The Rise of Self-Checkout Tipping: The New Norm or Emotional Blackmail?

Self Checkout Tipping

Picture this: you’re at your favorite coffee shop, and you decide to use the self-checkout kiosk to grab a latte.

As you finish your transaction, a prompt pops up asking if you’d like to leave a tip.

Confused, you wonder, “Who exactly am I tipping?” If this scenario sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

Welcome to the world of self-checkout tipping.

This trend has been gaining traction, with kiosks at various locations — from cafés and sports stadiums to airports — now prompting customers to leave a tip.

But as this practice becomes more widespread, it’s sparking a heated debate among consumers.

Is this just another way to support employees, or is it a form of emotional blackmail?

The New Normal: Tipping at Self-Checkout

Let’s dive into the facts.

Self-checkout kiosks are becoming more prevalent, and with them, the option to leave a tip.

According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, these prompts are showing up in unexpected places, asking customers to add gratuities to their bills even when they have no direct interaction with employees.

Take, for example, a customer at San Diego’s Petco Park who grabbed a beer from a self-service fridge and was then asked to tip.

Another traveler at Newark Liberty International Airport was prompted to tip on a $6 bottle of water.

Both scenarios left customers puzzled about where their money was going.


The Confusion and Controversy

So, where does the money go?

In many cases, businesses claim that all tips collected through self-checkout machines are pooled and distributed among staff.

For instance, a spokesperson for OTG, the operator of the gift shop at Newark Airport, explained that tips are shared among the employees working that shift.

However, this explanation doesn’t sit well with everyone.

Critics argue that tipping at self-checkout is a way for companies to shift the responsibility of paying employees onto customers.

William Michael Lynn, a professor at Cornell University’s Nolan School of Hotel Administration, describes this practice as businesses “taking advantage of an opportunity.”

Essentially, companies can reduce labor costs by using self-checkout machines while still benefiting from tips meant to support their staff.


Emotional Blackmail or Genuine Gratitude?

Let’s be real.

The term “emotional blackmail” has been thrown around a lot in this debate, and it’s not hard to see why.

When a machine prompts you to tip, it can feel like you’re being guilt-tripped into giving extra money.

This sentiment was echoed by Garrett Bemiller, who described the prompt as “a bit of emotional blackmail” after being asked to tip on a $6 water bottle.

The phenomenon known as “tip creep” — where customers are prompted to leave higher tips in more situations — is another aspect of this issue.

The pressure to tip, even in self-service scenarios, can make customers uncomfortable and unsure about where their money is going.


The Bigger Picture: Tipping Fatigue

Tipping Fatigue

Tipping fatigue is real.

As the cost of living rises, so does the frequency and expectation of tipping.

This constant barrage of tip requests can leave consumers feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.

Landlords asking for gratuities on rent, and unionized Apple store employees pushing for a tipping system, are just a couple of examples of how tipping culture is expanding into new territories.

Despite this fatigue, tipping remains a deeply ingrained practice in American culture.

Data from the payment platform Block shows that tips at full-service and quick-service restaurants increased by 16.5% and 15.86%, respectively, in the last quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.

This suggests that while people may be frustrated, they haven’t stopped tipping altogether.


The Impact on Businesses and Employees

Self-Checkout Kiosk | Auto-Star

From a business perspective, introducing tipping prompts at self-checkout kiosks can be seen as a way to boost employee pay without directly increasing wages.

For employees, especially those who rely on tips as a significant part of their income, this can be beneficial.

However, it’s crucial to ensure that these tips actually reach the employees and are not absorbed by the company.

Tipping researchers and labor experts highlight a significant issue: the federal Fair Labor Standards Act’s protections for tipped workers do not extend to machines.

This gap in regulation raises questions about whether tips left at self-checkout kiosks are genuinely used to supplement employee income or if they merely pad the company’s bottom line.


Personal Experiences and Anecdotes

Let’s bring in some real-life experiences to illustrate the complexity of this issue.

Ishita Jamar, a senior at American University, noticed an increase in self-serve tip prompts and questioned their purpose.

“They’re cutting labor costs by doing self-checkout. So what’s the point of asking for a tip? And where is it going?” she asked.

Garrett Bemiller’s experience at the airport, where he felt pressured to tip for a self-serve water bottle, underscores the emotional aspect of these prompts.

It’s not just about the money; it’s about the guilt and confusion these prompts can create.


The Role of Digital Tipping

Digital Tipping

Digital tipping options have become more prevalent, especially during the pandemic.

Starbucks introduced the option to tip by credit card in September 2022, and the reaction has been mixed.

Some customers appreciate the convenience, while others feel awkward about tipping for what they consider fast food.

Research shows that digital tipping prompts often result in higher tips, ranging from 18% to 30% or more.

However, many customers still draw the line at tipping for self-service experiences, arguing that the lack of personal interaction does not warrant a gratuity.



The rise of self-checkout tipping is a complex issue that highlights the evolving nature of tipping culture in America.

On one hand, it offers a way to support employees in an increasingly automated world.

On the other hand, it raises questions about transparency, fairness, and the emotional impact on consumers.

As businesses continue to implement self-checkout kiosks and digital tipping options, it’s crucial to address these concerns and ensure that the practice is both fair and transparent.

Customers should feel confident that their tips are going to the right place and truly supporting the employees they intend to help.

Ultimately, the key to resolving this issue lies in clear communication and ethical business practices.

By fostering transparency and fairness, businesses can maintain customer trust and support their employees in meaningful ways.

And for customers, understanding where their money goes can help make tipping decisions a little easier — and a lot less confusing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *