~ I've got 20 dollars in my pocket. Now, what the hell do I tip? ~
As a company one of the things we are the most proud of is our tipping. We all home office, and work remotely these days, so giving a little extra back to the industry is well worth it. We are advocates of the baristas and bartenders hustling behind the bar, so it only makes sense that we give extra when we can.
A big part of the overall beverage experience is the service and hospitality, and as a consumer we are taught that our tip needs to reflect that experience. Here's insight on how tipping started, some confusing situations, and feedback from successful friends in the business.
There's no firm documented origin for tipping, but the most common answer is that it started in England with lodging in the 1600s. This reaction to provide more than what was asked for an overnight stay due to the extra care carried over into London's popular coffee shops, and other food and beverage establishments.
American's picked up this ritual as they started traveling (back for some) to Europe soon after the Civil War. It was considered an aristocratic act to show off one's financial security. I guess some vain can lead to good things, huh?
In the late 1800s there was a movement against tipping in the United States. State government got involved, too. A couple of decades later in 1916, William Scott's book, The Itching Palm, came out dissecting tipping habits in the country.
What's in a name: Tipping is said to come from the phrase "to insure promptitude", and T.I.P. for short.
A few innovative tip jars found on a Spurge article.
Even though Sadie and I might visit a total of 50 plus drinking establishments a month we still run into a few new, or uncomfortable situations. For me personally I hate figuring out what to tip a barista or bartender if I order a drink for there, and also either a bag of beans, or beer to-go. Do I tip on that to-go item that I'm consuming at home, and if so how much? I turned to some of our industry friends for their take on tipping.
Expert advice: We work with Boston Stoker on the Columbus Caffeine Crawl, and are fans of their coffee and business. They have a long history for a company in specialty coffee, so I reached out to President, Henry Dean, on their tipping philosophy and history.
Henry tells me that, "Boston Stoker started in 1973 as a tobacco shop. We didn't allow employees to solicit tips until just a few years ago. This started with my father, Don Dean. When the company really turned into a full fledge coffee company in the 90s, the economy was booming. He had the new coffee bars rolling strong and his cigar humidor packed with many different brands of cigars. His employees didn't really need to solicit tips because he was able to pay a decent wage above minimum wage."
He goes on to say they were big supporters of Coffee Kids (no longer a running charity), and used a change jar for that purpose. Customers provided generous amounts of money for this charity ranging in the $10k-$15k range a year, and over 100k total. Very impressive! This took place over tips.
All that changed in 2008 when we all felt pressure from the struggling economy. Boston Stoker was in a place like many service industry businesses where they needed extra dedication from their staff, but money was tight. Henry says, I knew that I couldn't give my baristas raises and so I allowed for the first time in over 35 years for our baristas to solicit tips. I wish that I was able to pay well above minimum wage in order so our customers wouldn't have to tip, but the fact is, this is the economy that we live in today." Love this openness and honesty, and certainly something to think about as a company evolves through the years.
Left: Impressive latte art at Boston Stoker. Right: A peek at the new add-on at Bier Station.
I frequent KC's Bier Station often, and wondered what owner, John Couture's take was on to give, or not to give. John says, "Tipping is such a different kind of beast here. When we opened, we tried to get our credit card receipts to only print out tip lines on tabs for beer and food consumed here, but it was impossible to do with such a blended concept, considering some people eat/drink here, then get beer to go." Their POS system could only offer the option for a tip line, or no tip line at all, so they were handcuffed on giving customers that option based on purchase. He adds, "We have such generous customers and we never want them to feel obligated to tip more than what is fair. I think a general rule of thumb is that our staff absolutely doesn't expect to be tipped on beer to-go. I mean, they sure won't turn it down if customers are generous enough to tip on to-go beer, but it's not an expectation at all."
Both John and Henry have great teams working for them. Henry shares based on his knowledge of the origin of tipping that if tipping was originally created to get faster service, and "now it has become the norm, and just part of people's wages. This is wrong in my opinion and needs to change." It seems like replacing tips in favor of higher hourly pay is preferred. John wants customers to know to "tip however you feel, but it's totally fine to only tip what you feel appropriate on services you enjoyed here vs. to-go." Adding that, "If you need to, before you check out, you can always ask to have your receipt printed out so you can see how much you spent on here vs. to-go, and tip accordingly."
This is still a tough one, and each bar, coffee shop, and restaurant might be slightly different. Personally for us coming from the consumer angle we tipping is our connection of appreciation without knowing the back story. As long as we aren't caught in those awkward George Constanza moments, and it has happened. A big thanks to Henry and John for sharing their views.