Tipping Etiquette

Tip Jar, Murky Coffee
Tip jar at Murky Coffee

Let’s nail something down once and for all. I have to get this cleared up, so as to avoid future mishaps and hard feelings.

The standard tip for restaurants is something like 15%, right? I generally range from 1-20%, depending on service quality. No, I never fail to leave a tip, even for bad service. I want them to know that I did not forget and that their service is being duly rewarded with a quarter or whatever I deem appropriate.

You don’t have to do much to get a 15% tip from me. That’s like a baseline. Make pleasant banter, mostly get the order right and bring me silverware if appropriate – pretty much the basic stuff. For folks who really bust tail and do a great job, it will be higher, maybe 20 or 25%. If they don’t refill the water glasses, act surly or fail to bring the right food and act like it’s my fault, the tip might be 10% or lower.

But here is the wildcard. What do you give for people, such as the fine folks at Murky Coffee, who are always pleasant, make small talk, do a good job and then don’t kick you out for nursing a cafe au lait for two hours? $1? My au lait cost $2.45. That’s almost 41%. A 15% tip is 37 cents. That just seems cheap. Is there a standard dollar amount for counter employees versus wait staff?

So tell me, DC – how do you tip when you go to a coffee shop or other counter-based place?

13 Comments so far

  1. Stacey (unregistered) on July 9th, 2007 @ 12:51 pm

    I’m glad we’re talking about this. I tend to be overly generous in tipping – but I think that you find anyone that has worked in the food industry are over-tippers. That being said…

    … almost every ettiquette talking head says that the tip jar at a coffee place or the like is NOT appropriate. I still do it – but only occassionally, i.e. I tip once a week to the coffee place I go to every day.

    But still, every ettiquette expert I’ve ever read says unless a server is bringing your food to the table and is not behind a counter, there is not supposed to be a tipping function.

    Food for thought.


  2. Don (unregistered) on July 9th, 2007 @ 12:53 pm

    I don’t tip for counter service, ever. Not for any one large reason but for a hundred little ones.


  3. Ex-Hy Hy (unregistered) on July 9th, 2007 @ 1:10 pm

    If you tip at a counter restaurant, you should tip the cashier at the supermarket, the teller at the bank, the guy at the bodega. It’s all the same damn thing.


  4. Brian (unregistered) on July 9th, 2007 @ 1:28 pm

    While I hate the idea of the tipping jar, for the good coffee houses like you describe, I use the bartender rule: a dollar a drink. But when I pay in cash at coffee places, I might drop the coin change in as well.

    If it’s a major coffee chain that I don’t frequent the same location regularly, I don’t even glance twice at the tip jar.


  5. dan (unregistered) on July 9th, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

    IMO, tipping for counter service isn’t necessary, but you are taking up a seat for 2 hours. Throwing a dollar (50 cents per hour) or two into the jar (helping ensure those pleasant people continue working there) isn’t a bad thing.


  6. xian (unregistered) on July 9th, 2007 @ 1:49 pm

    Good point, Dan, about the seat rental. I’ve done that myself! Generally, the only people working being a counter whom I tip are bartenders. I suppose the argument could be made that baristas aren’t too different, but somehow they just are.

    One counter to the bar rule. I never tip a dollar a drink. I typically leave $3-5/drink, and sometimes more depending on the bar, when paying for the first round. Then I just pay for drinks until I’m done, when I’ll leave a final tip. The initial boost of tip money is so the bartender remembers me. If it doesn’t work, the final tip is smaller.


  7. butterbean (unregistered) on July 9th, 2007 @ 3:50 pm

    If i am getting my usual cup of drip coffee I do not tip. But if I were someone who orders a nonfat, decaf, half whipped, soy mocha latte with only one dash of cinnamon on top and they got it right… I would tip or at least leave the change.


  8. Max (unregistered) on July 9th, 2007 @ 4:27 pm

    I usually look at how much change (coins) I get back, decide if I really need it, and if not I plunk it in their tip jar. This all depends on whether or not I liked the cashier’s attitude, or if I need 50 cents to get something out of the vending machine at work later in the day.

    That said, I pay with my credit card most of the time to make the decision much easier.


  9. Aaron (unregistered) on July 9th, 2007 @ 5:26 pm

    I always just dump the change in the bin. Do you really need that 48 cents in your pocket all day? I don’t.

    Then again, I don’t give anything at Starbucks/DD/Caribou – which is definitely a double standard, but I don’t care. I used to work at the Buck and no one gave me anything. So, I say, tough it out. Then again, as Max says, I pay with a card at these places, so it’s not an issue anyway.


  10. Carl Weaver (unregistered) on July 9th, 2007 @ 7:09 pm

    Thanks for chiming in, folks. I believe in rewarding good service but $3-5/drink, as Xian does, is way out of my league. We should start calling Xian Daddy Warbucks.

    The seat rental point is good but I don’t stay if it is crowded – not that I feel guilty about taking up a seat but because I can’t get anything done with so many people around.


  11. Nick (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 10:26 am

    This is Nick Cho from murky coffee.

    I personally don’t take tips at our shops, but this is something that I pay close attention to.

    Tipping isn’t a financial topic… it’s a cultural one, and it varies greatly from city to city.

    DC is a “moderate” tipping city for coffeeshops. Chicago is also a “moderate” city. New Yorkers are high-tippers, as are folks in Seattle and Portland. I’ve heard that Vancouver BC is a really bad tipping city, despite its Pacific-North-West geography. It’s interesting.

    That’s all just an FYI.

    Another FYI: different shops have different policies on distributing tips. At our shop, each shift of staff will split the tips evenly, and when there is any change to the staffing for that day (someone goes home, someone new comes on), the tip jars get dumped to maintain the proper distribution: you get tips for the time you worked.

    Other shops are different. As far as I know, tips at Starbucks are distributed evenly for the entire pay period, or even the entire month. This is a little controversial, but understandable: you can get more tips for being scheduled for a certain time of day or day of the week vs. another… so the latter method mitigates that discrepancy.

    All said, tip your barista!


  12. dawn (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 12:40 pm

    Max said: I pay with my credit card most of the time to make the decision much easier.

    I used to do that till I realized how many places removed their tip jars and now have the line for a tip conveniently on the credit card slip. I order takeout all the time, and the girl behind the counter complained to her colleague right in front of me, as I was signing my bill, that no one ever tips her. Gee, wonder why?!?!


  13. BF (unregistered) on July 11th, 2007 @ 9:18 am

    I usually drop some spare change in the tip jar, especially when I’m on the go. If it’s an independent cafe that I patronize often, and especially if I’m nursing a coffee for two or three hours while using free internet, I always tip a dollar or two.



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