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Here a tip, there a tip, everywhere a tip, tip…

Handscreditcard copyHave you noticed that lines to add tips before totaling amounts on charge slips and electronic point-of-sale (POS) systems have begun to show up in some unlikely places?

There are two independent coffee shops in my neighborhood that require customers to choose from a range of gratuities (pre-calculated in the amounts of 15, 20, and 25 percent) before signing to authorize the transaction. Customers choose to either add a tip or, sheepishly, decline by selecting the “No Tip” option.

I’m not against tipping and I frequently deposit the difference in change between the cost of my latte and a five-dollar bill. The issue I have with these types of POS systems is that they put the customer in the awkward position of selecting the “No Tip” option (which might as well say “Cheapskate”) if the only “service” provided was, in the case of the coffee shops, to sell the customer a one-pound bag of whole bean coffee.

Why does a customer have to choose whether or not to tip a cashier for selling him a bag of whole bean coffee? Imagine your local supermarket’s POS system suggesting that you add a tip or choose the “No Tip” option before completing your transaction. What about your dry cleaner? Maybe he should consider implementing a similar POS system in order to capture gratuities? After all, he has to expend the effort required to operate the garment carousel to retrieve his customers’ orders.

Last weekend, I visited the AMC Southlands 16 Theatres with my son and his friend. At the concessions, I bought a bucket of popcorn and three fountain drinks. Since I paid with a credit card, the cashier gave me a charge slip to sign that included lines to add a tip and total the amount charged to my credit card.

Seriously?

As if paying $25.39 for a bucket of popcorn (that I buttered myself at a self-service butter station) and three paper cups (that I filled myself at a self-service soda station) wasn’t bad enough, AMC Theatres suggested that I include a tip too! That’s ridiculous. Do they really expect customers to tip concession employees – who hand them a pre-filled bucket of popcorn and three paper cups – on top of famously exorbitant concessions prices?

When I presented this issue to AMC Guest Services on Twitter, a representative replied, “Non server/bartender Associates are not allowed to accept tips.” That’s not true. If it was true, then charge slips presented by non-server/bartender associates would not include lines for customers to add tips before totaling. I suspect that over the weekend, at AMC Southlands 16 and every other AMC Theatres location using the same POS system, every non-server/bartender associate who worked concessions processed charge slips that included tips.

If charge slips are presented to customers that include lines for adding tips and totaling the amounts to be charged, customers will feel obligated to tip (whether or not it’s deserved and, despite AMC Theatres’ claim, regardless of the employee’s job role). And some percentage of customers will add gratuities to the tip line. What AMC Theatres has to determine is whether these tips are being added enthusiastically on top of already high-priced (often self-service) concessions or, more realistically, begrudgingly; induced by a sense of obligation.

Businesses should not put unwelcome social pressure on customers to part with money they would rather keep. POS systems, whether at a coffee shop, movie theater, or elsewhere, should distinguish between full-service that warrants a gratuity and transactional service that doesn’t.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

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Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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