Do I Really Have to Tip $2 for a $3 Coffee?

barista swiping credit card on tablet payment
I go to the same coffee shop every morning. When I hand over my thermos, the barista asks, “Coffee with a little bit of milk?”

I’m a regular and I have my usual. Being known like that helps me start the morning well.

Except for one part of that morning routine that trips me up every single day — the tablet payment method that displays recommended, preset tipping amounts that stare at me almost as awkwardly as the barista behind the counter who’s waiting to see just how generous I really am.

I panic.

My brain tries to do too many things at once. I wonder if handing a black coffee over the counter merits a tip in the first place. But I don’t want to seem like a jerk, so I try to calculate 20 percent of $3, while evaluating the barista’s level of charisma without actually making eye contact — because he or she is clearly waiting to see how well I tip. But I’m rushing because I don’t want to hold up the line. Finally, I just settle for the middle preset option: $2.

So my $3 black coffee becomes $5, and I walk away with coffee in hand, head still spinning and two fewer dollars in my bank account.

Now I frequent this coffee shop often, so thankfully I don’t go through that entire panicked process each time anymore, but I’m sure you can relate nonetheless.

To tip or not to tip?

Steve Martin starred in a ’90s film called “My Blue Heaven,” a lighthearted, mafia-inspired comedy. In the movie, Martin tips everyone. One of my favorite quotes is what Martin says to co-star Rick Moranis: “It’s not tipping I believe in. It’s overtipping.”

That quote reminds me of my family because tipping generously is in my blood. My grandfather, who had the biggest, most lovable personality, was a regular at every restaurant he visited. Waiters and waitresses would fight one another to serve his table because they knew he’d leave a ridiculous tip.

But preset tipping amounts on tablets have created a new expectation, specifically at coffee shops. Previously, the art of tipping, though expected to some degree, was more discreet. Even a tip jar gave some privacy, allowing the customer to surprise the barista by putting a little something extra in the jar. The customer could give it at any time, before or after the transaction, and could even wait till the barista had left to make the coffee. Not to mention, you didn’t have a line of people standing behind you, waiting to see which option you tapped on the tablet.

My approach to tipping at coffee shops …

The question remains: Do you tip someone who simply tosses a scone in a paper bag?

I don’t know. But I do think Christians have more responsibility than unbelievers to tip generously.

If you feel awkward tipping, or if you never tip more than the minimum, I encourage you to ask yourself why:

  • Is it because you don’t see their service as valuable enough to give them more of your money?
  • Is it because you would rather put your money to a place where you know what the person will do with it?
  • Is it because you just don’t have an income that allows you to give extra?
  • Or is it perhaps you don’t want to feel inconvenienced or obligated to give, because it’s “your” money?

Maybe your reason for not tipping or only tipping the minimum has valid points. May it doesn’t. Think through them and have an action plan for the next time you’ll be at the coffee shop.

Don’t allow guilt or social pressure to dictate your actions when you stand in front of the tablet. But also don’t decide to be stingy just because the preset tipping amounts annoy you.

My advice? When you’re faced with the tablet’s preset amounts, give when you can.

I don’t tip every single time I get a bagel and coffee from my coffee shop. But I do tip regularly.

My tips also aren’t always dependent on behavior. Because it seems wrong if they are. Let me explain.

As believers, we’re told to love unconditionally. A generous tip isn’t necessarily unconditional love. Yet measuring people’s worth by their bubbly personalities or how efficient they are at whipping together your pumpkin spice latte seems pretty counter to what Jesus was all about: grace.

Rather than tipping in response to how that person serves you or treats you, tip because you know it’s a small gesture that might make a big difference.

Or better yet, carry cash — that way you won’t have to worry about the tablet payment method at all. But you can still put a few extra dollars in the tip jar.

About the Author

Dani Fitzgerald
Dani Fitzgerald Brown

Dani Fitzgerald Brown is a small-town journalist living in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, a small city outside of Pittsburgh. She’s married to her best friend, Mike Brown, who can make her laugh no matter the circumstance. Dani often listens to audiobooks, drinks copious amounts of mint tea and is constantly munching on popcorn.