Ask The Salty Waitress: How Do I Deal With Teens Who Don't Tip?

Dear Salty, I work at a small cafe in an affluent beach town. Once it hits 4 p.m., the clientele swing heavily toward the high school/college age demographic. The cafe is a locals spot and many of these clientele come in daily. I will be polite, remember their names and orders, and provide decent table service to them, yet rarely do they leave a tip. I'm sure many do not know tipping etiquette but I don't know how to help fix the problem. Any tricks to help deal with younger clientele?

Thanks, Trouble with Teen Tips


Dear Teen Trouble,

I'm not completely one of those "kids these days!" old farts, not quite yet, but it amazes me some of the simple things young people can't do—write a check, read a map, leave tips. These are still useful skills in 2018, especially that last one. This is probably a stupid phase on the kids' part (god willing), and we can be chalk it up to teen ignorance about finances, jobs, and the real world. They're still learning the ropes when it comes to this stuff, but the sooner they do, the better. Parents, model good behavior with your kids, and maybe explain to them how the service industry works. Better yet, tell them to get a restaurant job. It made me the Salty Waitress I am today.


So, is the cafe where you work set up with a counter where customers order and then you bring the food, or is it full table-service? If it's the first, you have a few options: Make that tip jar more prominent (I recommend sequins or lit sparklers), or put up a discreet but encouraging sign ("Had a great experience? We do work for tips!"). Have you seen those coffee shops who put out two tip jars, one marked #TeamKanye and the other #TeamDrake? I've seen that tactic work pretty well.

Maybe the young'uns frankly don't realize that they should still tip on a counter-service order. Maybe your cafe would be open to switching to a POS (point of sale) system that prompts the user to leave a tip?

If it's full table-service, that's a bit thornier, because you probably shouldn't hover over them while they count out their bills. Have you talked to your manager or the cafe owner about this? I doubt you're the only server who's noticing Richie Rich's lack of tipping. If you haven't already, bring it to their attention so: A) They're aware. B) They can take the initiative to fix this and C) You don't make a move that your manager might see as overreaching.

If your manager doesn't have a solution and it's becoming a financial problem for you, could you swap shifts so you don't work as many days a week during that post-school rush? That's a pain in the ass, I know, but so is dealing with with Thurston McGuggeinheim who can't open spit three bucks out of his Louis Vuitton wallet.


A few more thoughts: Is there a line on the menu that explicitly spells out tipping is appreciated? When you bring them the check, do you write your name alongside "thank you!" with the requisite hearts? You know, emotionally guilt them?

There's one, more drastic measure, though your restaurant could face a backlash (this is definitely one for your manager/owner to handle): Do as this one Connecticut pizzeria did, and add an automatic 15-percent gratuity to school-aged customers.

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