Opinion: The debate over tipping etiquette

Inna D
Photo byKen Lambert / The Seattle Times

* Author used AI in the development of this article

The practice of tipping has long been a source of debate. While tipping is typically regarded as a necessity with restaurant waitstaff (at least in the U.S.) there is an ongoing discussion regarding whether counter workers, such as baristas or café employees, should also be tipped.

It's one thing to provide service and to wait on tables throughout a meal, plus they aren't required to be paid minimum wage. Federal law requires any tipped employees to be paid at least $2.13 (without tips), although this does differ by state. Also, some patrons always tip at least 20%, no matter the situation, and some may leave a lower tip (or none at all) depending on the service.

It's a different situation at a place like Starbucks, where baristas are paid more than minimum wage, often $15 an hour. But when they swing the ipad around to ask you to select a tip level, it's often out of obligation. Is it really an extra $5 for you to hand over this croissant? However, unlike traditional waitstaff, counter workers often provide a different level of service. While they may not personally serve customers at tables, they still play an integral role in ensuring a positive customer experience. Baristas, for instance, craft personalized coffee orders and provide recommendations, making them part of the service equation. The counter workers' contribution to the overall customer experience fuels the argument that tipping should be considered. Plus, unlike a large corporation like Starbucks, many smaller shops cannot afford to pay a high salary to these workers, making tips important.

Beyond counter workers, numerous service workers rely on tips. Hairdressers invest time and skill into creating desired hairstyles, often developing a personal connection with clients. Delivery workers brave various conditions to ensure timely and accurate deliveries. Both professions often earn a significant portion of their income from gratuities, making tipping them an expected practice.

The debate surrounding tipping etiquette, like baristas and café employees, is complex. While some argue that tipping these workers is unnecessary, others emphasize their contribution to the overall customer experience. Additionally, tipping hairdressers, nail technicians, or delivery workers serves as customary gestures given the personalized services they provide. Ultimately, the decision to tip these workers should consider the circumstances, like the establishment, average pay, and service.

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Denver, CO

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