Eric Kovar, a hospitality consultant who owns a Manhattan speakeasy, is known by friends and colleagues as a very generous tipper — often leaving 30% at restaurants, or putting down a $100 bill on a modest meal because, like many people in the industry, he appreciates the hard work that goes into serving customers.
But Kovar was shocked recently when he purchased a birthday present at a gift shop on the Upper East Side and was asked for a gratuity during the on-screen checkout.
“There were just two people behind the counter, mostly looking at their phones,” said the 61-year-old Midtown resident. “They didn’t help me select a gift or even wrap it. I overtip at restaurants. But when there is no service provided, rather than being guilted, I look them straight in the eye
and press ‘No tip.’ “
Like many New Yorkers, Kovar has become irritated with the new pressure to provide gratuities in unprecedented situations.
Sources told The Post about seeing tip jars at dry cleaners and hardware stores where they couldn’t have imagined being asked for gratuity in the past. And it’s happening outside the city, too — one resident reported being asked to add by both an electrician and a pest-control company.
John McQueen, a 50-year-old stretch coach who lives in Flatiron, used to frequent a liquor store in the East Village. But just before Christmas, a stock person suggested he offer her a gratuity because the holidays were approaching.
“It was my favorite wine store. But suddenly, every time I walked in, she would say she was open to receiving tips,” McQueen told The Post. “She became aggressive about it, and finally I said, ‘You are open to receiving tips? Really? So am I!’ And I stopped going in because it made me uncomfortable.’’
McQueen also experienced uneasiness when he went to the Porto Rico Importing Company on St. Marks Place to purchase a pound of ground coffee, and was prompted by a screen at checkout to provide a tip.
“The screen had big boxes that suggested 20 to 30%, and I couldn’t find the ‘no tip’ option,” McQueen recalled. “So I had to ask the cashier how I could pay, and she said, ‘Pick a tip.’ I said, ‘I’ll just pay in cash!’”
Peter Longo, 71, who owns Porto Rico, said McQueen is far from alone in his frustration.
“I’ve experienced a lot of complaints from customers who felt they were intimidated and made to feel like cheapskates,’’ he admitted. “I’m offended myself, but when we switched from regular cash registers to a POS system, the tip request was included automatically. I explain, but people are still miffed.’’
Longo said he considered going back to the old cash registers, but the staff overrode his decision.
“Once kids began receiving credit card tips, they wouldn’t go back to the old system. I’d have a mutiny,’’ he said with a sigh. “The younger employees have been groomed to expect this.’’
Many are peeved that the suggested percentage has also climbed, with machines using 18 or 20% as a starter — and climbing as high as 30 or 40%.
Others are annoyed by the mere presence of a tip jar in an unexpected place. In May, The Wall Street Journal reported in May that even self check-outs at airport kiosks are set up to ask for gratuities.
One woman told of having her car washed at LMC on East 109th Street, where the cashier had a tip jar.
“She was watching TV and never even looked at me; just gave me change,’’ reported the 33-year-old who preferred to remain anonymous. “Why exactly would I be rewarding her?’’
Artist and podcaster Gregg LeFevre, meanwhile, was surprised to see a tip jar by the register at Shapiro’s Hardware in NoHo. “They put it next to a candy jar for extra encouragement,’’ he noted.
Shapiro’s owner Fatima Al-Saladin defends the practice.
“The staff is very knowledgeable about home improvement and plumbing, and goes way beyond just selling to provide help and answer questions,’’ she explains. “And when we make keys, sometimes people want them in a very specific way, so we go the extra mile.’’
Even online businesses are asking customers to tip employees they never interact with.
Inspired by colleagues like the pet site PackLeashes.com — which asks during virtual checkout if customers would like to “Show your support to our team, and buy them a doggie beer!’’ — Charles Chakkalo tried a beta-test tipping option for his home supplies shopping site, JoeyzShopping.com.
“If the cashier asks you for a tip, it’s intimidating and borderline coercive, but if it’s online and the customer is behind a phone or computer, it provides privacy and optionality,’’ he explained. “There is something to be said about [an order-fulfillment person] who shows up for work and doesn’t have the privilege of being in the laptop class. If the buyers decide to, they may want to make someone else’s day better.’’
The response was underwhelming, though: Only about 6% of those customers went for the tip option.
Some urbanites feel there is almost nowhere they can go without being solicited for extra funds.
Said one Chelsea resident: “I just got my blood taken, and I was relieved as I left that the woman who drew it didn’t ask for a tip!’’