Tip creep: The expectation of, or demand for, a gratuity that exceeds the traditional 15 percent. Increasingly, the source of the upward pressure is an automated payment system.
From “$3 Tip on a $4 Cup of Coffee? Gratuities Grow, Automatically,” which appeared on the front page of the February 1 New York Times:
The flat white coffee drink was $4. A suggested tip was $3.
The cashier at Café Grumpy, a New York City coffeehouse, swiped the credit card, then whirled the screen of her iPad sales device around to face the customer. “Add a tip,” the screen commanded, listing three options: $1, $2 or $3.
In other words: 25 percent, 50 percent or 75 percent of the bill.
There was a “no tip” and a “customize tip” button, too, but neither seemed particularly inviting as the cashier looked on. Under that pressure, the middle choice — $2 — seemed easiest.
When tip creep first began appearing, around 2007, it referred to “the expectation of a gratuity in places where none existed before,” according to the Ask the Waiter column at WaiterRant.com:
Tip jars are cropping up at movie theater concession stands, gas stations, liquor stores, and even the dry cleaners. What’s next? Tip jars outside an airline pilot’s reinforced cockpit door? On the reference librarians’ desk? Give me a break.
By September 2012, when the New York Post picked up on the trend, tip creep straddled two meanings:
Not only are there more hands reaching into your pocket, they’re expecting more: “Suggested” gratuities can run to 25 or even 30 percent, a number that might have been laughed off just a few years ago.
A primary source for the Post article was Steve Dublanica, a former waiter and the author of Keep the Change: A Clueless Tipper’s Quest To Become the Guru of the Gratuity. Dublanica takes credit for coining tip creep, but it isn’t clear whether he came up with the term as early as 2007.
Tip creep follows the noun + creep established more than 20 years ago with mission creep, defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a gradual shift in political or strategic objectives during the course of a military campaign, frequently resulting in an unresolved conflict or open-ended commitment.” Mission creep emerged from the U.S. military intervention in Somalia; an AP story datelined February 12, 1993, reported that the “mission to halt clan warfare and get aid to the needy … has unofficially widened its role to include such tasks as rebuilding houses, digging wells and creating police forces. Officials call it ‘mission creep’.”
Other noun + creep compounds include scope creep (out-of-control changes or continuous growth in a project’s scope) and bracket creep (the slow movement of lower-income people to higher tax brackets as a result of inflation). Word Spy has documented SPF creep (the gradual increase in sun protection factor numbers in sunscreens and other products); jargon creep (“the tendency of for the use of jargon terms to expand into different contexts and to spawn variations on the original terms”); season creep (“earlier spring weather and other gradual seasonal shifts, particularly those caused by global climate change”); ad creep (“the gradual expansion of advertising space to non-traditional surfaces such as floors, bathroom walls, cars, and the sides of buildings”); Christmas creep (“the gradual trend to begin displaying Christmas-related merchandise and advertising earlier each year”—earliest citation: 1986); commercial creep (“the gradual encroachment of commercial real estate into residential areas”); gift creep (“a gradual increase in the value or extent of one’s gift giving”); techno-creep (“the gradual encroachment of technology into every aspect of society”); and workweek creep (“the gradual extension of the workweek caused by performing work-related activities during non-work hours”).
Then there’s CREEP, the Committee to Re-Elect the President, which was Richard Nixon’s fundraising arm in the 1972 campaign. A new CREEP, the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, was established in 2012 as “an inside joke with a serious punchline,” according to ProPublica, the independent investigative journalism organization. The new CREEP’s stated mission is to “raise voices not dollars.”
Personal observation about tip creep: When the sales tax rate in most California cities hovered around 7.5 percent, many diners got into the habit of doubling the tax to calculate the tip. Now, thanks to … well, tax creep, we’re taxed nearly 10 percent on a restaurant tab (more in cities like San Francisco that add a surcharge for employee health care). Doubling the tax now means tipping in the 20 percent range.