A tablet screen that has a row of 3 blue buttons with the options $1, $2 and $3. The second row has two buttons, one with a
The standard tip options for customers at Crescent Moon Coffee. Photo by Kaylee Brodd/Nebraska News Service

Not getting tipped is nothing new to Crescent Moon employee Madeleine Bailey Friederichs, but she’s recently noticed a growing frustration on the other end of the counter: the tipping screen.

More companies have included digital tipping in establishments like fast food chains in recent months, PBS recently noted. The influx in digital tipping creates a gray area for other service industries that aren’t traditionally expected to tip and has customers asking, “When is it too much?”

Tipping etiquette is being heavily debated on social media, including Twitter and TikTok. Thousands of customers complain about the price of a coffee and don’t believe they should be expected to pay even more to the barista.

However, employees like Friedrichs disagree.

“From an employee point of view, you are paying for a luxury service and if you can afford to buy a coffee, you can afford to tip your barista,” she said.

Friederichs, who has been a barista at Crescent Moon in Lincoln for the past four years, said tipping etiquette has always been a touchy subject, but has become an issue recently. 

“The lack of tipping at coffee shops comes from a lack of awareness because they don’t think they need to be tipping the way they should at a bar,” she said. “There’s just not an established etiquette in tipping at coffee shops.” 

Friederichs, who also is a server at Starlite Lounge, said she believes there is a drastic difference in bar and cafe tipping mentality. The contrast is evident when she compares her tips after a shift.

“The money I make from tips at Crescent is more of a bonus compared to the money I make at Starlite,” she explained. “Many people actively ignore the tipping screen at Crescent, but customers are more generous at the bar.” 

Similar attitudes correlate to other local businesses like Heoya, an Asian Fusion restaurant and food truck. Employees like Nick Leader believe that tipping is important because it makes a big difference financially, even though he gets paid above minimum wage. 

“Tips are very helpful overall because they usually are the bulk of income on a daily basis for most of the employees,” he said. 

Many social media users argue that customers shouldn’t be expected to tip employees on top of an hourly wage, especially in fast food industries. According to CBS News, a majority of Americans believe in tipping servers and bartenders, but are hesitant — and even irritated — to tip other service employees. 

TikTok user Heyy_amir went viral on the platform for making a video about the controversy of tipping. 

“People should be able to go out to a restaurant, enjoy their family and leave a tip if they feel like they want to do that,” he said in the video. “They are only obligated to pay for the meals that they’re eating.” 

Thousands of people agreed with the video and left comments,  such as “tipping culture is out of control” and “tipping is one of the biggest scams.” 

University of Nebraska-Lincoln economics professor Christopher Mann said that attitude most likely stems from the increase in inflation.

“If wages rose the same amount that inflation has gone up, then tipping isn’t really going to be changed,” he explained. “Instead, what has happened is that the price of things have gone up considerably high which makes people cut back on expenses, but still want the product.” 

Customers also argue that tipping is just an excuse for the businesses not to pay their employees more.

TikToker Heyy_amir also added: “You getting paid $5 an hour by your employer is your employer’s issue and that’s your issue that you agreed to do.” 

This argument is common on social media, but Mann says it isn’t always legitimate. From a business standpoint, he said, food industries can legally maneuver away from paying their employees minimum wage because tipping is so ingrained in culture that it’s expected as compensation.  

“Most service industries outside of food aren’t federally set up to bypass federal laws,” he said. “The restaurant and food industry is different because what employees traditionally earn in tips compensates for the difference in hourly wages.” 

An employee who heavily relies on tips is Meagan Hay, a barista at the Mill coffee shop. Despite most coffee shops paying at least minimum wage, she gets paid $5 per hour. 

“I’m only paid $5 an hour, so tipping is extremely appreciated,” she said. 

Hay said tips make up a majority of her paychecks and compensates for the discrepancy in her wage. 

“I rely heavily on tips,” she said. “I used to work at a retail job for $12 an hour and I definitely make more at the Mill than I did there.” 

The debate continues in Lincoln about when and where it is appropriate to tip, but every service employee agrees that tips are financially beneficial and even make up large portions of their livelihood. 

Kaylee Brodd is a senior journalism major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.