Gen Z is rejecting everything they’ve been taught about tipping. It could be the start of a big shift

Gen Z tipping culture
Gen Z is just…different when it comes to tipping.
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Just because inflation is finally cooling doesn’t mean Americans have financially recovered. Last summer, it hit a 40-year high, coinciding with Gen Z entering the workforce and generally curbing their spending. With economists debating whether inflation will be “sticky,” another habit is sticking around, according to a recent Bankrate survey: The 26-and-under crowd are the stingiest tippers. 

Just 35% of Gen Zers told Bankrate they always tip their server at a sit-down restaurant. At the other end of the spectrum, 83% of baby boomers said they always tip. Boomers were more generous tippers than Gen Zers across the board, Bankrate found, including when it comes to food delivery workers and taxi or Uber drivers. 

Every year, fewer and fewer people drop their change into the tip jar—much less tip 20% after a meal. Just under two-thirds (65%) of U.S. adults always tip their server when they go out to eat at sit-down restaurants (the activity that they pay tips for most commonly). But even that is winnowing away, Bankrate found. Last year, just shy of three-quarters (73%) of diners said they always tip. A year earlier, that was 75%, and it was 77% in 2019. 

The pandemic obliterated the tipping economy, and led to the shuttering of countless independent bars and restaurants, leaving swaths of tipped service workers looking for stable income. Three years on, America is mostly back to normal (with the notable exception of going to the office five days a week), but tipping has yet to regain its former glory. Baby boomers still tip more than any other generation, and Gen Z is in dead last place.  

To be sure, as the youngest and least wealthy generation, this may be because Gen Z has the least money to spend—yet rather than taking restaurant visits out of their budget, many simply get stingy when the bill arrives. The spread also falls along gender lines: Women tip more frequently than men do, Bankrate found. 

That’s not just at restaurants; 60% of women tip their hairstylist every time they get a cut, while only 46% of men always tip their barber. Generational divides are stark here too. Fewer than a quarter (24%) of Gen Zers tip their hairstylists, compared to 40% of millennials and 67% of Gen Xers. 

But Americans are still notably bigger tippers than other cultures, and this survey begs the question of whether Gen Z’s resistance could finally break with American tipping culture.

Spin the iPad back around. Everyone has tipping fatigue

Gen Z may be the stingiest, but they aren’t unique in their discomfort. Over 40% of all U.S. adults told Bankrate they think businesses, not patrons, should be paying their employees better, instead of relying on customers to shore up the difference with tips. 

Across the board, 30% of the 2,437 U.S. adults Bankrate surveyed said they believe tipping culture has gotten out of control. Notably, 33% of boomers felt that way, compared to just 22% of Gen Z, yet boomers still managed to tip more regularly. 

Many Americans have become fed up with tipping culture, citing “tipping fatigue” as a result of the iPad screens with tipping options suddenly appearing at seemingly every business. 

The uptick in digital tip prompts, like those you’d find on an iPad, has even spurred a debate about “guilt tipping” in which customers tip only out of obligation, as the cashier looks them right in the eyes. 

“I’m not going to tip you just because you turned the iPad around and I pushed a button,” one person said in a TikTok video. “For me, it’s just companies trying to get away with not paying their employees what they deserve—they have the assets to pay more but they just don’t want to. They give you this option to tip, this social pressure to tip.”

That disgruntlement could have a big cost, Michael von Massow, an associate professor of food economics at the University of Guelph in Canada, wrote earlier this year. Tip fatigue, he said, could create enough resentment that customers may stop tipping altogether. 

But the social acceptability of tapping the “no tip” option could be a long way off. In the 19th edition of the book Emily Post’s Etiquette, authors Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning instruct consumers to tip service workers of all kinds, including Uber drivers, bartenders, cashiers at take-out spots, and baristas. But they specify that each person has the latitude to decide how much to tip, and they needn’t explain their reasoning or feel guilty about selecting the lowest tip option on the iPad. 

When even Emily Post’s descendants say you’ve got to tip, that’s a probable indication that tipping is still compulsory rather than a nice-to-have—no matter how tight the economy gets. 

“Inflation and general economic unease seem to be making Americans stingier with their tipping habits, yet we’re confronted with more invitations to tip than ever,” Ted Rossman, Bankrate’s senior industry analyst, wrote in the report. “It’s a fascinating issue with few clear answers. There is one apparent certainty, though: Tipping doesn’t seem likely to leave American society anytime soon.”