Ask The Salty Waitress: Should I Tip My Barista For A Cup Of Coffee?

Dear Salty, there's a coffeeshop between my train stop and my office, and I get a black coffee there most mornings. I pay with my debit card, and the shop has a screen where I can choose the tip amount. I'm not getting a fancy latte or any food, so do I still have to tip on my $2 coffee? The lowest tip amount is a dollar, which is a 50 percent tip but seems cheap at the same time.

Thanks,Caffeinated In Chicago


Dear Caffeinated,

I've never worked in a straight-up coffeeshop, so I asked some of my friends who have. I should preface this by saying that, in general, I'm going to suggest you tip food-service folks if you're able to. It's the sort of "are you going to miss that $1 very much?" argument: If you can spare it and not give it another thought, then what's the harm?

But alright, here's what my barista friends said: Overall, yes, they'd really appreciate a tip, even if it's just a dollar or even less. One friend told me that she has several regulars who tip just a dollar each time they come in, but that can add up to around $30 for her at the end of her morning shift. Another friend points out that people who order expensive, fussy lattes should be extra inclined to tip: "Making a complicated latte can take as long as making a cocktail, and you wouldn't not tip your cocktail bartender," he said. (He does note, though, that most bartenders don't make a standard minimum wage, while he does get minimum wage at his coffee shop.) No one I talked to said it's over-the-top rude not to tip on a cup of coffee—in fact, if we're to believe the results of this unscientific poll, only 30 percent of people regularly tip on coffee. But guys, doing so is very appreciated. It's one of those "sure, you don't have to" moments, but it's good form to leave a dollar.


You said you pay by card, but what about the people who pay in cash? "If paying cash, just tipping the change is good, too, but with a Square card reader a 25-percent tip is usually only around 50 cents or so on a cup," my friend says. So if your coffee is $2.25 and you have $3 in cash, just slide the 75 cents in the tip jar. Money is money, and the 75 cents is better than nothing. (My friend does a Coinstar run every month for this exact reason.) Bottom line: If you can afford to tip, do it, even if it's a buck.