woman using automated checkout machines
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
May 18, 2023 ·  4 min read

Self-checkout machines now ask for tips in latest squeeze on customers

Tipping used to be something that you gave when you received good service. Perhaps an exceptional waiter or waitress, an amazing barbershop experience, or a hotel worker who went the extra mile. Now, tipping has become standard practice, and for many years in the United States, service wages have been very low, with the idea that customers will essentially pay employees salaries via tipping. In the latest move to squeeze more money out of customers, self-serve tipping machines are now being used in airports, bakeries, coffee shops, and sports stadiums.

Self-Checkout Machines Now Prompting Customers To Tip

Across the country, customers are noticing that they are being prompted to leave a tip in what have classically been non-tipping situations. These include when making purchases at the airport, at sports stadiums, coffee shops, bakeries, and more. This includes fast-food and self-checkout machine transactions. The automated machines allow customers to leave tips at a rate of 20% on top of the price they pay for their goods or services, despite facing minimal interaction with any employee. The Wall Street Journal reported that companies are using these machines to encourage customers to pay more for goods and services than they would otherwise pay. (1)

The automated machines are being used by restaurants, bars, and other businesses to increase revenue. This is because the machines prompt customers to leave a tip at the end of their transaction, even if they have not interacted with any employee during the process. Businesses are also using the machines to cut down on labor costs. By using automated machines, companies can avoid paying their employees a higher minimum wage and reduce the number of workers they need to hire.

“Who wouldn’t want to get extra money at very little cost if you could?” said William Michael Lynn, a consumer behavior and tip culture professor at Cornell University’s Nolan School of Hotel Administration. (2)

Read: Woman claims they were denied service at restaurant having not tipped the time before

Where Is The Money Going?

Naturally, customers have many concerns over this new practice. First of all, they want to know where that money is going. In a traditional tipping setting, you hand that money directly to them when you tip your server or the bell hop. The person who did that service for you is the one getting the money. With the self-checkout machines, however, there is no way to know who is receiving your money. Many customers are concerned that it is not the often minimum-wage employees at all, but rather the corporation itself.

“They’re cutting labor costs by doing self-checkout. So what’s the point of asking for a tip? And where is it going?” Ishita Jamar, a senior at American University in Washington, DC. (3)

Don’t Make Us Pay Your Employees For You

Many consumers are left feeling rather frustrated with this new development. What are they tipping for, when no one helped them? Why do costs continually get pushed onto them, despite self-checkout machines supposedly being there to cut costs? You make a simple purchase, such as a water bottle at an airport, and are prompted to tip. It just doesn’t really make an sense.

“Just the prompt, in general, is a bit of emotional blackmail,” Garrett Bemiller, 26, who works in public relations in Manhattan, told WSJ.

Not Helping Anyone

Companies say, however, that tipping is still entirely optional. You don’t have to if you don’t want to or don’t feel that it is merited. Still, just the prompt in a culture where tipping pressure is already present, this isn’t necessarily fair to the consumers.

In addition, experts say that the tips given at the self-checkout machines might never actually reach the employees at all. This is because the laws to protect tipped workers don’t extend to these machines. So in many cases, rather than helping out a minimum wage employee, you might just be giving more money to those in charge.

So, what should you do? That is entirely your decision – if you want to tip, go ahead and do so. If you don’t feel like the transaction was worth a tip or feel uncomfortable tipping when you only interacted with a machine, our advice is don’t tip. After all, as many have lamented for years now even before self-checkout machine tipping was introduced, it shouldn’t be the job of the consumers to pay employees’ salaries.

Keep Reading: Are tip requests getting out of hand? Many consumers say yes.


  1. Tipping at Self-Checkout Has Customers Crying ‘Emotional Blackmail’Tipping at Self-Checkout Has Customers Crying ‘Emotional Blackmail’.” WSJ. Rachel Wolfe. May 9, 2023.
  2. Self-checkout machines now ask for tips in latest squeeze on customers.” Fox 2 Detroit. Emily Robertson. May 15, 2023.
  3. Self-checkout machines now ask customers to tip: ‘emotional blackmail’.” NY Post. Brooke Steinberg. May 15, 2023.