Why I Don't Like Tipping at Coffee Shops But Still Do Anyway


This morning I went to a cafe that I like while driving between cities. It’s not my local, but I know it to be pretty good. I actually drive out of my way to go there and avoid Starbucks, or another Starbucks-like establishment.

The cashier was cheery, took my order, and handled the transaction in a way deserving of a tip. I also bought a bag of fancy coffee beans which I picked out myself. When the tip function came up I was not shocked, in fact I have resolved to automatically tip $1 for anything under $10, and $2 for anything over $10 (more on this later) when in a coffee shop. I tried to move past the suggested tips as they included the expensive half pound bag of hipster coffee beans that I was also purchasing, but somehow I selected an amount that came out to about $7 and couldn’t back out of it. With a mounting line behind me I decided to let it run, and while the service was good, the tip was a little on the high side at almost the same price as my breakfast sandwich and coffee, but hey, good karma points all around today.

I then wait patiently. And continue to wait patiently. My breakfast sandwich arrives all nice and warm — ready for me to chow down on while hitting the freeway, likely getting sauce all over my shirt and seatbelt, but that’s road trip life. I’m good with that too.

A little too long goes by and I am beginning to wonder if my coffee order has been misplaced. There are still a few slips on the counter though, so perhaps they’re just behind. The barista is running orders all over the place in between making drinks, so perhaps there is more going on than I am aware of. A few more drinks come out. Still no coffee.

Finally, after what felt like forever and a few moves closer to the counter, the barista asks me if I’m waiting for a drink. “Yes, an Americano,” I reply.

The cashier slinks away in the background. I see a slip appear and a sheepish shrug. The next moves by the cashier are actually a masterclass in customer service, but in reality is how this situation should always be handled.

The cashier comes over to me. “I am so sorry,” she says. “That was totally my bad, I’m sorry for the wait. Here’s a cookie.”

Immediately everything is right in my world again. I’m no longer upset that I’m running behind, and that my order had been forgotten, nor that they wasted my time, and that there was not any crema on my Americano because they rushed it — I’m actually happy.

“No worries. Things happen,” I say. “Thanks for the cookie.”

What could have been an outright customer service disaster was completely reversed by an admission of guilt, an apology, and a thoughtful small gesture. The cashier owned her mistake, and fixed it all in one fell swoop. Had she attempted to deflect the blame I would have seen right through the excuse and left feeling quite perturbed.

The only issue was that I tipped almost 100% on my bill. If tipping is a reward for good service, then I was positively reinforcing the bad service I had initially received. I also mistakenly tipped that amount, so I could have been even more angry about it, but alas we are all human, and the way the cashier handled it appealed to my common sensibility that we all make mistakes sometimes. I’m not sure that we should be rewarded for them, but perhaps not unduly punished either.

In North America tipping is customary, but I don’t like when it is expected, and I don’t like service being jammed down my throat when it’s not necessary just to earn a tip either. Some of the local liquor shops in my area now have tip jars and tip options on their debit machines to which I almost always skip. Getting wise to this, however, the employees have begun to offer “service” in hopes of earning a tip. There are some things that I just prefer to do for myself though, so it can feel like they’re high pressure commission sales people instead of store clerks.

I appreciate good service. I am someone that utilizes many services in my travels. What I don’t like is the expectation to tip on either poor service, or service that I have not yet received. This has always been my dilemma with coffee shops, but after some time mulling it over I arrived at the idea of tip averaging.

If I go to coffee shops nearly everyday, I will always tip $1 on my coffee. It amounts to a few hundred dollars a year, which is substantial on its own, but the karma effect gives me a good feeling. I’ve stopped worrying about the effect the tip has, or whether the quality of product and service warrant the tip. Instead I am tipping every time to make myself feel good, and to be appreciative of the hard work involved. More often than not the service and product are good, and the few times that it is not, I am not overly concerned. Besides, if a place is consistently bad then my vote will be cast in a different way and the karma effect will take over in that respect also.