Tired of 'tipflation'? 5 times it's OK not to tip, according to etiquette experts

Filadendron | E+ | Getty Images

If you feel like you're being asked to tip practically everywhere these days, you're not alone. In addition to the traditional venues — restaurants, barber shops, cabs — customers are being prompted to tip everywhere from convenience store counters to self-checkout kiosks at airports.

Etiquette experts such as Thomas Farley — also known as Mister Manners — are calling the phenomenon "tipflation."

"People are really feeling imposed upon," Farley says. "We're already living through inflationary times. Everything is crazy expensive. And on top of that, you're being asked, every time you turn around, 'How much would you like to tip?' It feels pushy, it feels needy and almost every customer I speak with says, 'Why aren't businesses just paying people more?'"

It's a good question, but don't hold your breath for an answer. Rather, take solace in the knowledge that there are still scenarios where etiquette experts say a tip is not required — even if you're presented with a tablet that asks for one.

Here are five people and scenarios that don't require a tip.


As a blanket rule, you don't need to tip anyone who earns a salary or performs a trade. That means you don't have to tip doctors, lawyers, teachers, plumbers or cable technicians.

"Not only would it not be expected, it would be highly unorthodox and very awkward," says Farley. Plus, in certain situations, "you could be seen as attempting to curry some sort of favor or that it might be some sort of a bribe."

DON'T MISS: The ultimate guide to acing your interview and landing your dream job

Counter service

As a rule, anyone working at a counter is earning a wage, while those delivering food, either to your table or to your home, rely on tips as a major part of their income. For that reason, tipping people who work behind a counter, such as a barista or a cashier, is not a requirement as far as etiquette experts are concerned — even if the tablet suggests otherwise.

"When they turn that device around, it's this glaring thing, and people feel shamed into tipping, but you don't have to," says Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert and founder of the Swann School of Protocol.  

That's not to say a tip for a counter worker is out of the question, though. "It's a nice gesture to offer a tip to a worker who goes above and beyond the service," Swann says. "For example, maybe you frequent the establishment regularly and they have your order memorized."

Open-bar events

If you go to an event with an open bar, the bar staff may or may not put out a tip jar. As a rule of thumb, "keep in mind that the host of that event has likely already taken care of the tip," says Swann. "That tip would be included in what they've had to pay for the venue or to the bartending service."

That means you're not obligated to tip, too. It is, of course, appreciated says Farley, and may help get you better service throughout the night.

"If there is a busy bar, and there are multiple people to take orders from, the fact that you acknowledged them may get you a heavier pour. Maybe they gave you the cup of ice you were asking for," he says. "A dollar here or there isn't much to ask."


You don't have to tip twice for the same service. Swann has recently heard feedback from women who have tipped the technician who worked on their nails at a salon and were then prompted to tip again when paying at the counter. "That is just the establishment trying to get more money out of you."

The situation can get a little trickier in cities that have implemented minimum wage requirements for tipped workers, such as restaurant servers. Some restaurants in these cities will apply a 20% service charge to your bill before presenting you with the option to tip.

In those scenarios, it's appropriate to discreetly ask your server where the fee is going. "If they tell you it goes to the servers and the bussers and so forth, your job of tipping is done," says Swann.

If the money goes to the house, you'll likely want to leave a tip for the server who took care of you, says Farley, who recently ended up tipping 20% on top of a 20% service charge at a restaurant in Denver.

"From an etiquette standpoint, we still tip the servers who are bringing us our food," he says. "But I did leave that restaurant feeling like this was not a tenable situation."

Poor service

You're never obligated to tip someone when they've provided you poor service or if you've had a rude interaction with them. In the case of a one-on-one service, such as a haircut, this is pretty cut and dried. In fact, if a barber so ruined your hair that you felt they didn't deserve a tip, you likely wouldn't be out of line asking for a full refund, says Farley.

In the case of a restaurant, it gets a little trickier. Swann recommends a sliding scale for restaurant tipping, with 20% as the standard, and more if a server goes above and beyond. Even in the face of bad service, she wouldn't go lower than 10% — and if that's the case, you still have to ask yourself some questions. Namely, is the server at fault?

"If the food took too long to come out, that's a kitchen issue. If it wasn't prepared properly, that's a kitchen issue. If the environment was not pleasurable, say because it was too loud, that has nothing to do with service."

If you did have a nasty interaction with a server, you may be in the right to dock their tip, but be sure to bring it up with management as well, says Swann.

"If you address management and then leave a lower tip, they'll know you weren't just a jerk or uneducated when it comes to tipping," she says. "Whether they agree with your complaint or not, they'll have an understanding of why you left a lower tip."

DON'T MISS: Want to be smarter and more successful with your money, work & life? Sign up for our new newsletter!

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC's new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay.

How this 24-year-old became the U.S. Barista Champion
How this 24-year-old became the U.S. Barista Champion