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Random thoughts about the “Tip Jar”

Posted by gratrueities on October 28, 2008

Tip jars are part of my every day experience but I realize that they are something I don’t fully understand.

As I was standing in line at my local coffee shop, I couldn’t help but notice how the the two people ahead of me handled this not so subtle request for money. The first man (who I must say seemed like a nice person overall – when I apologized for stepping in front of him, thinking he had already been helped, he just said “no problem, it’s only coffee”) ordered two coffees, one drip and one espresso drink. His total was $3.85; he paid with a $5 bill and told them to keep the change for the tip jar. Quickly calculating, I noted that this was about a 30% tip. (Not to pass judgment, but that wasn’t too bad for less than a minute of attention.) The next person in line left approximately the same amount. Then I realized my drink of choice is $2.10 and I generally toss in .50 or more – also over 20%. Perhaps this isn’t the norm, but it did get me thinking about tip jar culture in general.

First, I assume people working counter service, unlike those who wait tables, make at least minimum wage. If so, they don’t depend on tips to the same degree as the person waiting tables.

Therefore, I’m curious what average percentage of sales does end up in the “jar.” I’m sure there are many factors to consider – most importantly the type of business. More upscale shops very likely do better.

I also wonder if people tip more generously percentage-wise because the total amount is most often much less than a sit down meal. If people are served promptly at the counter, they are probably happy – there is much less risk they will be disappointed and punish with a bad tip.

And one last question – does the amount charged for an item impact the amount of the tip? My local coffee shop charges $2.10 for a 20 oz. coffee while Starbucks charges $1.85 for a Venti (aka a 20 oz coffee). I’m just thinking that by charging $1.85 that they might be setting the stage for a paltry .15 tip – if someone pays with dollar bills and leaves the change. While charging $2.10 opens the door to either greater tips if paying with dollar bills – or, of course to nothing if using exact change.

OK – this probably reflects way too much time thinking about this subject…but, honestly, this all occurred to me in the two minutes I spent getting my coffee!

While I sort of doubt any studies have been done on this subject, if anybody has any answers to my questions, I’d love to hear from you! If you have any thoughts on tip jar behavior or stories to share, please do so as well.

Also, what “GraTRUEity” would you be most likely to leave in a tip jar?

My personal tip jar quirk – a little embarrassing, but true – is that I want the server to see me putting my money in the jar. I tend to wait with money in hand until they can see me making my move. So no…I don’t just leave the tip out of the goodness of my heart, I’m afraid – I do want the credit. (However, I suppose if I were leaving a really small amount I might feel differently.)

My husband’s tip jar quirk – doesn’t believe in them and it seems that others, according to this Wall Street Journal opinion piece, agree. My husband feels no need to tip for counter service unless he places an order that requires more work than filling a coffee cup – and then he hands the money to the person. I’ve given up nagging, though I’ve been known to be the “behind the scenes tipper.”


4 Responses to “Random thoughts about the “Tip Jar””

  1. Julie said

    Hi Nancy–this is a great post!! Thanks for your insights. My tip jar quirk: erratic. I’m an erratic tip jar tipper. Sometimes I do; sometimes I don’t. It depends on the circumstance. I guess if I’m feeling generous or not.

  2. Annabelle said

    I usually put my change in tip jars. I was a waitress once and I believe in tipping at the counter for a job well performed, in much smaller amounts than at a table. I think Starbucks may be more likely to get the entire 15 cents change for each $1.85 purchase than your place which charges $2.10. I am not as likely to put 90 cents in for that small of a purchase. I bet Starbucks has made a real study of this.

    On the other hand, putting change in a tip jar has to be whatever is handy, so a quarter or two might end up in there if it is already in my hand. The place who charges $2.10 is still likely to get the higher tip, any way you look at it, from me. It’s just that Starbucks might get more of those tips since 15 cents is hardly worth opening your wallet up for, and the cheaper price of the coffee means something to those who buy it each and every day.

    And lastly, I also want the person who served me well to see that I am using the tip jar, an act of feedback for them and a message that I was well served. A random tip in there (no one watching) is more for my own use- disposing change and hoping the buspeople get a piece of it.

  3. Chef extrordinaire said

    I really would rather tip someone personally then give a tip to
    the entire staff. If someone really does a great job I want them to receive the fruits of their labor.

  4. Chef extraordinaire said

    Make that “extraordinaire”

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