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Customers now face a radically different tipping culture compared to a few years ago

A Square payment device at a store in New York, US, on Thursday, March 23, 2023. Shares in Square-parent Block plunged Thursday after Hindenburg Research disclosed a short position in the stock while claiming that the digital payment company facilitates fraud with Cash App consumer services. Photographer: Yuki Iwamura/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(CNN) — More stores now offer customers the option to tip, from coffee shops to ice cream stores.

Around 48% of quick-service restaurants like Starbucks, Panera and McDonald’s now give customers the option to tip, according to data released this month from Toast, a restaurant management software company. That’s up from 38% in 2020.

But Americans are tipping less.

The tipping percentage for quick-service restaurants last quarter was 15.9%, dropping from 16.4% last year.

People are tipping less in part because of inflation, experts say. They are also overwhelmed with the number of places that give them the option to tip with a card on an iPad, leading people to be less generous.

Customers and workers today are confronted with a radically different tipping culture compared to just a few years ago — without any clear norms.

Although consumers are accustomed to tipping waiters, bartenders and other service workers, tipping a barista or cashier may be a new phenomenon for many shoppers.

It’s being driven in large part by changes in technology that have enabled business owners to more easily shift the costs of compensating workers directly to customers.

Adding to the changing dynamics, customers were encouraged to tip generously during the pandemic to help keep restaurants and stores afloat, raising expectations.

The shift to digital payments also accelerated during the pandemic, leading stores to replace old-fashioned cash tip jars with tablet touch screens. But these screens and the procedures for digital tipping have proven more intrusive than a low-pressure cash tip jar with a few bucks in it.

Customers are overwhelmed by the number of places where they now have the option to tip and feel pressure about whether to add a gratuity and for how much. Some people deliberately walk away from the screen without doing anything to avoid making a decision, say etiquette experts who study tipping culture and consumer behavior.

Tipping can be an emotionally charged decision. Attitudes towards tipping in these new settings vary widely.