mex restaurant that he frequents in Austin, Texas, acquire the Square system. The restaurant owner reported that tips increased by 50 percent, he said.
Anxiety and social pressure play into the tipping decision, Mr. Solar said.
“The act of being in front of someone while they have that screen — they know if you tip, don’t tip or go into custom screens,” he said. “People in that moment are much more likely to be generous and to tip.”