I now regularly find that when I buy something from a cashier — especially small ticket items — that I have the option of tipping the salesperson. There will be a cup for tips, or the space to write a tip into the credit card transaction. If I buy a gelato, or a newspaper in the airport, these tipping chances present themselves.
I take it there are a few classes of customer:
1. Those who are looking for chances to tip more, to feel good about themselves.
2. Those who are uncertain about when they should be tipping, and who will now enter a tip to avoid feeling bad, out of fear that the social default has shifted toward tipping in some additional arena. They don’t prefer to tip, but they figure they are supposed to, and do not therefore hold a grudge.
3. Those who are indifferent to this new possibility, or perhaps who actively resent it, and who will leave no tip at all and do not feel guilty about that.
4. Those who aren’t sure what they should be doing, ultimately decide against the tip, feel bad about this, identify the establishment which made them feel bad, and avoid that establishment in the future.
If the share of individuals described by #4 is sufficiently large, suppliers will be reluctant to create new tipping opportunities, but it seems that is not the case. And so the practice of tipping is spreading. Note that as new tipping opportunities spread, uncertainty about the true social defaults increases (“hmm…maybe coffee servers do deserve a tip…”) and that increases the share of individuals who fall into #2. Which in turn raises the profitability of creating new tipping opportunities, which in turn muddies the understanding of social defaults, and so on. That is indeed the Dantean inferno we live in these days.
As a good Coasian, I feel tipping makes most sense when the quality of service potentially varies, and is elastic to the effort of the server. Those are not the boosts in tipping opportunities which I am observing. I’ve never had anyone scoop me a bad gelato, but service quality at the supermarket checkout varies a good deal, mostly depending on whether the cashier knows not to engage the (other) customers in too much chatter.