A 1994 movie called “It Could Happen To You” depicted a true story: Instead of giving a waitress a cash tip, a police officer told her he had purchased a lottery ticket and promised to split the proceeds with her if he won. He won $6 million, gave her $3 million and changed her life.
In the gig economy, though, the movie would have to be called “It Couldn’t Happen To You.”
The most popular on-demand platforms for ride-hailing and delivery limit the tip amount customers can give to workers, company representatives confirmed to MarketWatch. They all cited the possibility of fraud, such as extremely generous tips on stolen credit cards that may have been arranged by a delivery worker with the help of an accomplice, according to an example given by DoorDash.
The limits have been tested amid extreme winter storms across the country, which had led some customers to want to give larger tips to delivery workers bringing them food in dangerous conditions. For example, a Chipotle
customer recently complained about the restaurant limiting the tip he wanted to give his delivery person during a Midwest snowstorm, enclosing a screenshot showing that the app limits tips to 50% of the food’s total.
“It’s [expletive] snowing and I want to tip my driver accordingly @ChipotleTweets,” read the tweet, which now has more than 127,000 likes and 13,500 retweets. “Why are you deciding how much tipped workers can make?”
Chipotle partners with the likes of DoorDash and Uber Eats, which also limit in-app tips for the workers who deliver for their platforms. The limits range from 50% at Chipotle to 100% to 200% of an order’s total, depending on the platform.
The man whose tweet went viral, who told MarketWatch he wanted to be identified only as Ronnie, said he is a former DoorDash delivery worker and pizza-delivery driver who now orders food delivery about two to three times a week. He wanted to leave an $8.88 tip on a $12.40 bill, but was met with the app’s pop-up message, which read “Whoa whoa whoa.”
“I know Chipotle’s official stance is that it’s to prevent ‘fraud’ and ‘user error’ but that doesn’t make sense when you could simply add a second ‘are you sure’ prompt,” he said.
Judging from the responses on Twitter and online forums elsewhere, it’s a common question, and Chipotle did provide the answer Ronnie expected.
“Similar to many retailers, the Chipotle app includes safeguards around tipping to avoid human error, as well as fraud, to ensure its guests provide their intended dollar amount,” a spokesman said.
Since apps limit tips, customers should know delivery workers appreciate cash tips, too. An Instacart worker in New Jersey who asked to be identified only as Andie told MarketWatch she was grateful for a customer who recently tipped $5 in-app and gave her an additional $30 cash tip in an envelope.
Andie, a former convenience-store worker with a shoulder injury who feels she has no other choice but to work a gig-economy job, now sits “in parking lots waiting for orders and shop[s] all day.” She said her biggest in-app tip ever was on a $973.18 order of heavy, massive packs of drinks from a BJ’s wholesale
She was excited, but because Instacart gives customers a day to change their tip amount, she said, “I spent the next 24 hours in a state of panic. I checked that thing every two seconds.”
Whatever the in-app tip limits, delivery workers frequently complain in online forums about no tips or very small tips. That’s something Andie can relate to. One time she received a tip of 56 cents: “I was like, ‘Really, dude?’”
An Instacart spokeswoman also mentioned possible fraud as a reason that service limits in-app tips to 100% of their order amount. A DoorDash spokesman said its app’s tip limit is $30, or 200% of the order’s subtotal, whichever is higher.
“It’s purely a way to protect our community from fraudulent behavior,” he said. The company also provides peak pay in certain areas in case of extreme weather, he added.
A spokeswoman for Uber, which has long limited tips for its ride-hailing drivers, said that for Uber Eats, “Uber’s tip feature allows consumers to tip up to double their order size or $200, whichever is less. 100% of the tips go to the driver or courier.”
A Lyft spokesman confirmed that the company limits tips in its app but would not give the exact amount, saying “we are confident that our system effectively deters abuse and unintentional activity while allowing well-deserved tips to reach drivers.”
Ridester.com has run surveys of gig workers over the years, and founder Brett Helling found that “drivers give a lot, yet receive little in return.”
Helling, who also runs Gigworker.com, is a former ride-hailing driver living in Omaha, Neb. He said consumers should know drivers and delivery workers “are just scraping by and just making ends meet.”
“If a consumer somehow gets a ride, or has their food delivered successfully, go above and beyond to show that driver some love,” he suggested.