Give me a Tip? Give me a Break!

Let’s be honest, the conversation about tipping can be uncomfortable for millennials – especially since CreditCards released their study results that determined Millennials are terrible at it. It thereafter inspired many other articles in the past few days titled along the lines of, “Millennials are the Worst Tippers”. The first thought that struck me when reading this was, ‘is anyone actually surprised by this?’. I am most certainly not caught off guard that millennials tip less – and I don’t think most people should be.

I would like to clarify before this long-winded rant begins, this isn’t about justifying not tipping – this is a plea to give millennials a break. Also, a request for readers to consider the cultural and economic aspects of tipping that make millennials stingier with their wallets.

CreditCards survey suggests that 10% of millennials don’t tip, versus the 3% of older generations that do. They also point out that millennials tip less when they do at a median 15% versus the 18%-20% range of generation X and boomers. The follow-up articles on these statistics are stating that millennials are “less generous”. The use of language is bothersome, so let’s explore why millennials may not be reliable with tipping.

To be frank, millennials are broke and this is not a great time for a lot of them financially. Many are either starting their careers, riddled with student debt, at the beginning of parenthood, and attempting to buy houses (have you seen those mortgage rates?). There’s not as much money going around, and when millennials do have stable sources of income, it goes towards paying off debt or towards their next goal. This makes the comparison of younger generations versus older much more polarizing than it needs to be. Of course older generations tip more on average. Why? Because they can. Those at the height of their career or retired have much more money to spend on tipping while offering higher amounts. Also, because their grandchildren constantly complain about how little they earn working at a restaurant (because legally they can pay below minimum wage).

Another aspect to look at is the choices millennials make when purchasing food. We all hear about how millennials love their overpriced avocado toast and $5 coffee. Yet, usually, this is a reflection of their values. Millennials prefer to purchase more fair trade and organic products, which generally makes them more expensive. A $5 coffee (that becomes $5.50 after a tip) is half an hour of work under British Columbia’s current minimum wage. Maybe there is cause to judge millennials for choosing more expensive options, but don’t forget that the coffee shop industry would not survive without millennials (cafe models are geared directly towards them). They are the fuel that allows those industries to grow, and if millennials aren’t going to get credit for tipping, they should get credit for supporting a 6.2 billion-dollar industry that offers 160,000 jobs in those cafes in Canada (while also supporting more environmentally friendly and ethically sourced production).

Beyond the economic aspects, it’s a cultural thing. Millennials make up the majority of service jobs that are paid at or below minimum wage and require tips to make up the difference. Millennials are unattracted to the system because it disenfranchises them, their friends, or someone they know working in restaurants. They distrust a system that allows restaurants to underpay their workers, so they can re-earn them in tips. They would rather have a system that gives the upfront cost and pay higher, knowing that every worker is getting at least minimum wage. This rings true with millennials who travel more often and go abroad. Leaving North America, for the most part, means dining where tips are not required, and tax is included in the price which making budgeting and spending much more convenient (alright I’ll admit, millennials love convenience). The more millennials travel (which a lot of them of them do) and see for themselves how a restaurant can go without tipping, the more likely they are to be against it and advocate for change.

Now, because millennials are working those jobs – you might think that it makes them more understanding on the need to tip. And trust me, it does. However, when they can tip (which 90% still do according to this survey) it’s usually the lowest possible tip accepted. I would be surprised to find a colleague (which I have many of) that would tip more than 15% while working another job that relied on tips.

Case and point, millennials being the worst tippers is not about millennials being greedy. It directly speaks to the cultural and economic aspects that the generation faces and should be understood with a little more empathy. I’m not saying millennials shouldn’t tip when the system is still at play (because we feel for our fellow millennials who want to make a living allowance), but we should understand that there are reasons rooted in millennials tipping less. I’m glad older generations are stable enough to tip more at the average of 20%. I hope for the day when my peers and I can do that too.

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