In a pandemic, tipping via app goes mainstream

'Tis the season for tipping. But in a year where nothing is business as usual, what does that look like in 2020?

"I certainly expect to see a lot more people tipping digitally this year," said Elaine Swann, an etiquette and lifestyle expert.

With people wary of physical contact and staying home, fewer may hand out handwritten cards with cash to their doormen or hairdressers, opting to tip instead via a few taps on the phone.

"I do not think it's tacky to tip via app in any way form or fashion," said Swann, who is also a spokesperson for mobile pay service Zelle.

If using an app to tip seems less personal, well that's because it is, at least for people like Earl Camburn who's already handed out cards to his building staff.

"I didn't really consider tipping [digitally], just because those guys are like family to me, so I wanted to be a little more personal," he said.

But Thomas Farley, known as Mister Manners, says a tip is still a tip regardless of how it's delivered.

"It may feel like we're simply making a bank transfer, it's transactional rather than as warm as we prefer," Farley said. "But doing a digital transfer rather than nothing at all will certainly be preferred."

In a year when we've seen less of each other, Farley says tips for people you rely on are especially needed when many in the service industry have seen their hours and wages cut.

"Just because we haven't necessarily seen these people doesn't mean they don't need your gratuities," he said.

But in this difficult economic time, if you need to give less than usual, that's OK, too.

"Make sure if you're tipping this year that you're tipping within your means," Swann said.

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