When it comes to buying a cup of coffee, there is no majority consensus on whether to tip. While 77% of Americans say they always tip at restaurants, only 24% always tip at coffee shops, according to a 2019 survey from Creditcards.com. And 27% of Americans say they never tip at coffee shops, versus 3% who never tip at dine-in restaurants.
Here's why diners struggle with how much to tip baristas and some guidelines to consider the next time you're at the coffee shop register, according to the baristas themselves.
At a restaurant, tipping does not always align with the quality of a consumer's experience, says Michael McCall, a professor of hospitality business at Michigan State University. "People say, 'I tip on the service I get,' but, in fact, most people don't," he says. "Unless the service is really good or really bad, tipping is a math problem."
At restaurants there are social norms around tipping: After a meal, diners may ask each other, "How much are you tipping?" McCall explains, but they rarely ask each other, "How good do you think the service was?" At coffee shops, though, shoppers tend to analyze each interaction with a barista and decide for themselves whether to tip and what amount.
Many coffee drinkers make individual rules for tipping. New York Graphic designer Dominick Marotta, 26, says tipping is not automatic for him. "I only tip if I pay cash or if it's a place I usually go," he says. "Or if that latte art is real good."
The use of digital payment platforms like Square also makes a difference for many customers: Fully 68% of those who use Square at coffee shops tip, according to data from a company representative.
Chicago consultant Sydney Mason, 27, who drinks coffee every day, tells Grow she feels more obligated to tip at places where there is Square: "I feel awkward if someone is behind me [in line], so I will tip a dollar even if I'm just getting an iced coffee and adding my own cream and sugar."
To help create your own coffee shop tipping code, here are some barista-approved guidelines:
- Tip with leftover change. "I don't think anyone expects you to be dropping fives on the counter for a coffee," says Charles Lauriat, owner of Trianon Coffee in Austin, Texas. But if you're paying in cash, you could leave the change. "That's what I do when I'm going somewhere. A quarter in a jar for a $3 coffee is about 10%."
- Tip if you're a frequent customer. If you go to the same coffee shop every day and are satisfied with your service, you should tip, Lauriat says. "The relationship is inherently monetary, so you end up thanking them with money or not thanking them with money."
- Tip if your order is big. Nick Milano, a barista at Wyckoff Starr in Brooklyn, New York, says he doesn't expect a tip for a small $2 coffee. But group orders, which require the timely production of multiple, often different drinks, are different. "Interns will come in and order for an office, and they almost never tip," Milano says. "If you're coming in and ordering 10 coffees, tip."
- Tip if you ask for substitutions. If you request a special kind of milk, or order something off-menu, show that you appreciate the extra effort put in by the person behind the counter, Milano says: "Just make it worth my extra two minutes."
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