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Tipping for counter service?

  • s

The heated exchanges on the tipping thread of a few days ago reminded me of something that's been bothering me. I have noticed in places with a counter and a cash register and self-service, there is almost always a can by the register with the word "tips" on it.

I'm talking about establishments like sandwich shops, burrito counters, coffee houses and other places where they stay on their side of the counter and you stay on yours, and you bus your own purchases over to your table or out to your car.

Is tipping proper and approriate there? Or are these shops just being cheeky and trying to engineer a cultural shift or promote a false assumption that would extract more money from the customers?

Waddya say?

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  1. are these employees at these places paid an adjusted "tipped" wage (i.e., lower, like waitstaff), or are they paid a normal wage? I seem to think it's the latter (but I don't have any authority on that issue - maybe a chowhound can fill us in), so the tip jar in this context bothers me, too.

    3 Replies
    1. re: sc

      Under federal law, employees who regularly recieve over $30 per month in tips can be paid less than minimum wage. However, some states (such as California) have more stringent requirements and require tipped employees to be paid the minimum wage.

      I assume that most employees that get paid out of a tip cup, don't come anywhere near the $30 per month. Even if they do, remember, the federal minimum wage is only $5.15 per hour.

      1. re: sc

        I can tell you that I worked at a small family-owned restaurant in college. We had like ten seats and served people at the counter as well. Two of us worked at a time on lunch shifts and we cooked the food, served customers, and kept the place clean, all while keeping up a running dialogue with regular and new customers alike.

        I was paid $6 an hour and we had a tip jar. I can tell you that I appreciated the tips when we got them. Just $10-15 in the tip jar over the entire length of a lunch or evening shift made a real difference to me and the other college kids that worked there.

        Is there something wrong with that? Would you have been offended by the mere presence of a tip jar?

        1. re: TexasHusky

          I think this post may confuse two situations: tips for those who simply hand you food to take to a table and eat, and those who serve you at a counter. I don't think anyone would maintain that the counter server should not be tipped the same as a table server. Am I missing something?

      2. I'm not bothered by them by virtue of the fact that I usually develop a personal relationship with those on the otherside of the counter. Specifically, there is a coffeehouse I frequent and all the counterhelp there are working their way through college. They make minimum wage and because I have a relationship with them, they now know how I like my lattes (lukewarm) and how I like my ice-blended (with an extra shot of espresso). I don't have to tell them anymore and that, to me, is worth the tip -- and the feeling of good will that I am helping those trying to help themselves by getting a good education.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Renee

          I'm with you. Tipping for counter service is both proper and appropriate. I used to work at an espresso bar with a tip cup. We never "expected" customers to tip but were always greatful when they did, and at a minimum wage job, every little bit helped. We prided ourselves on giving good service and remembering regulars' specialties.

          As a barista, I felt I was doing the same job as a bartender, but people seemed much less willing to tip us. Why? Moreover, counter burrito makers surely make less than waiters at fancy restaurants, yet people seem to scoff at the idea of throwing a bone into the tip cup. I don't get it.

          In general, I think tipping at all of these counter- service establishments is a good thing. It's a rather painless way to recognize good service and do something little to make up for the shockingly low wages in the country.

          1. re: SKU

            Occasionally counter service includes more complex service than pouring a coffee and collecting the money - for example when I get a grilled cheese at Borders, the server makes it as well as collects the money. Tip? No problem.

            But why should someone who serves take-out coffee (at Starbucks prices, no less) get a tip when the lady behind the bakery counter who carefully packs my pastries in a box does not? What about the fish counter where they even clean the fish? The butcher? Or the server at the hardware store?

            All these people should be PROPERLY paid by the store owners. I understand why we need minimum wage, but it's outrageous that it has become a standsard wage.

            1. re: SKU

              Exactly what service does a barista offer? On a good day, they mix the drink correctly and hand it to you without spilling it. You're even on your own to add the to-go lid.

          2. I do not think that people should be expected to tip for counter service. In addition, the can is usually a dirty paper cup. It belongs in the trash, not on the counter of a place serving food.

            1. I walk in to a store, walk up to the counter, place my order, get handed my order, and I pay. Then I walk over to a table, consume my order, bus my table and leave. What service did that counter person perform?Am I going to leave a tip - NO WAY.

              I don't care if that counter person is working their way through college, supporting their sick grandmother or their six fatherless/motherless children. If they need a greater income, then go find a second job, or find a better job. Where I work we are constantly hiring students for part time work and we pay well above minimum wage.

              When in restaurants that I regularly frequent, and where I am being WAITED on, and usually taken care of
              by a bus person, I always tip 20%, and more if the service has been extraordinary.

              What is next, we should tip the cashier at the supermarket, after we have unloaded the groceries from the cart for the cashier? There was a time where you could go in to a store and hand the person behind the counter a list, and they would glady go and fetch everything on the list, ring it up, and carry it out for you. Somehow we seem to have lost some of the humanity with all of the "progress" and "technology" of these times.

              14 Replies
              1. re: Chino Wayne

                You mean like WebVan used to do? How I miss them!

                1. re: Karolyn

                  Troll the Internet for an equivalent service as Webvan. I loved the Webvan service. In my area
                  (Chino, CA) a company called whyrunout.com provides a similar service. whyrunout does not own a warehouse like Webvan, they just run a web site and delivery service. I go to their web site and order groceries from a local supermarket chain. Whyrunout sends their delivery van driver to a specific supermarket in that chain that is relativly close to my area where they have someone who fills my order and their other customers' orders. Then the whyrunout driver brings the groceries to my house, and in to the kitchen like Webvan used to. I can pay the driver by check or credit card. Whyrunout charges me a 9.99 delivery fee, for any size order. I get the same delivery driver every week, which is an improvement over Webvan, so I can develop a relationship with him and he will do some extra things for me to make sure my order is filled correctly at the supermarket. Whyrunout's web site also has an area where you can ask them to provide this service with other local businesses (the implication being they would do the drug store for you, or maybe the local pet emporium, or maybe even the dry cleaning). I found this service by trolling supermarket chain web sites, there was a link from the chain site to whyrunout.

                  I also troll the supermarket web sites periodically. The big chains in my area are Ralph's, Albertson's, Von's and Stater Brothers. I am buying from Stater Brothers through whyrunout.com, but have visited the Albertson's web site and learned they are offering this service currently in Seattle. I have registered my email address with them, so that if they expand in to southern California they will let me know.

                2. re: Chino Wayne

                  What service did they perform? They took your order and served you your food, albeit at the counter. Perhaps they are even sometimes polite and pleasant about it?

                  Perhaps there has been some humanity lost on both sides of the counter?

                  1. re: annieb

                    So all those years when I was in high school and worked behind the counter in the drug store I should have expected a tip from the customers who I would hand their medicine to and take their money?

                    I agree there some of the humanity is gone from both sides of the counter. But basic human kindness, having a pleasant exchange with another person can occur without a gratuity changing hands every time.

                    By custom there is a time and a place in our society for tipping, which I understand, and leverage. But it is way out of line for some person behind a counter doing nothing more than the job they are paid to do, to EXPECT a gratuity from anyone. What next, I should tip the person sitting on their duff in the mini-mart when I come in to buy something? Should I tip the person behind the counter at the dry cleaners after we exchange money and clean clothes? Should I tip the librarian when he/she checks me out because librarians are not paid enough? Should our kids tip the crossing guard each time they are escorted across the street?

                    I can, and will give a gratuity to someone, who may be in an other than traditional vocation where gratuities are given, but not simply because they expect it and have let me know, buy putting out some labled recepticle, or are goveling for it, but because I feel they have or will perform a service for me that is "beyond the call of duty" or may yield me a better result. An unexpected grautuity at the appropriazte time can result in very pleasant leverage, and provide long term benefits. But don't even think about any form of coercion of a tip having anything other than a negative result from me.

                    1. re: Chino Wayne

                      So I take it you don't tip bartenders, who do relatively little work for their tips, compared to any number of counter workers who prepare sandwiches, smoothies, etc.

                      1. re: Eric Eto

                        Read it again, I have not ruled out anyone to receive a tip, and I said I do tip for traditional services, which includes bartenders, etc. I resent it, however, when the "tip jar" or the "waiting hand" are shoved in my face.

                        1. re: Chino Wayne

                          Tip jars are magnets for middle class guilt. I'm amazed by the passion this subject provokes online and in real life.

                          I'm neutral about tip jars. I don't feel obliged to tip counterstaff because, unlike servers, their projected tips aren't factored into their wages or their taxes. Minimum wage for servers is way below other workers because legislators assume that the servers are getting tips on top of their salaries. If a customer fails to tip, the servers wages are still taxed as if she'd been tipped, so she's effectively fined.

                          That being said, why not leave a little change for the counterstaff if there's a convenient way to do so? I know a lot of people who bitch about accumulating small change in their pockets and purses. If you're one of those people, why not throw the change from your latte into the tip jar? It means nothing to you, but a few cents here and a few cents there can add up to a nice perk for someone who's just scraping by.

                          Customers who complain bitterly about counterstaff who expect to be tipped are projecting. I worked at a Starbucks with a tip jar. Believe me, we had more pressing things to attend to than keeping track of who tipped and who didn't.

                          1. re: Lindsay B.

                            Now don't even get me started on rip-off coffee boutiques...

                    2. re: annieb

                      "they took your order and served you your food, albeit at the counter. Perhaps they are even sometimes polite and pleasent about it?"

                      oh, you mean THEIR JOB? seriously...........I do my job everyday, with a nice demeanor when interacting with clients, and I dont have a tip cup hot glued to the side of my work truck!....but now that I think about it......?

                      1. re: nkeane

                        Wait a minute nkeane, you mean people are actually supposed to do their job well for the hourly rate they signed up for??! Here I thought people should only do their job well if they were tipped to do so!

                        1. re: Rick

                          This is the problem with being expected to tip up front at the counter: It is backwards. I don't know what kind of service I'll get until I am done, not at the beginning of the experience.

                    3. re: Chino Wayne

                      One of the supermarkets I go to has a tip jar for whoever packs your bags (if they're around) and it mostly really annoys me, because it's placed really obviously. And I like to pack my own groceries anyway! I usually leave a tip but like I said, I'm not happy about it in any way. I;m always glad when they are off in a corner gossiping while I come through.

                      1. re: coll

                        So if you pack your own bags and hate the tip jar, why do you put money in it?!

                        1. re: Rick

                          I know, I ask myself every time. The people that work there look really poor, not even sure if they're legal, it's sort of pathetic. And the thing is, I go there because the prices are so low!

                    4. Frankly, i'm a tippin' fool. If there was a cup for the supermarket cashier to get a little something extra, i'd leave my pennies there. If you've worked enough low-wage jobs, you tend to want to even it out somewhat.

                      1. Of those with the opinion of not to tip, there seems to be a lot of association with bus persons. If you bus your table, no reason to tip? Eat a lot out of styrofoam? Do you imagine some goat that comes out to clean up after your bagel crumbs, and sweet-n-low wrappers on the floor? Keep in mind that service happens behind the counter as well. Why would a bartender rightly deserve a dollar for a draft beer, where 25 cents is unfathonable for someone making you a cappuccino? For those of you disghusted with the filthy paper tip cup, why don't you suggest a clean one, then smile and say thank you? That would be worth more than a quarter.

                        1. I don't normally tip for counter service, except at places I frequently frequent (not just frequent, it has to be frequently!). There was a Starbucks in Mexico that basically adopted my roommate and I (free wireless internet, good lighting and a quite enough atmosphere to get our marking and lesson planning done). They knew us by name, we knew them by name, they always knew exactly what we wanted, they would help us with our Spanish, etc. Once a month or so I would toss a hundred-peso (ten dollar-ish) bill into their tip jar when they weren't looking. They probably knew it was me though. I hoped their other customers would see the big bill and tip them more. Same at the bubble tea place in the lobby of my current apartment building. They haven't exactly adopted me, but we're on friendly terms and they don't have to ask my order. They make recommendations every now and then and give me lots of samples. I throw in five bucks every couple of weeks; again, I try to do it when nobody is looking.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Jetgirly

                            Jetgirly, doesn't doing it when nobody is looking kind of defeat the purpose of tipping at a regular place? You want them to know you're a tipper and appreciate the little extras they do for, and therefor hope you continue to get those extras.

                            1. re: Rick

                              It's exactly the opposite for me. I do it because I appreciate the service they give to me regardless of what I tip or not, and I feel uncomfortable placing a dollar value on my gratitude. I'm not trying to buy their good service, I am trying to reward it. Anonymously.

                          2. my teen works at a fine arts movie theater and I can say NOW I will always tip at the counter. The 11.00 USD she earned last night helped her immensely. It's huge for some. What's .50 cents or a buck if they served you well.

                            1. I think it's important to distinguish what the OP meant by "counter service." IMO that means like when you go to a diner and sit at the counter. But I think what the OP meant was a place like starbucks or maybe a Chipotle where there is no table service, you order your food at a counter, pick it up and bring it to a table and eat it, throw out your own trash, etc.

                              There's a difference between bartenders and waiters vs. these counter-service people, people at the drug store, and people in all other types of service jobs. They are all paid at least minimum wage, whereas bartenders and waiters are not, and are expected to make up the remainder of their wage via tips. Thus, they deserve and get my tips. Nobody else does. The girl at the drugstore who fills my prescription or fetches me something from behind the counter or the guy at the gas station who rings up my gas and gives me a lottery ticket gives me "counter service" but I don't tip them because they all get at least min. wage, why would I tip the person at Starbucks? Just because they are asking for it?

                              I agree min. wage is a SUCKY wage but instead of throwing away my money, I write letters to my senators and congresspeople and support people like Ted Kennedy who have been introducing bills each year to raise the minimum wage. In other words, I work for change, I don't give it away.

                              1. I see tip cups as akin to panhandling.

                                1. I don't tip counter help, take out, etc. unless they do something beyond the usual.

                                  1. I say, everyone has to make a living.
                                    I don't put directly into the jar but give whoever's serving me behind the counter an appropriate 'tip'.
                                    I also, when possible, give the person cooking my food an additional tip.
                                    I also tip the person at the counter for takeout. They're usually shocked when I do it so it makes me believe very few people do.
                                    Anyone who's worked in the food industry knows how much tips mean to their income.

                                    1. I remember reading this back in 2002 and was pretty much middle of the road on the issue. Yes, if it warranted a tip i.e. a counter person went the extra mile or had more duties than the average cashier. However, with the economy the way it is I tip when I can from mom-pop to large chains stores/restaurants. You don't know when these places may close and employees will be laid off, if my pocket change can help a little I am more than happy to show my appreciation for the service they provide. I'd like to add that my job is to serve the public but I don't get the benefit from tips.

                                      1. My tipping philosophy has changed radically in recent years. When we decided to give tax cuts to the wealthy and not mandate a living wage, I did a 180. I now tip whoever I can, whenever I can, and generously, too. It's my own attempt at wealth redistribution. I believe that if you're fortunate enough not to sweat the small stuff, you should make nice and share.