The response was virtually unanimous.

By Gowri Chandra
Updated February 14, 2020
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A third of Americans don’t tip for coffee, according to a 2018 Business Insider study. While most of us agree about how much to tip for a sit-down meal—18 to 20 percent—the consensus around coffee is divided. 

When asked anonymously how much and when to tip at coffee shops, customers' responses are all over the map. The social norms and expectations are still being established, well into coffee’s third wave. We were curious: in 2020, do most people tip for drip coffee? Is it weird if you don’t? Do baristas notice? 

The answer to all of the above: an overwhelming yes. 

We surveyed baristas and customers all over the country, on various media platforms. While our respondents are arguably a self-selecting vocal majority (are you really going to shout it from the rooftops if you don’t tip?), their responses were overwhelmingly singular:

Tip on drip, please

“[I was a] barista throughout law school and can confirm y’all better tip on drip! If you can’t afford the .50 courtesy then please home brew!” 

“200% an asshole if you don't tip. When single, I only did coffee dates… and I would always watch to see if he tipped. It was the first measuring stick.” 

“I'd say definitely tip on black coffee—just as you should tip when a bartender is 'just opening a beer' or 'just pouring a glass of wine.’” 

“Used to be a barista. And yes, coffee is just as intensive to prepare as espresso drinks. So I don’t know why you wouldn’t tip.”

“I think you should always tip. I worked at second-wave coffee shops in the early 2000s making not much above minimum wage and tips were essential for my survival. That said, if you’re not going to tip, it should be on a basic drip and not a more expensive, labor-intensive drink.” 

Though some baristas say it's a little more complicated

“I do actually tip on drip coffee, but as a former barista, it would not occur to me to be mad if someone didn’t. Likewise, some people think you should tip if you buy a bottled beverage, at a coffee shop. That, to me, is dumb. At that point the barista is no more than a cashier. Do you tip a cashier? As someone who has worked in retail: no.” 

“YES to tip on black coffee ... however, my mom, who was only briefly a server and sees coffee being expensive as it is, has an impossible time believing that tipping for something like black coffee is right and that it should be the establishment's responsibility to pay their baristas or servers better so as to not have them rely on tips. While I always argue to not punish the server or the barista for that, I do see the point.” 

As a former full-time barista, I get both sides, too. To be honest, I never expected a tip when I served someone drip. But when I got one, I was deeply appreciative—perhaps more for the gesture than anything else. 

In justifying tipping, former barista and roaster Kellie Kreiss points out that drip coffee is just as labor intensive as making a latte, which most people agree merits a tip. “The thought is that even if you don't see someone make your drip coffee to order, someone still put time and a lot of love into brewing up the pot," she says, "and will have to rebrew multiple times throughout the morning to make sure it is there ready for you when you walk in the door."

Oren Peleg, also a former barista, agrees tips are mandatory, but questions this rationale. “I don’t know why the amount of labor used to prepare and serve something is the metric by which one would tip,” he says. It’s an interesting capitalist critique: why do we value something by the effort that goes into making it? Should that really the only factor in its price? And, if we’re not judging something by the amount of labor it necessitates, how should we judge it? 

For Nick Cho, co-founder of San Francisco’s Wrecking Ball Coffee, it comes down to viewing tipping as a social mandate, not a personal preference—even if this exists for admittedly problematic reasons. “If you feel entitled to have your own personal rules that suit you and you feel entitled to either disregard or disavow the existence of a tipping culture, then you’re gonna do your own damn thing,” he says. 

Even if we collectively agree on this social norm, however, how much to tip on coffee is still a wild west. Per Business Insider, 18 percent of coffee shop tippers don’t have a default tip amount, and just leave leftover change. About a fifth of people tip 10 to 15 percent. $1 on drip coffee, it seems, is a roundly good tip. But if you only have leftover change, is that like, offensive? Most baristas said no, it’s fine. 

“It’s weird that people so often have their own rules for tipping,” Cho says, “but also weird that we rely on generally unwritten rules for this stuff. Having your own tipping rules is so American, but tipping itself is so American.”