Talking About Tipping

Not THAT kind of tipping [Via Flickr user tracy_n_brandon]

Not THAT kind of tipping [Via Flickr user tracy_n_brandon]

Recently, Gothamist posted an article saying that you must tip a dollar on your coffee. Naturally, since we just had a big post about tipping, we had a few thoughts (what else is new) on the subject:

Victoria: Dirty lies!!

Jaya: Hahahahaha

Victoria: Also, IDK about smaller coffee places but my last investigation into the subject was that Starbucks pays at least several dollars over minimum wage and also has health insurance for employees (this might not be true, I realize!).

Jaya: Absolutely. For smaller places you may not be able to know, but Starbucks might negate that “tip to bump up hourly pay to minimum wage” thing. But yeah, it’s hard to know.

Victoria: Yeah. Well technically only actual servers in restaurants are not paid minimum wage. All coffee shops and ice cream places and whatever MUST pay at least minimum wage. Although this brings up a good point about bars- why do we tip at bars? (IDK about how bartenders are paid).

Jaya: Dunkin Donuts seems to hover around minimum wage too (I  can’t see city specific stuff). Not that minimum wage is perfect. I think bartenders are paid more like waiters at most places, like $2-3 dollars an hour and then tips.

Victoria: Yeah, I mean, certainly tip if you want! But then like, why aren’t you tipping someone who helps you find the perfect dress at Macy’s? It just seems so arbitrary, the whole tipping thing.

Jaya: Because those sales people get commission often! Like, at stores where they asked if anyone in particular helped you, that’s commission.

Victoria: Oh! right! I guess I forgot about that. But then, like, Target? Sometimes they help me a bunch. And I know fancy stores do commission. But like, your basic Macy’s?

Jaya: It really does get confusing. It becomes the consumer’s responsibility to understand the salary plans of each place they go to.

Victoria: Lol which is totally nuts. And, like, at a busy Starbucks- if everyone tipped a dollar, that’s a SERIOUSLY huge amount of money.

Jaya: But right, most of the reasoning behind tipping in this country is based on the assumption that the person serving you is making much, much lower than minimum wage. But if they are making that or above, what is the incentive? Just being nice? A recognition that minimum wage isn’t a living wage? Basically, the system’s fucked.

Victoria: Yeah, I mean, I guess the point is to reward good service. But if you are literally pouring me a coffee because I have come into a coffee shop and ordered coffee…does that REALLY deserve a tip? I mean, I get if you walk in and they start on your order right away and maybe sometimes they sneak you a free muffin. But just doing the bare minimum of your job?

Jaya: Right, I do think tipping has become detached from the idea of it being a reward. And being on your feet all day and up early and dealing with people is a tough job. But lots of people have tough jobs that don’t have the opportunity for tip jars. Jobs that also don’t pay well.  I so wish we could have a real, living wage minimum wage, and that food workers were paid it, so I didn’t have to worry that not having a dollar on me that day means they can’t make rent.

Victoria: Yeah, that’s what I hate about tipping, it’s so stressful.

Jaya: Right. Sometimes I don’t have extra cash. And I hope that my local coffee shop won’t hate me if I don’t have change on me a few times.

Victoria: And then, like at weddings, when there’s an open bar people are tipping and technically, the host should be tipping at the end of the night so the guests are always a guest and never has to open their wallet.

Jaya: No see that’s good because you slip them a $5 at the beginning of the night and all your drinks are hella strong.

Victoria:  Lol, I have really never noticed a difference. And at MY wedding (n.b. I am in no way getting married anytime soon), I won’t allow the staff to except tips because its ridiculous for my guests to be tipping them when I will also be tipping them at the end.

Jaya: Hahahaha

Victoria: Also I didn’t really see anyone doing it at your wedding. But other weddings I have.

Jaya: I didn’t even notice if there was a tip jar. But from the papers I signed, I know all the servers were paid well!

Victoria: There wasn’t! But I’ve never seen a tip jar at a wedding, I’ve only seen people hand it to the bartender. But exactly my point- you were the host and you saw to it that the people you hired were well paid for their time! As it should be. I’ve actually read that some hosts find it insulting for people to tip at weddings, because it implies that people don’t think the host is paying the staff adequately. Not that I agree that that’s what’s going on

Jaya: Oh god I’ve never even thought that hard about it. I’m just on bartender=tip autopilot.

Victoria: Lol yeah. I mean, everyone has the best intentions, I’m sure. But like, what if you had a fancy party at your house where there was a bartender and waiters and someone doing dishes? And like, why should the bartender get tips when the waiters don’t?

Jaya: We had that once! My building hosted a building-wide holiday party a few times. It was 5 units so it wasn’t nuts.

Victoria: Yeah, and wouldn’t it be weird for someone to tip someone who was working in your house?

Jaya: Definitely, because yeah, we handed them a check with a tip included.

Victoria: Yeah! Exactly.

Jaya: I mean, if someone thought they were doing that really great job, it’s not on me to PREVENT someone from tipping. Because again, I don’t think anyone would do it in an assumption that I wasn’t paying well enough. I don’t know, it’s so interesting to me that tipping remains this one thing that is so inconsistent across different job sectors, and so disagreed upon. Like, that core “just be a good person” thing about etiquette, no one can figure out what that means with tipping. I guess you can just walk into every establishment, ask what the average hourly wage is for their servers, and decide accordingly. Totally practical.

Victoria: HA. Yeah, and then corporate chains such as McDonalds don’t allow tipping even though you can be pretty sure they are paid as close to minimum wage as possible.

Jaya: Yes! And then it just devolves into this argument over who deserves it and who doesn’t and all the drama that comes with that.

Victoria: Yeah, it’s so nuts.

Jaya: When really, it just comes down to everyone deserving a living wage. And that’s on the company, not the customers. Or at least, should be.

Victoria: Totally. And to an extent, I feel some classism in it- like you will tip at the fancy coffee shop where the staff probably grew up middle class and went to college and follows the liberal arts major=barista stereotype, but you won’t tip at Dunkin Donuts/McDonalds where the workers are more likely to be immigrants or working class.

Jaya: Yesssss

Victoria: So you want to support people “like you” who are just “kids trying to get ahead.”

Jaya: And I mean, I’m sure that’s part of the bigger companies too if they don’t let you tip. So the original Gothamist article mentions Cafe Grumpy, a very good but also very chichi cafe chain where apparently STARTING pay is 50% above minimum wage.

Victoria: Yeah! And I can’t read the original NYT article but apparently the thing was that they were suggesting a $3 tip on a $4 coffee.

Jaya: Well they have one of those SquareSpace iPad readers where you just click a suggested tip button. And I agree that’s pretty presumptuous but you can type in your own, or choose not to do it.

Victoria: Ahhh. I mean, still, a lot of people feel pressured by “suggested” amounts, like that they will be a total cheapo if they go lower. *ahem* The Metropolitan Museum of Art *ahem*

Jaya: Hahahahahaha. But right, there is no way to come up with a uniform policy. If it’s based on their hourly wages, then you have to make sure you know what they are. If it’s based on service, then great, tip every single person that serves you in some way, equally.

Victoria: Omg and then never go anywhere because you are going to be broke.

Jaya: Well we solved it. How to tip: just die already.

Victoria: What IF, everyone tipped so much that service jobs became the new upper class and then everyone tried to be a service worker and then there were too many service workers and not enough people to buy stuff and the service jobs had to become minimum wage and it was an ugly cycle. That’s my new dystopian novel.

Jaya: I was just gonna say that!!!!!!!

Victoria: Also every single thing I read about tipping, it’s like half the commenters are like, “well I ALWAYS tip a minimum of 40%” and it can’t POSSIBLY be true otherwise servers wouldn’t complain so much.

Jaya: Hahahaha. It’s true! Everyone is ready to be the MOST GENEROUS.

Victoria: I also find something icky about the type of guy who tips ostentatiously. Like, just tip like a normal amount. (Not to begrudge servers and stuff).

Jaya: Right like, he heard too many stories about how women don’t like men who are mean to servers, so he swung the other direction.

Victoria: The “nice guy” of tipping.

Jaya: The more I think about it, the more tipping frustrates me. I mean literally, this is the genesis of shit like Uber and whatever. It’s systems that put all the risk on the employees and customers and not the employers.

Victoria: Hahaha yesssssss.

Jaya: And you can’t win against that. Arguing about how much to tip and social norms and generosity doesn’t change the fact that it should be the company paying a living wage and giving good benefits (or maybe the government taking care of health care).

Victoria: Totally. And then we can be like the paradise that is Europe where a tip is just a little extra.

Jaya: I’m not normally one to romanticize all things European, but this is one thing I will.

How To Handle Yourself In An 17th-Century Coffee House

Some notes about the Coffee House, a private club : together with a list of resident and non-resident members : and including the rules of the Coffee House, rule six being that there shall be no rules. New-York Historical Society

Some notes about the Coffee House, a private club : together with a list of resident and non-resident members : and including the rules of the Coffee House, rule six being that there shall be no rules. New-York Historical Society

Are you guys watching Cosmos? I just caught up, and in the episode about Newton and Halley and how humans figured out the stars, Neil DeGrasse Tyson mentions how these young intellectuals often met in coffee-houses. He describes them as places where “a poor man need not give up his seat for a rich man.”

Coffee houses first appeared in cities like Istanbul and Damascus in the 1500s, and popped up in Europe in the 17th century. In the Middle East they had become popular places for political gatherings, but also for social and business causes. In 1883 the Coffee Public-House News published that in Turkey, “Coffee is consumed by all classes at all hours and on sorts of occasions. The little berry is indeed a very factor in Turkish society. Nothing is done without it–no business discussed, no contract made, no visits and civilities exchanged without the aromatic cup, and the accompanying chiboque or narghileh. If a purchaser enters a bazaar to purchase a shawl or a carpet, coffee is brought to him. If person calls at another house, coffee with the tobacco must greet the new comer. There can be no welcome without it, and none but words and forms of general etiquette take place until this article has been served all round. At parting, coffee must still be present, and speed the guest his way.”

Similar rules soon entered English society as coffee houses gained popularity in London. Tyson was correct that one of the main draws of the coffee house was that any man could enter and sit where he like, regardless of social status–as long as he could afford the one-penny fee of entrance, which generally meant the middle class were the “worst off” in any given room. Women, however, wouldn’t be caught dead in one, and according to Public Domain Review, “The fair sex lambasted the ‘Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE’ which, as they saw it, had reduced their virile industrious men into effeminate, babbling, French layabouts.”

Hints on Etiquette and the Usages of Society: With a Glance at Bad Habits by Charles William Day notes, “On entering a coffee house and sitting down take off your hat; it is only a proper mark of respect to your own class towards whom you should pay the same deference you exact from others.”

However, this social class free-for-all worried some.  In 1674 A Brief Description of the Excellent Vertues of that Sober and Wholesome Drink, Called Coffee was published, a broadside that extolled the benefits of coffee, especially in a culture where beer was the popular drink. But the other side of the broadside was the poem The Rules And Orders of the Coffee House, which included monetary penalties for rude behavior:


Enter, sirs, freely, but first, if you please,

Peruse our civil orders, which are these.

First, gentry, tradesmen, all are welcome hither,

And may without affront sit down together:

Pre-eminence of place none here should mind,

But take the next fit seat that he can find:

Nor need any, if finer persons come,

Rise up for to assign to them his room

To limit men’s expense, we think not fair,

But let him forfeit twelve-pence that shall swear:

He that shall any quarrel here begin,

Shall give each man a dish t’ atone the sin;

And so shall he, whose compliments extend

So far to drink in coffee to his friend;

Let noise of loud disputes be quite forborne,

Nor maudlin lovers here in corners mourn,

But all be brisk, and talk, but not too much;

On sacred things, let none presume to touch,

Nor profane Scripture, nor saucily wrong

Affairs of State with an irreverent tongue:

Let mirth be innocent, and each man see

That all his jests without reflection be;

To keep the house more quiet and from blame,

We banish hence cards, dice, and every game;

Nor can allow of wagers, that exceed.

Five shillings, which ofttimes do troubles breed;

Let all that’s lost or forfeited be spent

In such good liquor as the house cloth vent,

And customers endeavour, to their powers,

For to observe still, seasonable hours.

Lastly, let each man what he calls for pay,

And so you ‘re welcome to come every day.Rulesandorders_coffeehouse

Apparently this was hung on the walls of many an English coffee house. The Printers Devil says, “It is hard to gauge exactly how seriously one is supposed to take these ‘rules’; certainly, contemporary accounts make it clear that nearly all of these were, in practice, openly flouted by the patrons of such establishments. . .There is some evidence that this may represent something of the truth of the actual social mechanisms at work in coffee houses.” Similar to how many coffee shops may say “no laptops” but people just spend the whole time doing work on their tablets. Though really, if we could ban having to overhear the awkward first date conversations in coffee shops we would in a second.