Tips About Tip Jars


Photo courtesy Bottoms Up Restaurant & Bar Supply -

        On Saturday, we went into a restaurant. Someone put our order in. This person put napkins and flatware on our table. He brought our food and filled my glass with ice tea. He even made my payment at the register. So does the restaurant staff deserve a tip?


          Why? Let me reframe the way I presented the above story. Cheryl (The Consumer Gal) and I walked into a restaurant and approached the cashier. We perused the menu and made our dining selections. We told the cashier what we wanted, he  rang up the bill, and we paid him. He handed us our beverage tumblers and a pager. We went to the condiment/flatware station and loaded up on napkins, condiments and flatware. Then we headed for the beverage station and filled our tumblers with ice and drinks. When the pager went off, we headed to the pickup area and retrieved our tray full of food and carried it back to our table. When we wanted drink refills, we fetched them for ourselves. In other words, The Consumer Gal and I were the “someone” in the original version of this story.

            Now, here’s the question: Why is there a tip jar near the register? A tip jar! There are all kinds of stories about the derivation of the word “tip” or “tips,” but its purpose is clear. You reward an otherwise (usually) underpaid service provider for giving you good or better service. An earned tip, therefore, requires an essential element: personal service. Cashiers have never been part of the tip gestalt.

            Before I go into the second tip jar issue, I’ll create another scenario, one that most people have been through many times. You stand in line at a coffee establishment. You order your jumbo double-shot, cocoa-raspberry, Ethiopian, fair-trade espresso with whipped cream. While paying your $5.25, you notice the tip jar. “What the heck,” you think, “the person making my drink deserves some reward.” So you plop your 75 cents change into the jar. Ten minutes later you get your coffee, only to discover you are sipping a Sumatran, decaf, cinnamon macchiato. Damn! Back to the cashier. Re-order. Another 10 minutes lost and wishing you could fish that tip out of the jar.

            So what did you do wrong? You tipped for a service before you actually received it. Tips are for after service people have carried out their duties . . . and did a good job of it.

            Let’s sum this up with a few tips on tips. As savvy consumers we need to put a stop to this. First, no tipping for non-service. Cashiers do not get tips. If there’s a busboy, busgirl, or bus-hermaphrodite who cleans up and/or refills your water glass, leave a buck or two on the table.

            Second, never, ever, ever leave a tip in advance. If you are satisfied with your order and service, go back to the tip jar before you leave.

            Let’s not reinforce cheap employers or service people who have no incentive to earn that reward.