Should You Tip The Barista When Nobody’s Watching?

February 15, 2012

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?