the employees in a coffeehouse is looked at by some as akin to tipping
the executioner. Why tip a counter person, who is already drawing
a wage, for the task of passing your order along to a barista for
preparation, while ringing up a $3 to $5 check for a cup of coffee?
Some argue that movie theater concession vendors don't display tip
jars, nor do similarly low-paid fast-food restaurant workers. One
wouldn't even think of tipping the person who flips her burger.
What's more, many coffeehouses
make dirty dish tubs accessible to their patrons, encouraging them
to bus their own dishes. One would, however, think that tipping
is more appropriate in environments where servers deliver drinks
to patrons' tableslike Cafe Nervosa on the sitcom Frasierand
clean up after them.
On the other hand, many
arguments can be made for tipping at coffeehouses. For instance,
some patrons view tipping as part of the cost of dining. In other
words, they feel it's inappropriate to expect service without paying
a gratuity. Others feel they spend so much time in coffeehouses
studying, reading, or just hanging out, that they owe some sort
of rent. Some view coffeehouse employees as highly skilled service
people who prepare exceptional drinks in a professional and courteous
manner and deserved to be tipped for their efforts.
A common and convincing
reason to tip in a coffeehouse is that the barista remembers as
well as constructs an often complicated drink and presents it beautifully
using equipment the average consumer does not have access to. As
expensive as household machines may be, they simply are not built
as well as commercial equipment, which can hold the high-pressure
steam that is necessary to prepare high quality espresso drinks.
A humanistic reason for
tipping your coffee counter worker is that you aren't necessarily
tipping the person who's working the cash register (although he
or she may be sharing in the booty), but rather the person who is
making your drink. Plus, because baristas are usually paid minimum
wage, many of them depend on the additional income tips provide.
On the other side of the
counter, some baristas say they can spot a tipper the minute he
or she walks through the door. One of the best giveaways, some assert,
is what a customer is wearing. When it comes to coffeehouses, many
counter servers observe that those who appear best able to afford
to tip are the ones who don't. These individuals probably have never
worked in the service industry, have little appreciation of specialty
coffee preparation as a culinary art and don't understand how difficult
the work can be and how little money the job pays.
Then, there are the intermittent
tippers who can't justify paying a little extra for each new cup
of coffee but will tip for every other, or maybe every third cup.
Finally, there are habitual tippers who tip out of custom, and will
tip whether the drink is prepared correctly or not, and whether
the service is good or bad.
But how much should you
tip? The standard for diners in restaurants is 20 percent, although
many still leave only 15 percenteven for good service. Average
service usually guarantees the server 10 to 12 percent. Coffeehouse
patrons should consider following these same rules, instead of tossing
their spare change into countertop tip jars. One way to put tipping
at coffeehouses into perspective is to look at how complicated your
drink order is and how long you intend to linger taking up valuable
space. Not having to worry about being rushed off, which is often
the case in a busy restaurant, is worth a couple of extra dollars.
Don't fall into the trap
of believing that the change in counter jars will make up for the
baristas low wage. Based on the fact that the 10 to 20 percent left
by restaurant diners actually translates to only 2 or 3 percent
left in the coffeehouse tip jar, they probably won't. Remember that
tipping is a serious business to those on the receiving end. Tipping
is an old and practiced tradition in the service industry, having
begun in the late 1600s at coffeehouses in London where boxes were
marked "To Insure Promptness." Today, these boxes may
well help "to insure a living wage."
Gary Michael Smith is author of seven non-fiction books and numerous
articles for trade/technical publications. He can be reached at his