Coffee News: from Seed to Cup

How Much & Why Do You Tip Your Barista?

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Depending on where you are and where you’re from, tipping can be something that you don’t think twice about or a slightly awkward and confusing social norm.

Some of us throw our loose change into a jar whenever we order a pour over, whereas others are sure to leave at least 20% more than the price of a latte. Some customers don’t leave a tip unless the service is exemplary.

To learn more about how much customers tip their barista, what motivates them to do so, and how much of a difference tips make to the barista, we asked for your input. Based on the responses to two Instagram posts, here’s some insight into how you feel about tipping.

Lee este artículo en español Propinas Para Baristas: ¿Cuánto Das y Por Qué lo Haces?

The bar at Colo Coffee in Bogotá, Colombia. Credit: Ana Valencia

Tipping as a Reward For Good Service

Most of the people who responded to our questions said that they do tip their barista, but there is variation in how much and what motivates customers to leave a tip. Some feel that baristas who show enthusiasm for coffee and provide excellent service are more worthy of a tip.

natureza_mutavel says, “Yes I tip. Not always, just when I feel some engagement, good will, and love for serving.”

ben_barlow, from Kansas City, Kansas says, “$1/drink is my typical tip. This is based on past experience within the food industry, in addition to being educated by many different baristas I’ve had the privilege to have conversations with. Tips go and have gone higher, dependent on what a lot of others have said: customer service, knowledge of product, etc.”

roving.brew is based in Portland, Oregon. They say, “I tip minimum of $1 for all skill-based drinks (i.e. pour over, espresso). For batch coffee I’ll typically round up to the nearest dollar. I increase my tip if the barista is knowledgeable about the coffee and willing to engage. If someone is rude (I have a high threshold, coffee shops can be stressful) the tip is not guaranteed.”

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A tip jar in a coffee shop. Credit: Allie Smith

Compensating Low Wages For Baristas

Many commenters report tipping their barista because they recognise that service industry wages are low. It’s difficult to find reliable data on global coffee shop salaries, but in many countries, it’s rare for baristas to make a living wage, particularly if they are in a major city.

ntsimmonds is based in Missouri, USA. They say, “As a barista/manager who has worked food service over a dozen years, I tip $1/drink at coffee shops. I don’t like the tipping culture in the US and the fact that a lot of people rely on it to survive, but day-to-day reality is baristas don’t often get paid enough (many food service workers don’t) and having been in that position I know tips can make your day/week/month. 

“Even if the service sucks, I tip because I don’t know how bad the barista’s day or life is that day. It’s better to give than receive, and I’ve received a lot (and still do!), so I err on the side of generosity.”

A barista pours milk into a glass. Credit: Louis Hansel

zachgoestocollege says, “In the US (Denver), baristas can hardly afford the basic cost of living even WITH tips. But also, as a local barista trying to pay it forward, it feels good to pull out a few bucks and stuff it in the jar. Take care of your friends – you get what you give.”

They continue, “If you come in and tip well, especially if you’re a regular, I’m REALLY going to take care of you and hook you up as best as I can. [Tipping is a] good way to be a VIP if you frequent the same shop.”

Not everyone agrees that coffee shop workers should be tipped. Some commenters feel that it’s enough to support the business through their regular custom. leo_thecatpl says, “I do not tip. I chose to buy from this coffee shop more often than other places.”

user_of_the_name_mat is based in London, UK and says, “I’ve worked in hospitality for around 12 years now. I don’t believe in tips as there are other fields that do more work for a customer and don’t receive tips. I’m not entirely sure why people feel they deserve that kind of extra. Wages aren’t great in lots of places.”

A barista behind the bar. Credit: Matt Hoffman

Efforts to Change The Tipping System

jordanmck_95 is from the UK and says,  “I tipped more on my holiday to the States than I do at home because we don’t rely on tips as much to make up a living wage that the employer should be paying.”

The sentiment that employers should be paying more and that service industry workers shouldn’t have to rely on tips is not a new one, and many commenters agreed with it. But we were surprised to hear the experience of a café owner who tried to change the system.

hammerhandcoffee says, “Tips make a huge difference here at our shop in Missouri but I hate taking part in tip culture. I think it’s toxic.

“We originally started off not accepting tips and paying $13-15/hr by adding 10% to our prices. Customers hated the higher prices and simultaneously thought it was annoying or rude that we did not accept tips on top of the higher costs. It was so unusual and created enough of an issue that we transitioned to a more standard model of reduced menu prices and $10/hr pay rate.

‘[Now] my baristas make an average of $15/hr and we are able to offer some benefits. I still don’t like accepting tips, but it’s so ingrained in our culture that it’s very hard to break out. Without either higher menu prices leading to higher pay or accepting tips I would not be able to employ anyone older than teenagers.”

A barista steams milk. Credit: Quaid Logan

hammerhandcoffee continues, “We originally opened with the no gratuity model but changed it about six months in… The clients who would become our regulars mostly thought it was weird that we wouldn’t accept their tips. We frequently ran into situations where clients felt awkward after trying to hand us a cash tip and being told we don’t take tips. 

“We thought they would understand the model and catch the vision, but people mostly thought it was weird and wanted to tip anyway. The added menu cost also damaged our brand as ‘sticker shock’ happened frequently and we lost a lot of customers to that before we changed. My regulars all tip pretty well and my baristas usually receive around 10% gross sales in tips.”

A customer pays for their drink at a café. Credit: Clay Banks

Regional Differences

Most of the responses we received are from people based in the UK and USA, and the low service industry wages in the USA create the context for most of the opinions shared. But some commenters told us about tipping culture in other parts of the world and the relevance of local economies.

ionut.popa314 says, “Working as a barista in Romania really tests your love for the craft. The salaries are really low. The minimum wage is around 300€/month. So yes, tips really matter around here for us.”

denizturkucu is based in Istanbul, Turkey. They say, “[The] economic crisis took over our tips, wages are not enough and people are not reliable. As baristas, we can’t expect tips from our customers.

“Very few Turkish people think tipping is customary. But nowadays coffee shop managers use baristas’ tips for wasted products like cheesecakes, desserts etc.”

A tip jar. Credit: Sam Truong Dan

baristartista is in Montreal, Canada. They say, “I tip just because I’ve worked in service for a long time and feel as though I should give just as I receive. However, when I’m behind the bar I don’t expect tips. Clients shouldn’t be expected to tip as though they are paying our wages. We should be paid enough (I know that’s not always the case, but that should be fixed to change the mindset).

“Tips are appreciated, of course, but I much prefer respectful interactions at the minimum. Even better than tipping is having meaningful interactions with each other. Some of my favourite regulars never tip but we have the most interesting conversations.”

A barista pours milk into a paper cup. Credit: Multamedia

anggorobayu says that in Jakarta, a service charge is common in large coffee shop chains and that they tip elsewhere if there is no service charge included in the bill.

jeancoquerel is based in Bordeaux, France. They say, “I’ll tip from time to time, anywhere from 50c to 2€. It can be random or when the barista takes the time to talk [and] answer my ignorant questions.”

fackrack is in Indonesia and says that they tip “at least 50c for good coffee & $2 dollar for great hospitality skills from the barista.”

the_coffee_enabler commented on regional variations, saying that “tips are dependent on the country and culture. I believe it’s more important to pay a higher wage to motivate people and deliver a great experience, which will fill the gap between the high price of the menu and what customers feel like they’re entitled to pay/tip.” They are based in London, UK.

A customer pays for his order at a café. Credit: Blake Wisz

Do Tips Make a Difference to Baristas?

It might not seem like much to throw a few coins in a jar or choose the 15% tip option on a screen. But the responses to our posts confirmed that tips really do make a difference to many baristas.

coffeegeek317 tells us that they live and work in New Jersey, USA and comment, “As a barista, I rely on tips to make a living. The $9.25 an hour doesn’t pay the bills. That extra few bucks an hour in tips makes all the difference.”

baileyxsalts says, “I’ve been a barista for six years and if I didn’t make tips I absolutely wouldn’t make a living wage.” They are based in San Diego, California.

theoccoffeehunter suggests that it’s not just baristas who benefit from tips, but that they also help small businesses stay afloat. They say, “Yes! Some of my favorite shops are also small businesses so tipping is very important.”

A barista pulls a shot of espresso. Credit: Wade Austin Ellis

fuzzybear72776 says that they have been a barista for over 15 years in both small, local coffee shops and corporate ones, one of which didn’t allow its baristas to accept tips. They say, “The max hourly wage I have ever made is $9.50/hr. Adding tips to that, I might make at most $13/hr on super busy summer days. Living in a tourist town, the cost of living is already insane. Add three kids to that and we are well below poverty. So *YES* tips are very important to me and my fellow baristas.”

They say that “this is why everywhere I go and see a tip jar I always leave $5, even at Subway. I know that so many people are underpaid, overworked, and stressed (mentally, financially and physically). I also hate tip culture because so many people don’t think it is necessary. They believe we are making a decent wage (barely over minimum) and that is enough.

“People are always telling me to do something else with my life, [and that] I could make so much more money. I love what I do, most of the time, and I think I’m pretty good at it… Drink lots of coffee and be nice to your barista – they are always there for you.”

A barista behind the bar at Azahar Coffee in Bogotá, Colombia. Credit: Ana Valencia

Whether you choose to tip and how much you leave is a personal choice, but our conversations reveal that leaving even a little extra change can make a big difference to your barista and to independent coffee shops. It’s not a solution to the low wages and inequalities of service industries, nor to the disparity throughout the coffee supply chain, but it is one way to directly improve someone’s day and reduce the stress of surviving on a low income.

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Written by Hazel Boydell.

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