This shift is significant given that consumers were prone to tip at a higher rate at the beginning of the pandemic. According to Square’s data, the median tip percentage at full-service restaurants rose from 19.45 to 21.2 percent between February 2020 and April 2020. But by August of the following year, that percentage dipped to 19.1 percent at full-service restaurants.
A June 2021 survey conducted by CreditCards.com also saw a drop in the percentage of respondents who “always” tipped at full-service restaurants compared to before the pandemic — dropping from 77 percent of respondents in 2019 to 75 percent in 2021.
Higher tipping at the pandemic’s start symbolized consumer recognition of the essential work being performed by restaurant staff. A June 2021 article in the Atlantic analyzed the trend, positing that when COVID infection rates eventually waned and pandemic measures relaxed, tipping rates might fall –– despite some optimism that the pandemic might force Americans to radically reckon with how they treat service workers. The former, more grim hypothesis, it appears, is proving true so far.