There's No Cents In It

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I was at the local coffee shop and watched as a customer received his change - all various types of coins. As I watched, he sorted through it, picking out the pennies. He then grabbed his coffee, threw the coppers into the jar and hurried off.

I have covered tipping once or twice on here, but allow me to re-iterate something. Never throw your pennies into a tip jar. Just... don't. It's an insult, not a tip.

Allow me to explain. When you are handed change, you might find yourself with a dime or a nickel. Heck maybe a quarter or a few bucks. These are all fine gestures of gratitude to your coffee person (the word "barista" sickens me, I preferred coffee person). Indeed, nickles, dimes and quarters add up to actual dollars. As such, all shiny, silver colored coins are welcome. Pennies are not.

Here is the thing, coffee people get minimum wage. We don't depend on tips, nor do we expect them (I use "we" in a loose sense, as it has been years since I was behind a counter). As such, you are not in any way required to tip your coffee people. It is however kind and a good way to ensure we remember your face. Indeed I had a few customers I could actually time to a watch and have their drinks ready the moment they walked in the door. People rarely ever try something new I learn, it's too crippling to gamble with caffeine for most so prediction was easy.

As for those I knew to be rude jerkwads, if they were the only person in line then I might slow down or over / under-heat the milk. Little things to try and make the person go away and never come back. Those who came in and demanded 20 drinks for the office and then didn't bother to throw a damn fivepence into the tip jar? Oh, you can guarantee that the next time they showed up I went so slow, you'd think my own personal time had stopped. I would sit and enjoy them begin to pace frantically, glancing at their watch every other second in a panic as they missed whatever meeting they had. Vengeance is a bitch, and when I hold you drinks hostage and your cash is in the till, you were mine.

Anyways, pennies. Throwing in your pennies is not a tip. It is your convenience. Pennies add up, yes, but rarely to much more than 30-odd cents. They're a pain to count up at the end of the night when you just want to go. Furthermore, the real reason people put them in the tip jar is they themselves don't want to be burdened by carrying them around. It's a form of economic light-lifting sloth, and pushing on your little annoyance to someone else and attempting to pass it off as appreciation for a job well done is bullshit.

So what is appropriate for you $3-5 coffee? Other former coffee-persons and I have come up with a few guidelines:

-For cappuccinos, lattes, americanos? Between 10 to 35 cents is appropriate. Aim for the higher end if you are asking them to gussy it up in a thousand different ways.

-You do not have to tip for drip coffee or pre-prepared food.

-If the coffee person has to make food you've ordered, 40-50 cents is about right.

I know there are some coffee-people who would disagree with my rules. They're the ones who call themselves baristas and think they're the pinnacle of hip culture for people between the ages of 16-21. If they think they deserve a dollar for your drip coffee, give them the finger and move on. Still, these are rough guidelines. You don't have to tip coffee people at all. However, out of kindness and gaining someone in your confidence who will take care of you and even slip you a free drink or two (I know I and my fellow coffee people did for our favorite customers) I suggest it.


  1. This is a pet peeve of mine.

    I don't generally tip for coffee...unless you are delivering it to my table and clearing after.

    But if I'm getting the food myself and clearing after myself, what's the tip for?

    I also don't tip the counter persons at fast food places, for the same reason. Or the cashier at the grocery store. Or the floor clerk that assists my shoe purchase.

    And I don't expect my customers to tip me when I assist them either. It's my job. And I personally feel that it's my job to provide service with a smile as part of that job. I don't charge extra for nice.

    As respects the specific environment of a coffee shop, I'm paying for a pretty basic product - in this case, a cup of coffee. The fact that I'm paying an obscene amount of money for a latte over a plain cuppa should be quite enough thank you.

    In fact, I've cut my trips to the local shop down to once a week. It's a treat for me now.

    It just doesn't make economic sense to cough up what amounts to a 300% surcharge for the pleasure these days.

  2. At eateries with tip jars like that I usually just drop whatever change I have, except the pennies. My youngest collects them and thinks shiny pennies are the pinnacle of modern culture.

    Ah, to be three again.

  3. I usually drop the coins from my change into the tip jar. Twice in recent months I have not tipped at all, both times I was laughed at for asking if they made cafe au lait. The young lady who made my tea this afternoon to my specifications received a larger than normal tip.

  4. When is it those stupid tip jars starting showing up? I think in the 90's. Whoever was the first person to put them out at a service counter should be shot. It's their job and it is presumptuous and greedy to think to think that they are entitled to a tip for counter service. I agree with IslandPearl, tips are for wait service at restaurants.

  5. I was once a coffee person many many years ago. I don't hate pennies. I think people who purposely only give pennies are asses though. When I order my small nonfat latte (no fancy to it) I typically just give all the coinage I get back. Sometimes this turns out to be very lucrative for the coffee people.

    (I have a funny feeling you're going to get more of your hate mail!)

  6. I have to disagree with you, Garrett, and agree with Mary: I am finally earning enough where I feel fine tossing all my change into the tip jar, even if it comes close to a full dollar (I only drink drip coffee). But that includes pennies. If the coffee person wants a tip, she can deal with a few pennies -- and honestly, I think most are like Mary, who doesn't mind sifting a little copper with her silver.

  7. What's the standard for tipping at places like Cafe Bernardo, Crepeville, Jack's Urban Eats, Azul etc. where you order at the counter?

  8. I've been a coffee person, a waitress, and a bar tender. I don't understand why people will tip so much more for opening up a beer than for making a double short pull extra dry skinny cappuccino?
    The worse tip I got was at a restaurant where I worked. The man had complained about his burger (after eating more than half). I compted the burger and just charged him for the drink and the extra side.
    He left two pennies.

  9. Amen to your essay! I used to work at a coffee shop and IF we were lucky enough to even get a tip (we didn't expect it, it was a gas station place) we appreciated it with the exception of those people who deliberately picked through for 4 pennies. Some people only made a point of "tipping" when their friend or previous customer said "keep the change", but then to go through for a couple pennies?? Come on!

  10. I really don't think that not receiving a tip is a justifiable reason for a counter service person to deliberately perform their job badly. They are paid a wage from the coffee shop to serve customers, and do it properly. Tips should be for excellent service, not for baseline service.

  11. There was a time when being offered a tip was considered an insult, implying that you were a sloth who needed to be coerced into doing his job properly. I realize that now some service people receive less than minimum wage, with the IRS assuming that tips will make up the difference, however, that situation came about for the sake of benefiting the business owner at the expense of his employees. It's a practice that needs to be abolished. Decent service should be expected of every employee, tip or not.

  12. Chain coffee houses further cheat their employees by offering gift cards. Why would I get out any change when the counter person is just running the gift card through the register?

    That said I have problems with tipping at places other than sitdown restaurants in general. Leaving a hotel this weekend there were 3 people involved in getting my car and the bags to and in the car. Do I tip all 3 of them?! That's $15 for not so much work--the last guy probably moved the bags(on a cart) 20 feet and I would have preferred to load my car myself. And the hairdresser!! I think she needs to tip the shampoo girl (like the waitress tips the busboy and service bartender). I have to say it gets to feeling like someone always has the hands in your pockets.

  13. One of the anonymous comments reminds me, in the state of California we can be assured that coffee people and waitresses are making at least minimum wage, which is eight I think these days? But in other states that isn't always the case. In my example of the man who left a two cent tip, I was waitressing for only $3.50 and hour. Arizona and Nevada both pay people employed in food service far less. And I've been told that in Vegas it is common practice to work in bars for tips alone.

  14. I only tipped a "barrista" once, and it was for my son's cookie! She asked if he wanted whipped cream. Son assumed that she meant the hot chocolate he ordered as well. Barrista brings us a cookie, loaded with whipped cream and decorated with chocolate syrup. It was a work of art, above and beyond anything I had ever received before or since at a coffee shop. My son couldn't believe I left her a couple of bucks.


Hey, you're leaving a comment! That's pretty darn cool, so thanks. If you have any questions or have found an error on the site or with a recipe, please e-mail me and I will reply as soon as possible.

Vanilla Garlic All rights reserved © Blog Milk Powered by Blogger