Baristas Reveal How They Really Feel When You Don't Tip for Coffee

Should tipping be the norm, even for a cup of drip coffee, or only when you've ordered something complicated?

baristas coffee tips
Photo: © Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

With the concept of tipping under ongoing debate, the question of how much you should tip at coffee shops can be confusing. Should tipping for a drip coffee be the norm, or is that extra dollar only called for when ordering something complicated, like an extra-foam soy chai latte with sugar-free hazelnut syrup? Is dropping your 50-cent change into the tip bucket basically an insult? Do baristas get mad when you don't tip at all?

To help shed light on these common tipping questions, we spoke to a handful of current and former baristas to get their takes on tipping.

The general consensus seemed to be that while baristas almost always make a mental note of whether customers tipped or not, they are 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?'"

Some people have philosophical qualms with tipping, rooted in their feeling that wages should be high enough that tipping isn't needed to ensure a livable wage. Unfortunately, that is not the reality at most coffee shops in the United States, and many baristas rely on the extra income from tips.

However, there are some baristas — just a few — who rank among those 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 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 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, such as 25 cents, one barista told me, "Yeah, I just turn all the change into dollars. It's better than nothing."

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