Should You Tip Robots?

There’s a robot barista in New York City, we hear, which asks for tips. We figure the coffee shop’s point of sale software includes a tipping option, rather than that the robot actually solicits tips, but it’s still an interesting question: should we tip robots?

This brings up some additional questions that should help us make the decision.

Where does the money go?

This is certainly the first thing we hav veto wonder. Robots have no use for cash. They don’t have Venmo accounts, either, and they don’t get paychecks. If we add a tip to our payment to the coffee shop, we have to wonder where that money is going.

It might go into a general tip fund which is shared among the human workers. This is often how it works at coffee shops, which don’t necessarily track tips to individual workers as a sit-down restaurant might do. This is known as “tip pooling” and is a common practice. Since the robots need the support of humans, it might be fair and reasonable for human workers to take part in the robot’s tips.

On the other hand, the tip might go into the same kitty as the payment for the coffee. Some establishments do that with any tip paid by credit card, even though the tippers assume the tips go to the workers who served them. In that case, the “tip” is really just a price hike.

It would be possible for robots’ tips to go to some specific purpose, such as software updates for the robots or tips for the repair service.

The coffee shop should probably be transparent about this, letting customers know where their tip money is headed.

What is the tip for?

A tip is generally an expression of appreciation, and humans appreciate robot baristas and other service robots. It’s probably nice for the human beings to have an outlet to express that appreciation, aside from making social media reels.

A slippery slope

On the other hand, tipping robots may encourage and further solidify the practice of tipping. There are big problems with tipping, not least of which is the fact that it makes it possible for workers in the hospitality field to be seriously underpaid.

Workers who receive tips have a minimum wage much lower than those who do not receive tips — $2.13, on the federal level. This makes them dependent on the generosity of customers. Studies on the subject have concluded that the practice of tipping leads to racism, sexism, sexual harassment, and income inequality.

Extending tipping to robots supports tip culture, which probably should be on its way out.

Add the fact that robots don’t have pockets to keep their tips in, and we think the arguments against tipping robots are pretty conclusive.

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