Coffee drinkers across the country are now presented with a relatively new three-fold dilemma: Would they like to tip $1, $2 or $3? It doesn't matter if the coffee itself costs $3, $2 or $1—the transaction screen still prompts every customer just the same.
But just how much is enough—if anything at all?
Unlike tips for classic service (bartenders get $1 a drink at least, and servers expect 20 percent on top of the final bill—15 percent if you're cheap), there isn't an age-old standard for coffee service.
The tipping point, however, is that baristas often make minimum wage, while bartenders and servers rely on tips to supplement their reduced-tipped wages.
Ask Jeremy Lyman, the cofounder of NYC's Birch Coffee, and he admits there isn't a clear answer—without consumer consensus, tips aren't exactly dependable. To ensure employees don't rely on tips—and to ensure customers don’t feel obligated to tip—Birch pays baristas more than minimum wage and opts for the classic tip-jar approach as an extra. "If customers feel a tip is warranted, they tip—if not, they don't," he says.
Behind the counter, baristas tend to think you should tip something. "You should tip every time," Luiza Trabka, the lead barista at Brooklyn's new Little Roy Coffee Co., says. "If you're thinking that the next person will tip, then no one is tipping—if you can leave 20 cents, it adds up."
As she speaks, a regular customer shouts on his way out the door, "Fifteen percent is rude—it starts at 20 percent and goes up."
Trabka admits that when she's on the other side of the counter, she tips about $1 for café drinks but less for others. "I generally don't tip for drip or iced coffee, because I'm aware that it doesn't take as much effort," she says.
But when certain drinks are tip worthy and others aren't, it gets tricky. Looking for a golden rule? "I believe strongly in the $1 per drink standard," says Jordan Michelman, cofounder of Sprudge, a publication that covers the coffee industry. "A batch-brew fill-and-go should be $1, an involved mocha with some latte art is $1, too, and the value evens out. The important thing is that you're tipping per drink, every time, no matter what—and ideally in cash." In an interview with Business Insider, Blue Bottle Coffee founder James Freeman generally agrees: Tips shouldn't be less than $1.
Whether it's $1, 20 percent or even just the $0.75 change from your purchase, one thing is clear: Tip your barista.
Keith Flanagan is a Brooklyn-based food and travel writer—he's never met a pastry he didn't eat. Follow his every meal on Instagram at @keithflanny.
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