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Should tipping for a two-dollar drip coffee be the norm, or is that extra dollar only called for when you’ve ordered something complicated?

Maria Yagoda
April 06, 2017

At a time when the very idea of tipping has been brought into question, the debate surrounding how much you should tip at coffee shops remains confusing. Should tipping for a two-dollar drip coffee be the norm, or is that extra dollar only called for when you’ve ordered something complicated, like an extra-foam soy chai latte with sugar-free hazelnut syrup? The questions don’t stop there. Is dropping your fifty-cent change into the tip bucket basically an insult? And: Are baristas mad when you don’t tip at all?

We spoke to a handful of current and former baristas about how they feel about tipping—and whether they notice when you don’t tip. (They do.)

The general consensus seemed to be that while baristas almost always make a mental note of whether you tipped or didn’t, they’re only really bothered by a lack of tip when the order is complicated, and they had to go above and beyond.

“I always notice,” a barista in an East Williamsburg café told me. “I’m not usually irritated unless the order is really big, like five or six drinks, and the person doesn’t tip me anything. I just put all this effort into this with this huge line of people, and there was nothing extra that I got out of it.”

She added that tips are appreciated for small orders, too.

“If someone gets just a small coffee, I definitely still notice when they don’t tip,” she said. “When people tip I’ll go out of my way to do stuff for them. There are some regulars who never tip, and I’m just like, ‘Why?’”

Many people have philosophical qualms with tipping, rooted in their feeling that wages should be high enough that tipping isn’t needed to ensure the employee is making a livable wage.  Unfortunately, that’s not the reality at most coffee shops.  

“I would much prefer everybody get a raise and do it the way the Europeans do and include it in the price,” Helaine Olen, a personal finance blogger, told The New York Times in 2015. “But we don’t live that way.”

There are some baristas—just a few—who rank among those philosophically opposed to the practice of tipping. Joseph Richards, who worked in a coffee shop for a year, said he doesn’t think people should ever tip for coffee.

“I don't like the needy, almost passive-aggressive tip jar on the counter with a cutesy saying trying to trick me into tipping ‘pizza money’ or telling me that ‘every time you tip, an angel gets its wings,’” he said.

Another former barista, Alicia Kennedy, said that she developed a fondness for the customers who tipped, but didn’t really hold it against them if they didn’t, unless she “already hated them for an unrelated reason.” She also added that her tips were a huge financial help for her during college, which is why she always makes sure to tip for coffee now.

As for whether there’s any amount that would be insulting, like 25 cents, one barista told me, “Yeah, I just turn all the change into dollars. It’s better than nothing.”