April 11, 2005

Drip, drip, tip, tip?

Tipping for coffee is a hot topic, it seems.

Caleb McDaniel asks "Does anyone have some rough and ready etiquette to guide tipping for coffee?"

No, I don't have a guide. I'm just relieved to see that other people have the same low-level-at-the-counter anxieties that I do about the issue.

My criteria is that if it's a good cup of coffee I'll tip. I would like to reward people who make good coffee. But the moment of tipping comes well before you consume the coffee. If I know the barista is good I'll tip before getting the coffee, otherwise I'll go back and put some money in the tip jar as I leave, and say thanks for the coffee then. I also tip more [frequently and at a higher percentage] at the two places I go to often. Like others I figure that this will be repaid in extra care the next time I come in.

Caleb points to this overheated discussion of the subject, largely revolving round tipping at Starbucks. As best I can make out the anti-tipping-at-Starbucks crowd have these points to make

  • I am angry. I am very angry. I am made angrier by the very sight of a tip jar on the counter at a coffee shop.
  • Starbucks is overpriced. I do not have the intelligence to realize the following

    1. No one forces me to buy coffee there
    2. No one forces me to tip
    3. Make a cup of coffee myself.
    4. It's not only the coffee I'm purchasing. For example, if I was to sit down for four hours and buy nothing else while in the store, no-one would ask me to leave.

  • Because Starbucks workers make more than McDonalds workers, you shouldn't tip either.

If you don't want to tip, don't tip. But some of the elaborations offered for not tipping at Starbucks bear the mark of being cheap, mean, and secretly guilty about it.

Posted by robe0419 at April 11, 2005 07:42 PM | TrackBack

I tip big pretty much every time I am served anything by anybody. Last week I had a terrible experience with the service at Pracna on Main - just as I was about to pay the bill, I found out it was our waitress' first day on the job, and it was incredibly busy out on the patio where she was working. So I gave her a nice tip - nothing outrageous, but a solid 20-25%. She'll get better at her job, but me giving a tiny tip isn't going to expedite that process. If I get a cup of coffee at Starbucks, I'll usually drop a buck in the jar. If I don't have a handy single, I'll throw in whatever change I have on me.

The people who work in such industries are not paid well except for the tips. If I find that the service at a certain establishment is continually lousy, I find a new establishment to patronize.

Posted by: Jim at April 11, 2005 08:40 PM

I laughed out loud at your summary of the Starbucks thread. It's amazing, isn't it, that the thread went on for so long with so little to say. Behold, the power of blog!

Jim makes a good point that immediately defuses the "I don't tip because the service is bad" argument. Keep looking for a place where you feel good about tipping. I like that.

Posted by: Caleb at April 11, 2005 08:47 PM

I've spent the past half year working as a barista and agree with your point about how it's inconvenient that the usual moment of tipping comes when you order at the register rather than after your drink is made. It works well for us behind the bar since it encourages people to drop their change in the jar and the coins do add up over a shift. The downside is that only our repeat customers have a real incentive to reward good performance (not that we wouldn't perform well anyway just for the love of espresso). Today, in fact, a coworker and I were discussing the possibility of placing a second tip jar at the serving bar in addition to the one at the register, but we nixed the idea for the appearance of greed this would present.

The shop I work in takes particular care in the preparation of our drinks, a fact which is often noted by our customers; audible gasps are not infrequent as we finish making an aesthetically pleasing latte. I would love to see the tip jar moved so that these customers can reward good service instead of ritually tipping when they place their order. Unfortunately, the coffee culture in America is still developing and both the customers and baristas often aren't sophisticated enough yet to make that change in incentives rewarding for the staff. The situation is improving, however, and as consumers increasingly recognize and demand better barista service I hope to see a shift to more post-espresso tipping.

As for "low-level-at-the-counter anxieties," I can tell you from my experience that I'm not going to note any one person's tip unless it's surprisingly generous or stingy. Customers who are friendly and pleasantly engaged are far more memorable than ones who happen to tip decently! That said, tipping as you do after you've had your coffee is much more meaningful than simply tossing in your change at the register and really does send the message that you enjoyed your experience and want to show your appreciation for it.

Speaking of showing appreciation after services rendered, I should mention that I enjoy reading your blog. I clicked on it the first few times just because of the appealing title, but the content keeps me coming back.

Posted by: Jacob Grier at April 12, 2005 12:50 AM
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