“Bribes To Ensure Good Service:” Hawaii Tipping Goes Insane

Tipping in Hawaii has become yet another part of the tourism controversy. Yikes, as if we needed another issue. Where did the expression”bribes to ensure good service” come from? It’s historical from the time when tips began, as you’ll see below. Some say that tip, by the way, stands for “To Insure Promptitude.” Now that you know that bit of trivia, here are five frustrations you may have encountered around tipping. Before we go further, this short 30-second video will help to set the tone.

Following are five “tipping points” to coin a phrase by Malcolm Gladwell, which means the moment you reach the boiling point in critical mass. How many of these have you found yourself in, and what do you do?

Tipping Point 1: Fatigue caused by endless requests for tips.

As businesses move to digital payment services like Square, found almost everywhere in Hawaii (and elsewhere), there is the dread of receiving the ubiquitous tip screen when service has not been rendered. Just like we saw in the video above.

Tipping fatigue, in Hawaii at least, seems like it is getting out of hand more so than elsewhere. In case you missed it, Hawaii visitors are taking to social media to rail about these requests that come through for everything from buying basic coffee, take-out, online ordering, and drive-throughs.  Where is it going to end? If you break out in a cold sweat when you see the image below, then read on for more.

Tips are set by the business, and we’ve seen them go as high as 30%. Ugh.

What happened is that when we went from Hawaii’s tip jars to online requests, there entered this element of shame, embarrassment, and pressure. It’s left us feeling afraid about the food in the event we don’t leave what is deemed to be an adequate tip when ordering. Let alone what will someone standing nearby think if we opt for 15% instead of the up to 30% proposed.

Tipping Point 2: Asking for tips before service is rendered.

One restaurant even explained what the tips are for: 15% is for providing good service, while 18% would be when the service is great, 20% was for Wow! service, and 30% was for the best service ever. The problem is when service is provided after the tip is paid, since tipping was done at the point of order rather than when the service is delivered.

Anytime one is paying for something before receiving it (which is most transactions other than a classic sit-down restaurant experience), they are put in the situation of being asked for a tip by the software before they know if they’re even going to be happy with the product or service they receive. Thus your tip ends up being given out of good faith or a sense of obligation.

Tipping Point 3: Helping underpaid hospitality workers.

There’s just no doubt about it. People in Hawaii hospitality, whether they are waiters, cooks, baristas, or other staff, simply don’t get paid enough money to afford to live here. You commented widely on that in our recent post about the cost of living in Hawaii and those who are leaving.

Hourly workers, who may not even receive benefits, can make as little as $15/hour, which doesn’t provide a living wage in Hawaii. Others have suggested that the minimum wage in Hawaii should be more like $30, and we’d say they’re right. And even then, that’s when the employee is full-time and has benefits, including vacation, health care, sick leave, etc. For those who don’t, how can they even afford the $500+/month needed for basic health insurance? And that’s before talking about the minimum $2,000/mo for a one-bedroom apartment in Hawaii or the sky-high cost of food and other necessities.

Hawaii hospitality workers have come to expect to make a significant portion of their income in tips. And from the comments of some of you who work in hospitality, that just isn’t happening as it once did.

  • One commenter said, “Face it, hospitality workers need to make a minimum of $30 an hour just to barely make ends meet. Wages can be increased immediately if all these greedy employers would accept the reality and pay quality people what they are worth! Regarding visitors, the person said, “Considering you barely tip if at all, why do you expect to receive 5-star service…”
  • Another comment stated, “My 600 sqft 2 bedroom on Maui is the worst you can get here, hands down. I pay $2,300/month plus $200 electric and I turn my breakers off unless I’m using it. We get paid wage plus tips, our employers count on us to get tipped. Wages don’t cover half of what we need to survive. Missing out on a tip from a guest we served could mean we don’t make rent… Your Hawaii budget needs to include 15% tip bare minimum whatever the charge, for everything. If you can’t do that, please don’t come. We all live off of our tips.
  • And finally, in response, “Tips are for outstanding service, not to supplement employers’ wages. Tell your employer to pay you more if you don’t like your wage, but for goodness sake don’t tell customers, “Don’t come!”

These countries either pay workers enough and/or indicate that tips are not required:

Australia, New Zealand, Myanmar, Singapore, Taiwan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and parts of Turkey. In the European Union, expect a service charge to be added to your bill. But here in the United States, it’s like the “jelly of the month” club scene in the movie Christmas Vacation. People count on tips as part of their basic income.

Tipping Point 4: Pride in tipping is gone.

It used to be that we were happy to leave great tips for exceptional service. Now it seems an expectation for everything, including mediocre performance. Let’s face it, service isn’t what it once was in most cases. So that juxtaposition is irritating to even the best tippers.

Tipping Point 5: Tipping where tipping is not expected.

Here are some personal experiences. Editor Jeff said he walked into a coffee shop (not Starbucks) on Kauai to buy a bag of whole-bean coffee, which he took off the shelf and handed to the cashier. The store uses Square for customer payments. He saw the tipping options of up to 25% on the screen. That is a turn-off, pure and simple. Who likes being asked for a tip under that circumstance? If it isn’t possible to turn it off for that type of transaction, everyone suffers. We’ll add that if Jeff had requested they grind the beans for him, he would have tipped for that service.

Editor Rob reports on a local sandwich stand where he went to the refrigerator area to select a pre-made sandwich. When he brought it to the cashier to pay, he was shown the dreaded tip menu.

But, at least for us, if the goal is to make you feel bad and perform mercy tipping, it may have just backfired.

Nonetheless, according to guilty-as-charged Square, tipping at full-service restaurants was up by more than 25% in the last quarter they studied. They said that at service counter restaurants, that growth was 17%.

How we got to this tipping point: a historical perspective.

In the 1600s, people started using tips to ensure faster service in English pubs, essentially “bribing the staff” to get special consideration. The practice was introduced to the U.S. after the Civil War by Americans wanting to mimic the European upper class. In the 1980s, there was actually significant public push-back against the practice, which was seen as perpetuating the class boundaries between rich and poor.

Obviously, the tippers won out, and the custom became commonplace, morphing from a way for the well-to-do to get expedited service to a routine part of paying the bill. Gratuity in most restaurants is no longer gratuitous or extra but instead expected, with many establishments even prescribing a minimum acceptable percentage. Already guilt rather than gratitude was becoming a primary motivator, with the very livelihood of their servers depending on this added sum.

What’s been your experience with tipping in Hawaii?

Leave a Comment

Comment policy:
* No profanity, rudeness, personal attacks, or bullying.
* Hawaii focused only. General comments won't be published.
* No links or UPPER CASE text. English please.
* No duplicate posts or using multiple names.
* Use a real first name, last initial.
* Comments edited/published/responded to at our discretion.
* Beat of Hawaii has no relationship with our commentors.
* 750 character limit.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

127 thoughts on ““Bribes To Ensure Good Service:” Hawaii Tipping Goes Insane”

  1. I always tip appropriately. But, believe me, when I receive a receipt before I even have completed my experience, the tip is zero and then I leave cash tip on the table. No one under any circumstance will tell me how much and when to tip!

  2. I’m an Uber driver for going on six years and provide the highest quality of service. I have a 499 out of 500 rating and have always driven high quality cars. From the moment a rider enters my car I try to suss out the best way I may serve them. If they want quiet I’m silent, if they are tourists I give them as much advice as possible in the limited time we are together. If they are locals I do my best to to make them feel enjoyable. Although there is a suggestion of giving a tip on the Uber app I average less than 10% of the fare charges. Less than half of my fares leave tips when Uber/Lyft provide a superior service to taxis at a lower fare. A recent article in The NY Times explained in detail how rideshare driving is not sustainable

    1. From what I have heard from drivers much of it may come down to the Area in which you drive more than how many days worked. Another was which days that you concentrate most of your time on. Monday through Wednesday/Thursday can be really tough whereas Friday through Sunday often has better results due to typical paydays. Do you also do Grub Hub? Just trying to help you out to maximize your ROI and Time.

      1. I concentrate my driving on the highest demand with the least amount of driving anxiety as I’m 72 years old. I’ve discovered that without tips and bonuses (both Uber/Lyft have regular types of incentives) that I can’t make my goals. I drive very heavy Friday (not rush hour) Saturday, Sunday. Since I drive a 2022 Honda Odyssey Elite my costs/mile are 1/3 of my income. If I can’t get $2/mile it’s not hardly worth driving. At $40/hour ($27 net) I’m enthusiastic, but is not happening without good bonuses and tips. Now that’s $27/hour with zero benefits and is basically slave wages in Honolulu. I do love chauffeuring people, but if you can afford it, please tip accordingly. Oh, and from what I can gather from Uber I’m at the top of earners…

  3. Required support of underpaid service staff is not a good argument since most of those people are on SNAP. If they can’t survive without two sources of charity, they need to find a new job.

      1. That is something that sometimes needs to be taught to some employers, your health and wellness is directly effected by the compensation you receive. It also tends to effect the customers at times. The bottom line is everyone’s bottom line. Just saying!

    1. You obviously don’t live here. You have no idea the circumstances that people are experiencing to be making that kind of remark.

      1. Andy, once the push for a significant increase in wages began many of life’s basics began creeping along too, everywhere. Add to that 2+ years of hyper inflation and Utility Increases, etc., and Everyone is suffering about the same. It’s Not just a Hawaii Thing!

        1. I disagree, there’s plenty of evidence that paying people a living wage is actually good for an economy. Please don’t buy into the corporate talking points designed to keep a large contingent of working poor in order to prop up their corporate profits.

    2. Yeah bro that comment is pretty ignorant. The employers here create an army of working poor. People deserve better.
      And I don’t even want to hear that saying “that’s the price you pay to live in paradise.” It’s just unacceptable.

    3. What if they all took your advice and did just that? There would be no more waitstaff in the restaurants to serve you. Of course Then you would complain that “no one wants to work anymore!”.

  4. My Experience at any eatery is Simple, I tip After, not prior to, Dining! If I am not satisfied with the service, food, etc. Why should I reward anyone? I don’t ever Expect that Everything will meet my expectations or approval, I use the “Missouri Motto” to guide me, BTW it is the “Show Me” State. Would an Employer give you your paycheck prior to you working? I Tip generously when I am extremely satisfied, anything less is in character with the deficiencies and where it occurred, back of the house versus front, and whether the manager is able to adjust the bill. If it is poor service from the wait staff I address that in the tip. No Tip prior to Finishing!

  5. I have always believed in tipping 20%+ for food and services. I tip at the airport when a skycap checks my bag. Since I need to use a wheelchair, I also tip these loyal attendants. I tip housekeeping at my hotels, as well as people who help me with my luggage. I would prefer to overtip, because I know the people helping me are woefully underpaid. Until they are paid fairly for a living wage, I will overtip to thank them for making my visit to Hawai’i possible. I have also discovered people prefer cash over tipping on a credit card.

  6. Thank you for shedding light on this trend, it isn’t just Hawaii, it is happening all over the country. I also get very cranky when a proposed tip is in my face for something that has traditionally not had one expected, your coffee bean example is a good one.

    One point though is that the tipping culture arises from slavery. In southern states some of the only jobs open to Black people were jobs like servers, porters, etc and they were paid exclusively by tips.

    1. Thanks for saying this, I was about to say the same… in my experience this is everywhere. It’s not just Hawaii. The thing that I notice is that if we are traveling to Hawaii, we all have a certain amount of disposable income. Those who take care of us while we are here, do not. I happily tip well, hoping I can help someone.

  7. I have loved my visits to Hawaii over the years. But more and more, I’m becoming a member of the “just don’t come” club. Between the interrupted or cancelled flights, the embattled staff and entitled tourists, it’s just not fun anymore and not worth it to travel from the Southeast.

    1. I have been visiting Hawaii since 1970. I have not been there tho since 2017. My question is I keep hearing the word “entitled” tourists on many blog sites. And never experienced that in my world travels. I don’t know if it is a trending word from uninformed individuals or have I become uninformed and now disillusioned about my extreme love for the South Pacific islands. I know there are more travelers now due to our over populated Earth, and with numbers comes all the other crappy things that individuals do that have not been raised properly. I do hope that every single human that is experiencing this “entitled” trend, will also talk to their children & adults about birth control.

    2. I’m with you. For the school break periods in Washington, flights to HI are $2000 per person, round trip. Add to the air price all of this other stuff, and that’s kind of it. We’re a family of 3, so we just won’t be going, end of story. Which is a huge bummer because I love HI and I have friends there. We have been every year, sometimes more, since I graduated college in 2006. No more…

    3. I’m traveling from the Northeast and as time has progressed it becomes harder to justify returning. With the Negative Accusations, Comments, Attitudes, and Disturbing Diatribe towards tourists, unless Wealthy, who Needs Hawaii! If Hawaiians refuse to make things better for themselves, why should my money be relied upon to help out? Where’s the DOJ, shouldn’t they be investigating where the money is, and has been, going! Imagine what they may discover. Maybe our next trip will be the last or possibly not, it won’t return to a Yearly Destination. Maybe it’s time to visit the New Hawaii in Nevada, I’ve heard that Aloha is alive and well there and there are plenty of Voters that actually Vote to Better Themselves!

  8. Tipping is life in Vegas. I learned that 20yrs ago moving to the 9th Island. I never tip electronically. I always tip in cash. That assures prompt service the next time!

    1. I tip in Cash because it’s Not Taxed, makes an immediate impact, helps pay the Bills or possibly go into the Savings Account, and I am Assured who received it. How it is actually used isn’t an issue, just doing my part to help out!

  9. I do give good tips for decent service and fortunately have not seen a request for tips when no service was done since that would make me likely to not go back to that place.

    The problem starts with employers though, if they aren’t paying their workers enough to even make a subsistence living then it is completely unfair to workers and customers to expect customers to make up the difference. Tips are Extraneous, not supposed to be a large component of normal salary.

  10. We Americans have long put up with this nonsense. Employers get away with getting us to supplement their lousy pay. And, yes I have worked in the service industry, it’s physically demanding.
    Just like over-priced hotels, as long as the consumer will pay the price they’ll keep charging it.


Scroll to Top