Let’s say you have a positive
interaction with the employee
stationed at the counter; he’s cheery
and helpful and answers your questions
about the menu. You leave a generous
tip. But what happens when you get
your food and the cup is dirty and the
sandwich is stale? What if you can’t
find a table? It’s unlikely you’re going to
ask for your tip to be returned.
There is a double move happening
here. First, customers are required to
empathize with the plight of service
workers. Most people know that
service jobs pay low wages and do not
typically offer healthcare, so tips make
a big difference. But whereas Uber
drivers are expected to empathize with
their riders [ 3], here it is the customer
who is expected to empathize with
the employee by extending trust.
Tipping at the front end of a service
encounter indicates an implicit
acceptance of the service that is about
to follow, regardless of its quality.
The interface of Square and similar
point-of-sale systems silences the tip’s
feedback about customer satisfaction.
Significantly, it is not the employee
that gains power, nor is it the customer.
Rather, expecting a tip to be paid in
advance requires the customer to make
a moral choice: How much does one
trust the person behind the counter—
and their colleagues—to deliver
service worthy of a tip? Concomitant
with this is a shift in responsibility
for labor. Trusting the employee to
perform a quality service is typically
the province of the employer, not the
customer. Paying a tip before service
has been completed means that the
customer is paying for the labor that is
expected and required of the employee,
rather than issuing a reward for quality
of service. If you’ve ever experienced
a moment of moral uncertainty when
debating whether to tip for a sandwich
or latte ordered in advance, this may
be what’s simmering in the depths of
your mind. Should it be the customer’s
job to pay an employee’s wages,
especially before even being served by
an unknown employee?
1. Hochschild, A. R. The Managed Heart:
Commercialization of Human Feeling
(2012 edition). Univ. of California Press,
2. Brewster, Z. W. and Lynn, M. Black–white
earnings gap among restaurant servers: A
replication, extension, and exploration of
consumer racial discrimination in tipping.
Sociological Inquiry 84, 4 (Nov. 2014), 545–
569. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/
3. Bean, J. 2016. Experience uber alles?
Interactions 23, 3 (May–June 2016), 20.
Jonathan Bean is assistant professor of
architecture, sustainable built environments,
and marketing at the University of Arizona.
He researches domestic consumption,
technology, and taste.
Melanie Wallendorf is McClelland
professor of marketing and professor of
sociology at the University of Arizona.
She researches the sociological aspects of
DOI: 10.1145/3125395 COP YRIGHT HELD BY AUTHORS
INTERACTIONS.ACM.ORG SEPTEMBER–OCTOBER 2017 INTERACTIONS 23