Your Decision To Tip At Starbucks Should Depend On One Important Factor

Tipping is a point of contention for some people, increasingly so when restaurant prices soar and budgets are tight. But more to the point, diners have nuanced views on whether tips should be taking up the slack for low compensation by venue owners. When it comes to coffee shops, frontline employees sometimes get less tipping love than full-service restaurant servers, because of the "it's just a cup of coffee" mentality. But is that justified, and what are the determining factors?

It's worth noting that small locally owned coffee shops can have very devoted customers, ones who value personal connections with the baristas making their lattes, cappuccinos, and flat whites. And they'll tip accordingly. After all, they can learn things like which barista is burdened with excessive childcare costs or who needs a new car after their old clunker finally conked out. Deciding how to tip at mainstream venues such as Starbucks can be more complicated, as customers may encounter a different barista every time they enter the store.

Putting relationship-motivated tipping aside, there's a general deciding factor that makes a lot of sense: the complexity of your order and the effort it takes on the part of the Starbucks barista. Do you insist on your coffee being a specific temperature (yes, some people do) or order 10 customized secret-menu drinks for an entire office of picky java junkies? For goodness sake, tip. That said, there's an even deeper "social commitment" that comes into play, regardless of what you order.

Tipping as a social contract

Obligations and employee compensation issues aside, tipping was designed to be a thank you for good service. Instead, it's often expected regardless of whether or not the restaurant server or coffee shop barista was rude, inattentive, got your order right, or begrudgingly corrected mistakes. When ordering at a walk-up counter, as is the case at Starbucks stores, you're most likely paying and tipping before even getting your drink.

On the flip side of bad service, an excellent barista may go way above and beyond, providing meticulous service for those 10 tedious office orders, yet you've undertipped or failed to tip at the counter. Again, just tip. They very likely deserve it, and then some. In addition to a flustered barista juggling multiple detailed drinks and delivering them appropriately hot or cold, your order may have backlogged the flow for backline employees and other customers. Keep in mind that Starbucks employees share the total tips with one another, so your hard-working barista won't personally benefit quite as much as you'd hope.

There's at least one coffee-shop tipping consideration specific to Starbucks. It's the option to order, pay, and tip via the Starbucks app. Taking advantage of that expands your ability to tip as conscience dictates because the tip option remains for several minutes past the immediate point of purchase. It also bypasses that glaring digital screen that not only pressures you to pre-tip but suggests how much, and requires an awkward "no tip" click when declining.