Should You Tip The Barista When Nobody’s Watching?

This isn’t another item about whether to tip the barista at a coffee shop. There are plenty of discussions online about that topic. (And yes, I’m in favor.)

My question is more subtle. When there’s a tip jar on the counter, do you make sure the barista sees you put some money in it? Or do you slip the cash in the jar while their back is turned?

I’m in the surreptitious camp. After I’ve placed my order and they’ve given me my change, I usually wait until they turn toward the machine and then put my money in the jar. To me, it seems somewhat ostentatious to put the money in while they’re watching. I figure that I get the karma of leaving a tip whether the barista sees me or not.

But I admit, there’s a part of me that wants to get credit for the tip. What if I’m going to a coffee shop regularly, and the barista thinks I’m a jerk because he’s never seen me leave a tip? I’m not saying he’d spit in my cappuccino, but it would be nice to think that the person who regularly serves me knows I’m a good guy in that way.

I brought the question to a barista at one of my regular stops, Corner Coffee in the Warehouse District of downtown Minneapolis. She pretty much sided with me.

“The main thing is that we’re grateful when there’s money in the tip jar,” she said. “So if you’ve put something in there, you can know that you’ve made us happy, whether we saw you or not.”

And she said they don’t really pay all that much attention to who’s tipping and who’s not. More important, she said, is to be a cheerful customer.

“If you’re in a good mood, talk to us, treat us like human beings — we’d rather have 100 customers like that, who don’t tip, than 100 crabby tippers.”

What do you think?


  • Anonymous

    John, I might offer a related thought. At ColdStone, the staff is supposed to perform a brief song when a tip is left in the jar, and more than a few times, my deposit went unnoticed, yielding no performance, so I’ve stopped tipping there. I credit you for the favorable karma you likely earn with your approach, I’m not very consistent, but probably err on the side of making the tip known, but as you learned from my efforts at ColdStone, I may not be very good at it!

    • Veriria

      So let me get this straight…You stopped tipping because you weren’t being entertained at a ice cream place? Hmm. This is where you insert *shaking my head*

  • Stevemann721

    George Costanza once faced a similar situation…

  • Rebekahvillon

    I found that, within a very short time behind the counter, my ears became acutely attuned to even the softest sound of money entering the jar, and I could glance and notice any additions immediately. So even if people thought their tip went unnoticed because my back was turned at the moment, rest assured it was not the case. 

  • sepukuTora

    I tip bar tenders and other people who serve drinks so they take care of me and go easy on me if I make an ass of myself. Doing it while their back is turned seems to defeat the purpose.

    Tips aren’t charity; you’re paying for another person’s good will instead of taking the time to earn it. I don’t know my bar tender, but I’ve never met one that didn’t have my back.

    A sober bar tender looking out for you will do far more to keep you out of trouble than 10 drunk friends ever could. I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen things get ugly down at the tea house but I would apply the same logic to the barista.

  • hookysun

    where is the evidence of karma? However someone else might see your generosity…