Here's how Uber and Lyft drivers try to get customers to tip — even though it only happens on a quarter of rides (2024)

Christina, an Uber and Lyft driver in Las Vegas, said about half of her passengers tip on a good day. But she feels tipping is inconsistent and that sometimes her efforts to please customers go unnoticed.

She keeps a clean car, has a bubbly personality, and tries to connect with passengers by asking questions, she told Business Insider. But she's not always super talkative. When she looks in the mirror and sees a passenger on their phone, she takes that as a cue to stay quiet.

"I think when a customer feels closer to you as a person — that they could see themselves in the position of the driver — then they are more likely to tip," said Christina, who asked to use her first name for fear of professional repercussions. "However that still doesn't guarantee a tip because I've had fantastic rides and conversations, and they give me a compliment but no money."

When her mother was dying a few years ago, Christina sometimes mentioned it in conversation, which drove up tips. Still, she sometimes sees herself having to fight for tips. Some riders have told her they don't know how to tip, forcing her to show them on the app. Some international passengers don't tip, she said, because they don't understand tipping culture. And others don't view driving as a legitimate job compared to other service roles.

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Christina isn't alone. Drivers, riders, and gig economy experts told BI that historical tipping norms, rising fares, inconsistent driver service and the fact that Uber originally launched without a tipping feature could be contributing to lower tips. However, while many drivers are testing new strategies to increase the frequency of receiving tips, others are giving up. Some told BI they've stopped going the extra mile because their prior efforts rarely paid off.

"While tipping culture in restaurants is fairly well-established in the United States at this point, it's still evolving when it comes to rideshares, and many riders may not understand the financial realities of rideshare driving," Nick Leighton, an etiquette expert and co-host of the podcast Were You Raised By Wolves, told Business Insider via email."This may explain why there's so much inconsistency currently in when or how much riders choose to tip."

Ride-hailing drivers told Business Insider that customer tips are hard to come by. An analysis of over 500,000 US gig drivers provided to BI by Gridwise, a data-analytics company that helps drivers track their earnings, found that 28% of Uber and Lyft trips got tips in the first half of this year, compared to over 70% of food-delivery and grocery trips.

To be sure, some drivers have fared better when it comes to securing customer tips. In the second half of 2023, Lyft said the median US driver earned about $31 per hour of engaged time — en route to pick up a passenger or had one in their vehicle. The company said these earnings included a median tip of $2.41 per engaged hour.

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Meanwhile, an Uber spokesperson told BI in May that across the US, drivers are "earning more than $30 an hour while engaged on the app." Uber said that over the last four years, ride-hailing tipping frequency and the average tip size have roughly doubled — adding that the average ride-hailing tip amount rose nearly 10% over the past six months.

Nine ride-hailing drivers shared what strategies have helped them land tips and why sometimes providing good service is not worth the effort. Some drivers requested partial anonymity due to fear of professional repercussions.

How drivers try to maximize tips

Stuart R., 55, recently stopped driving for Uber and Lyft. He reluctantly returned to work in IT, as he struggled to make ends meet driving full-time. Still, he said tips helped him stay afloat after burning out from his previous job.

He maintained a 4.99 driver rating in Austin and said he frequently got tips for simple things such as greeting passengers, assisting with luggage, and keeping his car "immaculately" clean. He found he got better tips when he practiced "safe humor," or joking with passengers without mentioning politics.

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Additionally, he had signage hanging from headrests noting that tips were greatly appreciated. Still, he said, even keeping cool water on hot days or engaging in deep conversations with passengers was never a guarantee of a tip.

Being helpful to tourists has been an effective strategy for Marilyn Cassady, a five-star Uber and Lyft driver in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, who drives a few days a week to supplement her Social Security income. She said she gets tips for nearly 50% of her rides. Cassady said female passengers are often relieved to have a female driver and tip more. Still, she acknowledges there's only so much she can do. Sometimes, the app's navigation falters, she said, which can delay some rides and result in lower tips.

"There are some days when I don't see any tips at all," Cassady said.

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Some drivers like Jillian, 67, who drives in Santa Clarita, California, have a simple solution for getting more tips — asking riders directly. Before riders get out, she asks them nicely if they could leave a tip.

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However, it's not a perfect strategy. She's recently gotten a lot of $1 tips and, despite keeping her car in mint condition, she can work for six to eight hours without a tip.

The inconsistency is working against some drivers

Alex Santiago, a 48-year-old Uber driver in northern Virginia, used to dress business casual and catered music to passengers. But after years of inconsistent tips, he stopped trying so hard.

Some days, he drives with slippers on. Other days, he listens to podcasts he wants to hear. He displays signs stating what passengers can't do, such as eating or talking on speaker. After making these changes, he said he hasn't seen tips decline.

"I'm not providing amenities such as water and games — I don't run a day care, I drive a car," Santiago said.

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He's realized tipping patterns are often inconsistent, even though he still aims to provide good service — he keeps his car clean with a $35 monthly subscription to a carwash, and he always helps riders with luggage.

"There are days where I'll get zero tips on 20 rides, then there are days I get tipped eight out of 20 rides," Santiago said.

Jason S., 50, said the frequency and quantity of tips he's received fell during the pandemic. He estimates between a third to half of riders tipped pre-pandemic, but now he's lucky if it's one in six. He suspects increasing rates for riders has reduced tips, as he hasn't changed his driving habits. Those who tip likely always tip regardless of service, he said.

"I used to look at tips as extra, now I desperately need those tips to keep my hourly up," Jason said. "I used to be able to earn anywhere from $32 an hour up to as much as $55 an hour with good bonuses. Now if I hit $25 an hour, it's a miracle."

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He thinks there's nothing he can do differently to maximize tips. People rarely request music and he said most riders will turn down candy or drinks.

"One extra good-quality ride with me is probably not going to make the difference to a person who doesn't want to tip anyway to all of a sudden deciding, 'I better tip this guy,'" Jason said.

For some drivers, trying to get tips can backfire.

Andre Kingston, 50, said passengers sometimes reprimand her for trying too hard to get tips. The Detroit-based driver said she'd gotten one-star reviews for "talking too much" or not being polite, even though she says she always greets people and asks them for their music selection.

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"It is the talking accusations that hurt the worst," Kingston said. "They make me not want to talk to others. They make me afraid to open my mouth."

Low tipping levels have led Jason, a 49-year-old ride-hailing driver in Phoenix, to no longer provide the same level of service.

"I used to open doors for everyone and adjust the seats for everyone and offer whatever music request any passenger wanted and engaged in whatever conversation the passengers wanted to engage in," he told BI. "But I don't get tipped for it anymore, and I'm over it."

He said his new strategy is to not accept rides that pay him below $20, even though this has lowered his acceptance rate and made him ineligible for Uber's driver rewards program.

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"I can no longer accept cheaper rides and hope for a tip to get me there," he said.

Are you a gig driver who is struggling to make ends meet? Are you driving into your retirement years? Reach out to these reporters at nsheidlower@businessinsider.com or jzinkula@businessinsider.com.

Here's how Uber and Lyft drivers try to get customers to tip — even though it only happens on a quarter of rides (2024)
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