I went to the local deli to get lunch the other day. I made myself a salad from the salad bar, selecting the medium size plastic container, carefully choosing which items to add to the container (potato salad, yes; beets, no), and snapping the top in place. I took the filled container to the check out. The cashier, who is also the owner, put my plastic container in a plastic bag, added a plastic knife and fork and a napkin, took my five dollar bill and gave me 36 cents change. With 36 cents in my hand I now had a decision to make. Should I drop the change in the jar on the counter labeled ‘Tips’ with some scrolls and curlicues? Should I add additional coins to make the tip 10 or 15 percent? Should I skip the tip and put the coins in my pocket? It might be considerate or polite to tip, but what had the cashier, the owner, or the deli done to deserve a tip? Isn’t a tip supposed to be for service received? Does that include accepting payment for a salad you assembled yourself? Or is the tip supposed to show your appreciation for the quality of the components of the salad bar? Or the positive attitude of the staff and owners? Shouldn’t those things be included in the price of the items offered for sale by the deli? Maybe a tip is only appropriate if the staff makes a sandwich for you. Many questions.
The next day I found myself at Starbucks, buying a ‘Grande’ for $1.94. There, right by the register, was the Tip jar. $1.94 is pretty expensive for a cup of coffee, yet I was being asked, gently, to contribute an additional sum in the form of a tip. And I couldn’t just put the 6 cents change in the tip jar – too cheap; I would have had to come up with more change from my pocket. True, the tips are to benefit the hard working staff, many of whom are short on income and trying to build lives for themselves. But why should I be asked to subsidize the wages of folks working for a corporation making millions of dollars ($672,638,000 net income in 2007). If the tip is for service, what service did I get? Having someone fill up a paper cup with coffee so I could buy it, and then add my own milk, sugar, and top? Maybe a better tip would be to write to Starbucks suggesting the company pay a higher wage and get rid of the tip jars.
The most popular local coffee shop in town is a gold mine. People lined up all day for coffee and drinks, pastry, and sandwiches. The owner has good business sense and must be making a ton of money, probably doing better financially than many of the customers. Yet many of those customers are dropping money into the tip jar. I suppose that could be considered a sort of sliding scale pricing. You can increase the price you pay for your coffee or pastry if you feel you can afford to, or just pay the minimum if you feel the need to be more frugal. But I think even the limited income people – perhaps especially those folks because many of them may have been on the other side of the counter – feel they should contribute to the tips.
I went to the local ‘gourmet’ ice cream shop. Sure enough, there was the tip jar right next to the register. The next time I went to the same shop there was a line doubling around the counter and out the door. Too long a wait, so I went to the ice cream chain up the street. Quicker service, less pretension, lower prices, ice cream just as good, and no tip jar.
Why not tips at the Stop and Shop supermarket checkout? Those people do a lot of work for the purchaser, ringing up and bagging the groceries.