By Yutong Yuan

Tip, or not tip?

As a student from a country where giving a gratuity is not part of the social etiquette, I’m always confused by when, where and how much I should tip. When eating out with friends at a restaurant, I can always ask for advice on how much I should leave as a tip. However, things become trickier when I’m alone, facing an iPad with tipping options ranging from 15% to 25% for a coffee or a lunch buffet.

The no tip button on the screen is, of course, a choice, but it is just so hard to go for it without feeling embarrassed, especially when I know the counter helper could be looking at me and expecting a reward for a warm greeting. The pressure of being regarded as stingy if I leave no tip by other customers waiting in line to pay also plays a role. A recent Wall Street Journal story made me so relieved: I’m not alone.

So, I can’t help but wondering: As a foreign student what should I know about the long-accepted custom of offering gratuity for good service?

Many college students are stingy tippers — mainly because money is tight. But some students do know what it is like to juggle school with part-time (often in a restaurant), and tend to give more generous tips to show sympathy for their peers.

But a survey by found that many millennials are shifting away from the norm. More Americans aged 18 to 37 than other age groups tend to select the lowest tipping options; nearly two-thirds of millennials tip below the common 20 percent tipping suggestion; ten percent of them routinely leave no tip at all. My friend who worked as a waiter told me that less tipping is not that uncommon as people thought.

By quoting the survey, I didn’t mean to advocate for no tipping. I just want to point out that it is acceptable to skip tipping if you just swing by a place to grab a latte or to order a take-out. And if you are a person like me who always feels guilty of not tipping more, the fact that not all your friends are big fans of tipping may console you.

Now let’s circle back to the idea of tipping. Didn’t it all begin with rewarding above average service? I heard more than once from my friends that they over-tipped someone and ended feeling more disgruntled for days about the level of service they received. This is definitely not a satisfying experience for customers and not a sustainable strategy for businesses. But since when has giving the extra bucks after a meal become a way to judge a customer rather than to reflect the quality of service?

As longstanding a social contract in America, tipping is not as popular among young generation as among their older counterparts. But it is still worth respect as a way to appreciate good service, to help servers and to fulfill internalized social obligation. So, my take on this whole tipping situation is that if you do receive good service, be a good tipper.

Yutong Yuan is a senior studying journalism at the University of Missouri.