Unlike here in the land of Oz, many people in the service industry in the U.S have to rely on tips as the main form of income. Restaurant owners are able to pay their workers next to nothing under the pretence that the customers will foot the bill - so to speak.
While we are quite used to the ease of Paypass and Paywave, many places in the U.S do not share these great technological advancements.
If you’re at a restaurant — or coffee shop, or food truck — you’ll probably be invited to leave a tip either on your credit card receipt or, more often, by tapping an iPad. (Many of us have had the experience of being “guilted” into leaving a tip where we might not have otherwise, like when the checkout software invites us to tip 15%, 20%, or 25% on a pre-wrapped sandwich and bottle of water that we carried to the counter ourselves.)
In non-restaurant situations, however, cashless tipping becomes a lot more difficult.
Take hotel housekeeping, for example. Unless you have cash on hand, how do you tip the people who clean your room and make your bed? USA Today proposes a complicated system in which you first ask the concierge whether any part of your hotel bill, such as the service charge, is distributed to housekeepers, and then “Ask the concierge to increase the amount of the service charge if the hotel automatically includes an amount that you feel is too low.”
While that method might technically work, you still won’t be able to tip the airport shuttle driver or the person who carried your bags to your room—and The New York Times reminds us of a few more people who are losing out on tips as we transition to a (nearly) cashless society:
The problem is particularly acute for apartment building staff like doormen and elevator operators, who are not part of any transaction involving their “customer” and typically rely on change from cab rides or food delivery for their tips.
“Long ago, the tenants would take a cab home, and they paid with cash,” [elevator operator] Mark said. “So if they get change out of that $20, they give you that change.
“Now they swipe a card in the cab, or when they come with the Uber, they don’t pay, so they just walk out of the car and they go straight up.”
Mark says that his tips have gone from $400 a week three years ago to, at most, $100 a week in 2017.
If you’re currently thinking “I carry my own bags to my hotel room, and I don’t live in a building with a doorman, much less an elevator operator,” that’s fine. (That’s probably most of us, honestly.) But the point both the NYT and the state of New Jersey are trying to make is that we aren’t prepared for a truly cashless society. Not yet, anyway.
Until then, your going to need to remember to carry cash when visiting the states. In small bills, if possible. Because many workers depend on tips — and because you’ll feel better when you’re able to leave one.