Slipping Away

Every time we travel to California – this past weekend, for example – I have to be reminded about their statewide ban on single-use plastic carryout bags.  You think I’d remember – Cali put the kibosh on the bags three years ago.  Still, we fill our basket with groceries, head to the check-out, and the cashier goes, “want to purchase bags?”  Argh.  I should store a couple of reusables in my suitcase; the very ones I keep in my car in Colorado.

Plastic straws followed plastic bags, of course.  Four months ago, the Golden State placed “discouragement” on the plastic variety (you must ask for them now).  We sat down to a meal and our waitress brought glasses of water – with paper straws (argh again).  Admittedly, “legal” sippers are pretty good.  No reduction to mush like breakfast cereal sitting too long in milk.  Other than the cost (several times more than plastic), and the fine ($25/day for un-requested plastic), paper straws are hardly inconvenient.

Now then, the real topic for today.  California is looking to “strike up the ban” yet again – on paper receipts; the little critters we receive after credit card transactions.  Say it isn’t so, West Coasters!  Bags and straws I can deal with, but a ban on paper receipts?  That’s just stealing another book from my old-school library.

According to a Wall Street Journal op-ed, the facts are these: paper receipts generate 686 million pounds of waste per year. (Can someone please quantify 686 million pounds – say, number of filled swimming pools?)  Paper receipts also generate 12 billion pounds of carbon dioxide. (Again, quantify – number of breathing humans?)  Also, paper receipts contain Bisphenol A (BPA); not exactly an appetizing compound.  In other words, don’t eat your receipts just because the food was lousy.

Without paper receipts, my personal budget maintenance takes a blow.  I keep everything in Quicken, so give me points for electronic accounting.  But I also use paper receipts – an old-fashioned double-check mechanism.  I enter the transaction from the receipt; then cross-check against the Visa statement (Jacob Marley reincarnated?)  Why do I do this?  Because once upon a time a waiter decided to triple my tip after I’d signed the bill and left the restaurant.  Later, my paper receipt didn’t reconcile with my Visa statement.  Busted.  I promptly called the manager, who investigated and lo-and-behold, discovered a pattern of gouging.  The waiter was fired.  More points for me!

Now here’s the irony in my triple-the-tip story.  What if the restaurant didn’t use paper receipts?  What if I processed my transaction through Square or an iPad, self-swiping my card and choosing the percentage tip?  For starters (and finishers) there wouldn’t have been gouging because there wouldn’t have been a waiter.  It would be like standing over the shoulder of the processor at Visa – instant reconciliation.  In effect, my story is a vote for no paper receipts.

Truth be told, I’m already evolving – slowly – from paper receipts.  When given the choice (Home Depot comes to mind), I select “email receipt” or “no receipt” more often than “paper”.  Unlike robo-calls, I accept the unsolicited side effects of electronic commerce (i.e. email spam).  In a nod to maintaining control, I select self-check-in at airports and self-check-out at markets.

More likely, I’m caving on paper receipts because I’ve already done so with a laundry list of other paper products.  My written letters have (d)evolved into email.  My paper-printed books have dissolved into bits/bytes on my Kindle e-reader.  My to-do lists now reside in a phone app.  Bills arrive in my online inbox instead of my streetside mailbox.

Phil Dyer, one reader of the Wall Street Journal piece, commented, “California will soon attempt to regulate earthquakes”.  49 of 50 U.S. states just LOL’d.  Me, not so much.  After all, I never thought I’d see the day where I’d give up my paper receipts.

Tipsy-Turvy

Emily Post’s Etiquette is surely an authority on its topic, considering the book was first published in 1922 and is now into its nineteenth edition. I would’ve enjoyed meeting Ms. Post, as Etiquette remains “the most trusted resource for navigating life’s every situation”. The advice never veers from its original premise, simply adapting to times as they change.  Of course, it’s all about manners – good ones at that. And were Emily Post alive today, she’d have us flip to Chapter 13, for a review of a practice of growing concern (and confusion).  Chapter 13 talks about tipping.

   

I’ve written about tipping before.  Three years ago (!) I told the story of my family’s visit to New York City, and the cabbie who crammed the six of us into one vehicle, then demanded a bigger tip than I gave, as a reward for saving the cost of a second cab.  I disagreed with him, because I believed – still do – a tip reflects the service itself (which was marginal).  More importantly, the recipient should never expect the tip, let alone argue over the amount.

Square’s POS

So-o-o, why is tipping such a hot topic now?  Because restaurants and coffee shops are moving to point-of-sale (POS) technology at the counter, allowing the customer to complete the transaction through an iPad, no cash required.  POS software (like Square) includes a tipping screen, offering suggested percentages/amounts, or no tip at all.  It’s a change to the social dynamic.  Before POS, you could discreetly add (or not add) a tip to your receipt before signing, or perhaps throw a few coins into the jar.  With POS, the tipping decision is forced on you at the front of the line (hurry up!).  And don’t be surprised if the person behind you sneaks a peak while you choose your tip.

My issue is not with the POS technology itself.  I like the security of completing a transaction (i.e. the credit card never leaves the hand), and I don’t mind navigating a couple of iPad screens to do it.  What I do mind is “tipping manipulation” as I’m standing at the counter.  The suggested amounts are the first thing you see, and beckon in LARGE FONTS.  To leave a smaller amount requires additional screens.  The “No Tip” option sits at the bottom like an afterthought.  Behavioral science says you’ll almost always choose from the top row, whether the service deserves it or not.

POS software gives the merchant the option to remove the tipping screen altogether, but I’m not suggesting they go back to a jar of coins.  Instead, before the tipping screen, why not insert a common courtesy (channeling Emily Post here): a screen simply asking, “Would you like to leave a tip?”

If your habit is to always (or never) leave a tip, consider the variables behind the curtains.  Some businesses adjust employee pay down if the position receives tips.  Other businesses pool tips, then divide the pot between all service positions (did you really intend to tip the dishwasher)?  The American Restaurant Association claims some states allow service businesses to pay less than minimum wage, because tips are legally considered wages.  Finally, minimum wage varies by state, so a nice tip in one state might be an insult in another.  Yet you, the tipper, have no idea if one or more of the above applies as you’re about to pay.  Messy, no?

Timeout for a favorite tipping story.  After years of one-on-one sessions, my personal trainer decided to resign my athletic club and pursue another career.  Knowing she was leaving, I asked if I could leave a tip with my final payment.  She declined, saying club policy did not allow tips.  However, she said, I could give her a positive review through the club’s on-line survey, and then she would likely receive a bonus in her paycheck.  Money and acknowledgement by her manager?  I completed the survey.

Someone once said, “Tips are like hugs, without the awkward body contact.”  I like that, except we’re starting to get awkward again.  POS screens allow for invasion of personal space, bringing tipping into the open.  Maybe Square should take a “tip” from Starbucks.  Use the Starbucks app to pay with your phone at the counter, and the tipping comes later, in the privacy of your own whatever.  You’re given several hours to consider if and how much you should tip.  I think Etiquette Chap. 13 would agree with that approach.

I’ll continue to be a savvy tipper, no matter what I’m faced with.  If I use a POS iPad, I’ll go with a “Custom Tip Amount” if I need to.  If I sign a credit-card slip, I’ll always tip on the pre-tax amount and I’ll never blindly choose 15%.  If it’s cash in hand, I’m at the mercy of the denominations I have in my pocket.  And in every case, I’ll ask myself the same question Emily Post would pose: “Did I receive notably good service?”

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”,  from the Wall Street Journal article, “You Want 20% for Handing Me a Muffin?”, and from the USA Today article, “How Much to Tip…?”