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.
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.