Thursday, May 17, 2012

The height of philanthropy

-There was a girl in my high school class whose stomach really did go in, or at least not poke out, even when she sat down. Perfect skin and hair, gorgeous in a feline, Olivia Wilde kind of way. It was what it was. Which is why I'm still not at all on board with the choice of anti-Photoshop as an all of a sudden central feminist cause. If anything, the knowledge that there's such a thing as retouching allows those of us who don't live in a fashion capital (she says, reporting from the Princeton Public Library) to imagine that it's all totally fake, that we too are a mouse click away from perfection, although there's presumably that girl at every large-enough high school. More artifice, I say! And show your daughter pictures of Liz Lemon's two paramours, the guy from SNL and the one from Mad Men, alongside their real-life girlfriends. You just never know.

-Finally! A bit of recognition that the individual meals consumed by upper-echelon yuppies are not what will make or break the national or global food system. The sooner we get past the idea that a $150-for-two meal at an agriculturally-themed restaurant is the height of philanthropy, the better.

-Speaking of the height of philanthropy, and in keeping with this post's theme of "persistent motifs," I genuinely wish to know whether it is now a thing that one must tip a dollar in coffee shops as one would at a bar. Is this about whether you get a complicated drink/get it to stay? Is only for complicated drinks? Never? Social norms change, and if this is now one, I'll maybe get coffee out less (which is to say, once a month rather than every two weeks), but won't leave without paying, which is effectively what it is to get a beer and pay for the beer but not leave that extra buck. Today, I splurged on foam, to-go, and tipped the change plus a quarter, so 35 cents, and got a how-dare-you look from the guy ringing me up, same as if I'd left nothing at all. Now, if this is a matter of caring whether people who work in coffee shops like me, I'm not concerned. But I want to have paid in full. And because no one I know actually tips a dollar at coffee bars, while plenty of people I see in coffee bars do just that (perhaps plants by the establishment???), I must turn this all-important question over to the WWPD readership.


J.L. Wall said...

I DO sometimes tip a dollar at coffee shops, and on non-sugarcoated drinks. But the reason for this is that I only put anything in once every three or four times I go (so I only really tip when I'm in desperate need of a change of scenery in the last week or two of the term, or when the departmental kitchen RUNS OUT OF COFFEE). And THIS is because while I'm an adherent to the tip-the-change policy in theory, I need the quarters for laundry. This probably makes me a bit of an asshole (at least from the perspective of the people whose shifts get no tips from me). So perhaps it's just that most people think like me, and this causes those who don't need quarters for laundry to feel cheap?

Phoebe said...

J.L. Wall,

The need-for-quarters issue could be it where I live - parking is metered. Which I forget, having arrived in town by bike. So maybe it really is a dollar being handed over ever few times? Which makes sense, too, in terms of being liked by the barista, if that's the concern. No tip at all suggests you just don't know that tipping there is a thing, whereas a dollar is always appreciated. In a busy place with a big staff, this would probably be the way to go.

PG said...

I thought the idea that you were leaving without paying, if you fail to tip, was only true in establishments where servers are paid less than minimum wage on the assumption that their tips will more than make up the difference. So the idea of plants by the shop owner isn't totally silly if in fact the owner is hoping to underpay workers by establishing a norm of tipping.

There's also just the plain bribery aspect of wanting to ensure good service in the future from a particular person, which is why I'll tip even at minimum+ wage paying establishments if I want to ensure that the masseur/ haircutter/ etc. gives me particularly good service in the future. But at a coffee shop, how much service is really happening? It's not even in the same ballpark as spending an hour putting your hands on someone's hair or body. And any waxer who does Brazilians should be both well-paid and well-tipped.

Phoebe said...


Before getting to the rest, what's your answer to the question? Has this become a norm, in your experience?

The minimum-wage rule perhaps ought to be how it goes, but it isn't. As I learned from another commenter here, in parts of the U.S. where waitstaff make at least min. wage, they still get tips at the usual American rate, which is to say not an extra coin or so as might be the case in Europe. And I can't say I know what hairdressers or taxi drivers make, but I tip 20% in both circumstances because that's the established norm, and take that into account when deciding just how rarely to partake of either. So if - via coercion on the part of baristas or less explicit factors - the dollar tip at coffee shops becomes a norm, I'm prepared to participate, and to get less coffee on the outside. But if this is just something people do if they make 20x what a barista does, or wish to give that impression, or are flirting, I have no particular desire to redistribute my paltry income in this particular way.

Re: Brazilians, I see your point, but I'd like to see a move towards no tipping at all. So I agree with "well-paid," but would rather see tipping left out of it. In our current system, however, tip away.

jim said...

Social norms are local. What's de rigeur in Manhattan may be optional in Princeton and unheard of in Columbus.

That said.

Tipping, I think, doesn't have anything to do with minimum wage. It has to do with fictive social relationships. "I'm Rachel and I'll be YOUR server tonight." "Your" is the operative word. You have a relationship with your hairdresser. She's not just a cog in a machine that serves you. Your cabbie is devoted to your service while he's acting as your chauffeur. You tip people with whom you have a relationship, even if that relationship is temporary and fictive.

So the question is whether the barista who makes your latte is your barista or simply a cog in the machine which produces the latte you prefer. If she's a cog, then she's no different from the deliman who makes your roast beef sandwich, and you don't tip. If, on the other hand, she's your barista, who makes the concoction specially for you, then you and she are in a relationship, and you tip.

If you tip, then too small a tip is an insult. Better to deny the relationship than to belittle it.

Phoebe said...


I don't know where you live (Columbus?), but I'd like answers! From you and the other five people reading this. Is a dollar tip the norm where you live? I'm genuinely not sure what constitutes a small tip in the coffee-shop universe. A penny, yes. But a coffee that's $2 - a 50% tip seems high, but anything less is change.

In terms of "your," maybe? But a teacher - a tutor, esp. - is yours. I'm not clear on why a sandwich-maker isn't, if the sandwich was made just for you - thus tip jars in takeout food establishments? But this is suggesting that it's up to the individual, if you want to feel a connection to the barista or you don't. It would seem that there's an objective answer, and an objectively correct tip, or range, or that you're not actually supposed to tip at all.

Britta said...

As your cheep and crotchety reader, I thought I'd weigh in. I usually just get drip coffee from a campus coffee shop, for which I have to 1) get the cup and 2) fill it myself. I don't tip at all, because I do all the work (the cashier just takes the money). I might tip the extra change if I were to get a latte, but I wouldn't tip a dollar. I never tip at all at most of the campus coffee shops, because the students who work there are little hipster shits who can't be bothered to do their job to even an adequate level and basically work as a way to flirt and showcase their music tastes. At one place that employs grad students who have a modicum of professionalism (or at the other place where the undergrads seem to understand what working in customer service means), I tip every once and awhile and usually if I get a more complicated drink, but never up to a dollar. Of course, I don't care what some snotty undergrad thinks of me, and since they never do a good job, it's not like tipping = better service, so I save my change.

Britta said..., not cheep. (never comment after beers, apparently).

PG said...

I don't really drink coffee and the coffee-drinkers whom I accompany are Starbucks types. At least at Starbucks in NYC, Houston, and the metro Philly area, there doesn't seem to be much expectation of tipping -- I've never noticed any dirty looks for failing to do so.

I've become a quasi-regular at a self-styled "coffee shop," that's about as hipster diner as this area can manage. But as I'm usually there alone and ordering food, I tend to tip generously ($3-4 for a $10 lunch) because they're probably getting sub-minimum wage and I don't want them to give me crap service despite my table of one's small tab. Sometimes I get the 2 pancakes with potato hash and bacon, which is less than $7, and I don't think the server should suffer for my cheapness or unsociability.

Phoebe said...


I suppose student coffee shops count. I remember when I was there that those paid a good bit less than the obvious student job that I had for a while (book-shelving), so there really was a sense that kids took this job less because they needed the money and more because it was the only place on campus to be a hipster. So people who tip to impress hipsters might tip in that situation, but no one else.


What you're describing - and it's nice that you're generous - unfortunately doesn't fit the situation I'm asking about. If there's a "server" who's "probably getting sub-minimum wage," even if the decor is inspired by a hipster coffee shop, it's a restaurant. And there isn't really a debate about what to tip in restaurants - it's 15-20%, but they won't complain if you tip more.

The question is whether, in coffee establishments with tip jars, where you're handed a beverage that you may or may not have to-stay, where you're expected to bus your own table, do you now put a dollar in the jar, or is it your experience that this is now done?