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« Rewind: More on Books | Main | Retirement: First Impressions »

August 31, 2006

Tip Jar Hitting

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Are you a cold-hearted, selfish, evil monster?

I am, by one way of reckoning.

You see, I don't hit the tip jar at Starbucks.

There is more than one side to this issue. What propels daytime TV talk shows, political debates and other issue-driven controversies is that the various sides or points-of-view involved can claim a reasonable value as justification. Which is why such issues usually never get resolved.

Back to that tip jar.

One perspective is that Starbucks baristas are underpaid and, usually, friendly and helpful so they ought to earn tips just as waiters and waitresses in restaurants do.

My perspective is that all that baristas are doing for me is (1) drawing a cup of drip coffee, (2) perhaps putting a doughnut into a paper bag and (3) taking my money and making change. If my drink order was especially demanding, then a tip might possibly be warranted.

If they deserve a tip for this minimal amount of effort (compared to what a waitress does, for example), then so should the checkout lady at the supermarket who, besides the money handling, has to do a lot of bar-code scanning and perhaps some bagging. To which one might respond that checkers are likely unionized and get better hourly pay than Starbucks galley slaves.

Perhaps it comes to this: Unless every kind of personal service deserves a tip, then where should the line be drawn?

I'll tip at a restaurant, but not at a Starbucks. And you?



posted by Donald at August 31, 2006


No table service; no tip. (This applies to restaurants, too.) If I have to order from the counter and am expected to bus my own table, I'll keep the tip for myself, thank you.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on August 31, 2006 11:14 AM

I saw a tip jar on the ledge of a drive-up window at one of my favorite breakfast burrito haunts. I was put off by it. Tip you for handing me a bag through a window? I think tipping etiquette has gotten way out of hand.

Posted by: Maqroll on August 31, 2006 11:27 AM

I always wonder why people get bugged by tip jars. I don't usually tip non-table service people, but I don't give a second thought to tip jars, either.

Posted by: the patriarch on August 31, 2006 11:41 AM

Tip jars are a good way of getting rid of loose change, especially pennies.

Posted by: Peter on August 31, 2006 12:49 PM

I would imagine that the problem with tip jars comes into play if you're a regular at a no table service place. There's a kind of intimidation in it as the behind the counter staff gets to know you by sight and also notices that you don't tip. The I-don't want-to-be known-as-tight tip.

Posted by: ricpic on August 31, 2006 1:22 PM

Count me with the patriarch & Peter. It doesn't bother me to see them. I don't often tip in a tip jar and when I do it is generally a bit of loose change. The places where I most often do add a tip to the jar are local establishments where I'm a regular and the counter help is HELPFUL, friendly & courteous.

Posted by: Chris White on August 31, 2006 1:28 PM

The principle of tipping is illogical to begin with. When you are expected to tip someone who performs a service, the "price" for the service is in effect a false price, one that is set artificially low because the tip is supposed to make up the difference between the quoted price and the "real" price.

The tip system is marginally defensible in connection with someone who performs a service that can be done with varying degrees of skill, pleasant demeanor, and attentiveness, such as waiting on you in a restaurant. You then have some ability to reward good service or withhold a bit for the lack of it. But when it's a simple transaction, or when the tip is automatically added to the bill as in European restaurants, why should the amount not just be included in the price?

Still, in situations where tipping is firmly established I recognize that it represents a good part of the employee's income, so I go along with it and tip as expected. (Although if I'm tired or had a couple of glasses of wine, I'm not always in the best condition to multiply the tab times 0.15; I sometimes leave fearing that I have under-tipped just out of poor mathematical ability.)

It gets ethically complex in borderline cases such as at a Starbucks, to use your example.

I dislike being forced into the position of having to determine how much I "owe" by estimating how much my server is underpaid and depends on my tipping appropriately. How should I know? And why do I ethically "owe" the person who puts out a tip jar more than another low-paid employee at Barnes & Noble or the auto supply store who is extra helpful? Arguably, they deserve it more.

Posted by: Rick Darby on August 31, 2006 1:40 PM

Starbucks employees get paid well. I tip the employees at non-national-chain coffee-shops, but not Starbucks.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned on August 31, 2006 1:42 PM

Ha. I was waiting for someone to complain about tipping in general. Always reminds me of Reservoir Dogs.

Posted by: the patriarch on August 31, 2006 2:43 PM

I take it this is research to see whether 2blowhards should install a virtual tip jar?

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on August 31, 2006 3:10 PM

I do not like how tipping excuses employers from paying livable wages.
The word gratuity digs in deeper. Why should I be grateful that you did the job your are being paid to do. I tip only when people go above and beyond what is required of the job. Why should I be guilted into subsidizing cheap employers?

Posted by: tw on August 31, 2006 3:30 PM

Oh, you put money IN the jar??? I wondered why they always frowned at me as I left.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on August 31, 2006 3:56 PM

Don't waitstaff get paid less than regular minimum wage because tips make up a significant portion of there income though (while the barista at Starbucks makes regular minimum wage)? Maybe that's changed over the years or is a regional thing...

I do find tip jars in coffee shops and other minimal service venues kind of annoying. The staff at Burger King do more for me when they prepare a whopper without onions or mayo, but they don't get tips.

Posted by: claire on August 31, 2006 4:13 PM

To extend Rick Darby's last point, what if you - and I'm speaking very, very hypothetically - only enter a Starbucks to purchase a CD? Should you still tip the server?

Posted by: stephenesque on August 31, 2006 4:57 PM

A few comments:

1. The one real advantage of tipping is that it normally allows us to avoid taxation.

2. One of the main duties of management is to determine correct pay levels. Delegating this to customers is their shirking responsibilities.

3. Tipping in real jobs is called "bribing". If police or doctors or public defenders (etc ad naseum) worked on tips, we would live in a very corrupt society.

4. Tipping rewards high-profile jobs, at the expense of high-producing jobs. Wait staff at expensive restaurants can make more than the cooks, though their jobs are no more onerous than any other servers. The same restraunts live and die by their cooks, on the other hand.

More generally:

5. If you tell a "server" that "server" is euphemism for "servant" you will lose a friend.

Posted by: onetwothree on August 31, 2006 5:58 PM

sbux employees also get health benefits. no need to tip them, they are are taken care of.

Posted by: razib on August 31, 2006 10:05 PM

Perhaps it would be better if we had a different system for billing in restaurants combined with a different salary structure for the wait staff that would eliminate tipping as the accepted norm. Until that happens, I assume that restaurant owners are paying their servers sub-minimum wage, typically less than $3 an hour, as they are legally allowed to do. Given that I use 15% as a base minimum for tipping and go up from there if the service was notably better than average. To not tip in protest is a bit like kicking a man's dog because you don't like the way he abuses animals.

This is admittedly different from tip jars in establishments where one assumes the employees are at least making minimum wage and tipping is not necessarily expected.

Posted by: Chris White on August 31, 2006 10:38 PM

I've noticed a lot of sexism involved with tipping. It seems acceptable that a man, or woman, would indulge their vanity in this way; but that the same person would pretend to having principles in this respect is ridiculous.

Class is also involved. Service people tip service people best, not as a reward, but as a token of identification and respect.

Posted by: paul on September 1, 2006 1:37 AM

I hate the institution of tipping, but understand that I can't do anything about it where it's firmly entrenched, like restaurants w/ table service. Anywhere else, I refuse to do so, so it doesn't spread.

As mentioned above, you know the precipitating event wasn't "Hey guys, let's start a tip jar!" It was "Holy shit, they just gutted our pay and told us to install a fucking tip jar instead!" If it were obligatory on customers, that would be one thing -- the staff wouldn't lose any pay. But that ain't necessarily gonna happen.

Plus it encourages the staff to act like butt-kissers, which I hate. "Hello! My name is Tammy and you all are like totally my new bestest friends IN.THE.WORLD!" If you're going out to eat, it doesn't even matter if the waiter doesn't come around so often, since you're there to relax and let time pass by. And constant interruptions -- argh!

Posted by: Agnostic on September 1, 2006 3:10 AM

Here in Germany (yeah, that's somewhat of a generalisation) you're expected to tip, but only if the service is good. We have better minimum wage laws though, so the situation is somewhat different.

Posted by: Stanoje on September 1, 2006 3:24 AM

"Oh, you put money IN the jar???"

Now that's funny.

Posted by: ricpic on September 1, 2006 7:50 AM

The counter folks at Starbucks deserve tips from the nuts who stand at the counter and stare at the board for hours, then order those two-paragraph drinks, and they're inevitably the ones who don't tip. So I throw in my nickel of change out of sympathy.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on September 1, 2006 10:19 AM

I went to a fancy-ass restaurant this week for a vendor-paid dinner. The restaurant automatically assigns an 18% gratuity to parties of seven or more. As if that wasn't galling enough, the service was slow and absent minded, and the food was breathtakingly unimpressive. In no way whatsoever did any of the staff earn the 18% that they de facto hijacked from us. Wouldn't it be great if we could all leverage an extra 18% of pure, sweet margin from our customers? Whatever...

Posted by: Lee D on September 1, 2006 11:06 AM

I'm with tw. In a simple economic transaction, i.e. buying a cup o' Joe, I'm assuming all of the pricing/costing schemes have been worked out. You make the coffee and charge me a set price. I remove from my pocket the paper/coin equivalent of that price. This is the non-verbal agreement between you, the coffe-maker, and I, the coffee-drinker. If you elect, in your price/cost calculation, to underpay your help, please don;t expect me to have to consider that into my payment. You're making a simple purchase of 1 item now once that is more complicated.

There are not that many Starbucks in our area (we're not in the cutting edge of beverage offerings). However, there are a ton of Dunkin' Donuts, all seemingly owned and run by one Bangladesh family. They have a huge tip jar and they give you the mal occhia, when you ignore it. I write it off as a custom peculiar to the Indian subcontinent, where wages in some places are non-existent. I hope that the US doesn't go down that route of tipping for all; service is bad enough in most places. Why be forced to reward it?

Posted by: DarkoV on September 1, 2006 12:52 PM

I usually tip up to 10% at Starbucks and similar places, especially if I am going to sit in (because I will usually go back for a re-fill).

Obviously there are web sites devoted to tipping etiquette, and one of the more comprehensive ones says that you usually don’t have to tip at Starbucks or most places with tip jars.

By the way, I consider tipping waiters and waitresses just part of the cost of eating at restaurants. Because of some arcane and stupid rules, IRS regulations impute part of the restaurant’s gross sales to wait staff as tips, so they have to pay income on this amount whether or not they actually received it (and unless they want to jump through hoops to prove that the imputed amount is incorrect).

Posted by: Alec on September 1, 2006 3:05 PM

here's a tip---- quit that damn job and go whore!!!!!

Posted by: stevie liquid on September 1, 2006 5:42 PM

One big advantage of the tipping system in restaurants is that it allows students and other between-serious-jobs people to make significantly more money than they could in almost any other way. If you're a college student and work as a restaurant server two or three nights a week you might easily make $250 or $300 a week in cash, in addition to a nominal salary, which is well over twice what you'll make if you work the equivalent number of hours in retail or something along that line.

Posted by: Peter on September 1, 2006 9:04 PM

Up here service industry staff have to get at least minimum wage and tips have to be declared as income.
That is the law. Whether or not that is followed is another issue.

Posted by: tw on September 1, 2006 10:59 PM

Tipping is a bizarre holdover from the ancien regime. In the one job (cab driver) that I ever held where I could get tipped, I found the whole experience degrading. Personally, I would just as soon forgo tips altogether. Which was a good thing, because my tips were nothing to shout about.

Also the notion that I'm obligated to tip wait staffers really is just a great deal for restaurant owners. This allows them to reduce risky fixed personnel costs, and to make labor essentially a variable cost. I mean, why do restaurant owners rate such favorable treatment? I own a business and payroll is by far my highest fixed cost.

And feeling guilty about not tipping is bizarre, because the outcome in many cases seems to be that the waiters earn bizarrely high (and untaxed) incomes. I have a cute niece who worked as a server in a upscale country club restaurant who was earning significantly over $2,000 a week.

The whole thing is a scam, big-time. Naturally, I'm waiting for those big-time scammers, i.e. lawyers and doctors, to start posting tip jars at the door to their offices! I'm sure I'll see it any day now!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 2, 2006 6:02 PM

Freidrich vB, lawyers and doctors subscribe to the Continental restaurant tipping scheme: their "gratuities" are included in your bill automatically, and it's way higher than uniform 18 percent.

Posted by: Tat on September 2, 2006 6:48 PM

Starbucks located inside Target stores and various grocery chains aren't allowed to have tip jars and the workers aren't allowed to accept tips of any kind. I guess the logic is "None of our other low wage employees get tipped."

However, the Barnes and Noble cafe featuring Starbucks coffee has a tip jar, so we're supposed to tip the girl who makes our coffee but not the girl who special-ordered books for us. Hmmmmm.

Posted by: yournamehere on September 2, 2006 8:01 PM

It's not a matter of what what/how much they do, if any of you remember working retail or food service the issue is this.

It's not about being under paid, it's about coming to work in the morning, dealing with an arrogant prick (M/F) who doesn't have the courtesy to get off the damn phone while (not) talking to you.

It's about dealing with the pathetic soul-crushing ego's to whom they serve.

It's about 'taking-it' every day, just to make enough money to barely EXIST, to come in again the next day and have a little more of your dignity ripped out.

I've no problem with you not tipping, but you're talking about people's livelyhood, or lack thereof. Really, quite insensitive.

p.s... 'minimal amount of work' compared to a waiter. Yeah, and about 50 times the amount of customers in a day. Maybe more.

Posted by: Eric on September 2, 2006 11:28 PM

Say Eric, do you by any chance work at Starbucks?

Posted by: Bradamante on September 3, 2006 6:45 PM

So, if I understand Eric, tipping is a way to compensate victims for being forced to work in miserable jobs.

Shaking my head.

Posted by: Jeff the Poustman on September 4, 2006 6:56 AM

I work at a local coffee company (NOT STARBUCKS) in the Portland Airport. Like most places,we put out a tip jar. You might say that bagging a dounut isnt hard work, and at face value it isn't, however baristas work very hard to get that coffee in your hand, especially when there are 500 other customers that want 500 different "high maintainance" espresso drinks all at the same time.
I get up at 2:30 am 5 days a week to serve coffee to some of the rudest people I have ever met, yet I do it graciously and with a smile on my face. I do it to put myself through school at the University of Oregon, and most other baristas are doing the same thing. So honestly people, before you think we are all underserving and uneducated, don't bite the hand that feeds you. Your 35 CENTS (yes thats right CENTS) change isn't going to buy you anything anywhere else, so give it up.

And for all of you medium, quad shot, half-calf, non-fat, sugar free vanilla, extra hot, 2 equal latte drinkers out there: Get over yourselves.

Posted by: Katie on September 4, 2006 11:36 PM

So Katie, if all I do is politely order a black coffee then you're fine with no tip?

Posted by: mike on September 5, 2006 10:30 AM

Speaking as an Englishman who has lived in Michigan , Canada, France & Holland as well as the Uk... Yeah, the tipping situation is way out of hand in the US, particularly in Fine Dining. In England you Tip if the service is good (unless you are trying to make a point about how much u got..bling bling( they are so over that in Europe btw) In Holland you tip for table service.

In France where the whole thing started, the waiters in top restaurants may still be self-employed ie the ONLY income they have is the service charge, once upon a time they were well informed professionals, now they are just plain snooty.

My rule is.. I tip for a pleasant experience plain and simple.. 10-15% and

Posted by: oursus on September 5, 2006 2:57 PM

"However, the Barnes and Noble cafe featuring Starbucks coffee has a tip jar, so we're supposed to tip the girl who makes our coffee but not the girl who special-ordered books for us. Hmmmmm."

You're not "supposed" to tip anyone if you don't feel like it. That's what I don't get about people who complain about the practice of tipping. Nobody is forcing you to do anything.

Posted by: the patriarch on September 5, 2006 3:45 PM

My only constant tip is to the piano player at the local bar I frequent. $5 for every whacked-out Cole Porter request he can handle from me and $10 if he plays The Nearness of You when I enter the bar without my asking!

What, noone tips the piano player any more? That's a hard skill to acquire and probably where the tip jar was invented.

Posted by: Matthew on September 5, 2006 4:23 PM

Bradamante / Jeff

Some people have no choice.


Posted by: Eric on September 7, 2006 2:01 AM

Wow, randomly came accross this site and feel as if I *must* comment. Okay, a couple of points;

1. I wonder how many of you commentors have ever worked as a waiter or a waitress? Basically you are paid about $3 an hour and you live off your tips, you're even taxed on them whether you make them or not. If you're a college student trying to work your way through college on three part times jobs, then tips represent whether you get to eat the next day or pay an electric bill.

2. STARBUCKs...honestly yes, I do work as a barista for Starbucks and we do have a tip jar. I will agree, that getting you a Grande Brewed House Coffee and Scone isn't really that great of a feat, nor is making you a latte or mocha or what ever tickles your fancy, but if I manage to make your beverage the way you like it in a short amount of time all the while mantaining a geniune conversation then a thank you is appreciate whether it be monetary or otherwise.

3. Thirdly, just wanted to briefly touch upon unions. As some of you maybe aware, there are states that are 'right to work', which basically means we aren't allowed to form unions or we get fired, we aren't allowed to take breaks unless everything is clean, everything is done, etc-which if you've ever worked in the food industry is pretty never.

So basically, there are a lot of people out there in not to favorable situations, so do them a break and toss 'em a nickle.

Posted by: Jess on September 13, 2006 2:09 PM

I am a Starbucks Barista and found it very interesting how much Starbucks was mentioned on tips. I am currently searching on ways to make higher tips in our store. Minimum wage in this country is a joke and Starbucks Barista's do depend on tipping to make our pay worth the job.
I have experienced working as a slave at a grocery store (I considered it community service) but when I was told to clean two 8 stall restroom toilets for $6 a hour, I walked out. A percentage of what they ring in on a shift should be given to those poor Stop N Shop cashiers.
I don't think a barista expects tipping when someone buys a cd or products from the store. Tipping is for the art preparing a perfect espresso or latte. Getting what you want with an outstanding greeting. Eye contact, smile and any help understanding the drinks that we offer.
It really makes me laugh how against the tipping at Starbucks- you need to take on learning to be a barista and expericence standing behind the counter waiting on lines of people from the counter out the door. Then you may be able to say whether or not we deserve tipping. The jars should be full of personal appreciation. We work hard to gratify the public entering Starbucks. All Starbucks Barista tips are divided equally as we work as a team to provide special and unique attention to our customers.

Posted by: Sandy on September 19, 2006 12:48 PM

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