Ask the Waiter – Tip Creep!


I have a tipping question for you. How do you feel about places like Starbucks and chain style sandwich shops putting out tip jars? I remember a time a few years ago when those type of places didn’t have them. I also assume that the folks working there are pulling down some kind of hourly wage that’s not tip dependent. It seems honestly that pouring me a cup of coffee or making me a number 3 style sandwich really isn’t the kind service that’s tip worthy. Of course I could be totally wrong, that’s why I’m asking you.



Dear Jayson

I’m a waiter. I love tips. Ever since Waiter Rant began I’ve spoken out against cheap tippers and have tried enlightening the dining public to the economic realities of being a waiter. In most cases servers are paid below minimum wage and need tips to bring their hourly compensation up to or above the minimum wage level. For waiters and busboys tips are essential. The same goes for the rest of the traditionally tipped professions – skycaps, car valets, doormen, bellboys, bartenders, taxicab drivers, coat check girls, strippers, etc.

But I also patronize establishments where workers paid at or above minimum wage solicit gratuities though the use of the now ubiquitous “tip jar.” Over the past several years “tip creep” has established the expectation of a gratuity in places where none existed before. Tip jars are cropping up at movie theater concession stands, gas stations, liquor stores, and even the dry cleaners. What’s next? Tip jars outside an airline pilot’s reinforced cockpit door? On the reference librarians’ desk? Give me a break.

How do I navigate the tip jar minefield? As a former waiter, karma compels me to put money into a food and beverage worker’s tip jar. I do not, however, feel it’s necessary to leave a 15-20% gratuity per purchase. That’s crazy. I just leave a couple of coins. If a cup of java at Starbucks costs $1.73 I’ll drop the change from a $2 bill into the barista’s tip jar. A hoagie from the sandwich shop? I’ll leave some of my change, perhaps fifty cents. Throwing money into a tip jar is totally optional. While waiters and other tipped workers need gratuities to put food on the table, baristas and sandwich shop workers are getting paid at least minimum wage. I’m not saying they don’t deserve to have a tip jar, but they don’t depend on it as the major source of income.

There is a precedent for leaving salaried food and beverage workers tips. In countries like England the gratuity is included in the bill. If a customer wants to reward their server for excellent service or leave a financial token of their esteem, they’ll leave extra money on the table. Not 20% of the bill mind you, only a few dollars, but trust me, the gesture is appreciated by the server. That’s how I look at tipping baristas, sandwich shop employees, and the like. I do it to be nice. If I’m friendly with the establishment’s employees I might leave more money than usual. I always tip one coffee shop’s barista a dollar every time I see her. The bubbly teenage pizza girls near my house? They always get a couple of bucks. The dry cleaner? He doesn’t get diddly squat.

But I certainly understand people’s frustration with the tip jar issue. Sometimes it feels like the entire world has its hand out. It all gets very confusing. Do I really have to drop money in a tip jar when I pick up a cake at the bakery? No you don’t. Do I really have to tip the bathroom attendant? Yes you do. Do I have to tip a barista or sandwich shop person? No – but you can be nice. Do I have to tip the waiter? Are you serious?

As it happens, I’m writing this post inside a crowded Starbucks coffee shop. As usual the line for caffeinated chemistry experiments is long and all the comfortable chairs have been snapped up by sleeping college kids and homeless people. I’m sitting on a less than comfy wooden chair while my laptop shares a small table with some Gothic looking chick’s decal covered iBook. From my vantage point I can the baristas’ tip jar BOLTED to the counter and brimming with dollar bills. I swear I saw a ten spot mixed in when I went to pay for my coffee. People are being very generous to the baristas today. Considering the crap they’re gettting from the customers, they deserve it.

I look over my computer and outside the plate glass window. A beggar is panhandling outside the coffee shop’s front door. He was inside earlier but the manager kicked him out after he used the restroom as a shower. I watch him for several minutes as he holds out his dirty baseball cap and begs for money. No one gives him a dime.

I can’t put my finger on it, but something is wrong with this picture.

11 thoughts on “Ask the Waiter – Tip Creep!”

  1. Caro says:

    But hand outs aren’t the solution to homelessness. Yes it’s nice to help someone down on their luck but there are better ways to put that money to use, like donating it directly to a shelter. Although the problem with that is there are homeless people who are very resistant to going to shelters or seeking help. Me? I make sandwiches with my school club and donate them to a local church so they can hand them out. I volunteer, that’s how I’m trying to help the homeless. Compassion goes a long way.

  2. Jen says:

    I work in a pizza place and we have a tip jar. That gets split between whoever is working the counter that night, usually one or two people. Usually it ends up being like, $5 or so per person, but it’s nice. It’s a little bit extra and I enjoy putting the change in my piggy bank. It’s mostly people’s change, but it’s nice all the same. A little bit adds up. It’s also nice if yor order or request is particularly complicated or large.

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  5. SFBartender says:

    I’ve started feeling like this “tip creep” phenomenon has adversely affected the tips of waiters and bartenders. When we’re tipped, it’s generally for good service: As a waiter, you’re not just taking a food order, but seamlessly perfecting that customers dinner experience–if you’re good that is. I personally love to eat out; for the food, yes, but I’m a damn good chef myself and can make myself a great meal at home for much cheaper, but much more to sit down, be waited on and taken care of, and then feel good about giving a great tip for great service!

    As a bartender: you’re tipped for remembering the names and drinks of your customers, being hospitable and kind to people, and generally taking good care of them while they’re at your bar. Even in a more anonymous environment, such as a night club–believe me, if you tip well, you wont find yourself in the sea of faces waiting to get a drink. Hook the bartender up on your first round, and prepare to walk right up and painless get your drinks for the rest of the night, maybe even get a round floated to you.

    People at Starbucks, however, make your drink and you take it away. That is the extent of their “service.” Now, if I go to a starbucks where the barista takes the time to remember my name, remember my drink, and generally brighten my day, that’s worth a tip.

  6. Kat says:

    Mostly I put change in the tip jars, if the service is lousy (which I’m not angered by, it’s a subway for goodness sakes,) it I feel my existance in line is an inconvienience to the employee I don’t tip, places I frequent all the time I put a dollar plus change for my $5 meal. The employees there treat me like an aweome person, I get free chips, upsized drinks, a bonus cookie, and if there is a coupon I don’t have I get that (yes they like me, but it also equals mrs change back from my meal that goes in the tip jar

  7. Angie says:

    I know this post is old but as a waitress in a coffeehouse I felt I had to leave my 50 cents. Of course pouring a few ounces of coffee into a cup might not feel tipworthy. But ordering several large cappuccinos (the existence of that would make an Italian tremble) decaf, with an extra shot, soy milk, extra foam and cream on top for 20 dollars and then not leaving a single coin? That’s cheap.

    Yes, waiters at coffee shops are usually paid minimum wage. But that still does not pay the bills. So please leave a tip. One of my regular costumers gets a dollar coffee every day and always leaves a dollar in our tip jar. No, that is not necessary. But yes, I make sure he gets the best coffee we have and might even serve him first if there is a long line of complicated coffee drinks in front of him. You see, tipping pays off!

    1. Edward says:

      So basically you want extra money from the consumers even though you’re paid regular wages because ‘its not enough to pay the bills’

      Really? There are tons of other jobs which don’t get tips at all that don’t pay the bills – what makes you the special case?

  8. PhilTheTipJar says:

    I’ve also noticed “tip creep” and I am okay with it. If the service is excellent, then I feel a tip has been earned. For some places, like coffee shops or delis, people are unsure if they should leave a tip. A tip jar is a way to let people know that a tip would be appreciated.

    I also provide advice for servers to increase their tips. First and foremost, I stress good service.

    I’m all for “tip creep” since I sell funny tip jar stickers, so I am a little biased.

  9. Greek Restaurant Owner says:

    The best sandwich place I have ever been to is Melt Sandwiches in White Plains, NY. All the meat is smoked on premises and the chef makes amazing sauce/topping combinations. Hands down my favorite sandwiches!

  10. kirstin says:

    haunting image you painted at the end =(

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