If you're like New York Times columnist Brian X. Chen, you've noticed "seemingly arbitrary tip requests" pop up when making digital payments for everything from food to vehicle repairs. Chen was recently "taken aback" when he was given the option to tip 10% to 30% on top of his grocery bill. He also "felt pressured" to tip his motorcycle mechanic when a gratuity option was presented—and ultimately did so, though it "felt wrong, because I had already paid for his labor." It has come to be known as "guilt tipping," and in Chen's view, it's not "a socioeconomic and ethical issue": "It's a tech problem," and a sort of angel-and-devil one. It's great that technology has risen to better support service workers. But the dark underbelly of that is that consumers now feel pressured to tip when they shouldn't.
Blame the default setting in large part. The products created by companies like Square and Toast make it easy for businesses to set default tipping amounts. There are "custom tip" and "no tip" buttons in addition to the suggestion you tip 30% for your smoothie, and Chen's advice is to do the "extra work" involved in taking the custom or no-tip route rather than tapping a default, which is what we're more apt to do. Yes, you might get a look of disdain, but "when a business asks for a tip, that technology is nothing but an emotionless piece of software showing numbers. You, too, can be neutral and objective when deciding whether to tip and, if so, how much." (Read his full column here for more, including another option: just tip in cash.)