The Starbucks Experiment

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Tip-Top Tipping

Now that the holiday season has come and gone (although our front door is still graced with a christmas wreath), i have time to turn my attention to a phenomenon that the holiday season made me much more aware of: tipping.

in the first place there was this article in the paper, a sort of guide to end-of-the-year tipping, you know those yearly gifts you give to your postman, hair-cutter, dog-walker, etc., if you are an adult that is. well for some reason the article dwelled considerably on tipping at Starbucks (or similar coffee chains). the author of some bogus book about tipping thought this idea was laughable, akin to tipping at McDonalds (!) because sbux is the fast-food equivalent for coffee.

there are so many things wrong with that sentiment i don't know where to begin. Starbucks is not fast food or fast coffee. yes, we try to make sure the customer does not have to wait long for her drink (4 min. or less is the gold standard). and we celebrate a certain amount of standardization (every outlet is supposed to brew the same coffee each week, for example). but that standardization is tempered by a huge amount of personalization. taking the above example, although it's the same all over the country, the coffee that we brew still changes from week to week. and anyone who's read my post about ordering your drink, or listened to other people order their drinks, knows that each drink can be customized ad infinitum. but to my mind the most important difference between Starbucks and a fast-food place is the level of service. everyone who works at sbux, and everyone means not just the register people, is expected to make eye-contact with the customer, greet him or thank him, welcome feedback, and memorize a regular customer's name, face, and/or favorite drink.

what all this means is that yeah, you should tip. not everyday perhaps, and not necessarily more than the change you get back from that smiling sbux partner on register who's trying to make eye contact with you. in fact, and especially if you're a student/poor young person, you shouldn't even put all of that change you just got into the tip jar (after all that would turn every $3.52 latte into a four dollar drink). a lot of people who come every morning and pay with cards seem to tip $1 a week. the $1 per drink tip doesn't really make sense at sbux, even though that's the industry standard for bartenders and in my opinion we do about the same amount of work. but bartenders are only paid via tips, whereas sbux partners get an hourly wage and excellent benefits (which is one reason why that latte costs so much to begin with). but there are certain occasions when a more proper tip would seem to be in order. my guidelines for serious tipping (meaning an actual bill) are as follows:

1) tip for labor-intensive drinks like extra-dry cappucinos, caramel macchiatos, and most importantly frappucinos! if you order a frappucino at any time, but especially at the end of the day (when chances are the barista has already cleaned the blender station) remember that they are the stickiest, sloppiest, messiest drinks to make at sbux, and tip accordingly.

2) tip for large orders, meaning three or more drinks, and def. tip for coffee travellers (the boxes of coffee that people get for meetings etc.). it is amazing how many people waltz in, ask for a traveller, and don't tip, especially considering that making one traveller requires brewing an extra pot of coffee, assembling the box, getting together the cups, sugar, stirrers, etc., filling travel cups with milk (two kinds!), filling the traveller (which takes more than a smile), and oh yeah, weighing it to make sure we gave you enough.

3) tip when the partners are especially pleasant or personal. has your drink been memorized? do they remember your name or other personal information (like the fact that your daughter was in the school play last night and "how did it go?")? are you always greeted with a smile? trust me, it takes a lot of energy to do that every day.

4) tip on holidays. i was amazed by how many people were amazed that we were open on thanksgiving and then didn't tip. we get extra pay (time and a half), on certain holidays, but those do not include things like the recent martin luther king jr. day, which was so mind numbingly boring because guess what? no one came in because they were at home asleep. we are forced to open at the same ungodly hour every day except officially sbux recognized holidays (july 4th and thanksgiving are the only ones that i know of so far). and those are the days when we really wonder why we're still working here.

5) with the above in mind, tip if you are coming in v. early or v. late. at those times of day, its not profitable for us to be open, we only do it for your convenience. special gratitude is obviously appropriate when the people serving your coffee had to wake up at 4am to do so, but it is no less appropriate in the evening, when the partners are busting their asses to get everything clean and get the hell home after a long day.

and if there is one person in particular who always makes your day just a little bit better, give the tip to her, not the jar. just for the record, all tips are divided evenly every week based solely on how many hours each person worked (and i should know because i have the lovely job of figuring out who gets what).

i wouldn't want all of this to suggest that people don't tip v. well. obviously, they could tip better (like i wouldn't mind a mink coat or a new car). but if the holiday season showed me anything it was that our regular customers really appreciate what we do for them. Leah the notoriously picky drinker of v. dry cappuccinos, who tips a dollar a day anyway, presented everyone with a signed christmas card and extra cash, $25 and up. Mary Anne who comes in early every morning (partly so that we all have more time to chat) brought in homemade peppermint brownies. one guy who is always rather curt and seemingly dissatisfied with life brought in two cases of champagne for us to divvy up. Mr. Grande in a Venti Cup stuffed $50 into the tip jar. And then there is our first customer of the day, every day, who waits outside in his car for us to open. he tips $1 every morning for a $2 venti regular coffee. and we always tip him with an extra-cheerful "good-morning!"


At 12:20 AM, Anonymous annie said...

dude!! i totally feel you on the tipping thing. im pretty lucky to be working in the most expensive neighborhood in sf to live in, and one of the busiest stores, so i usually get about $40 a week in tips and its really nice to have that extra spending money. i really dont mind opening bc the people who come in that early are so grateful and chatty. i love our regulars - one of them is mayor newsoms cousin and he gave all of us $20 and a card for xmas and he barely knew me at the time bc i had only been working for 2 weeks. but unfortunately there are those really obnoxious stingy (mostly women) customers who are decked out in designer clothes that never tip. i want to smack each one in the face, but smile regardless. i noticed that ben and jerrys has a bell that they ring every time someone tips and i think it would be awesome if we had that too but alas, that may be just too tacky for sbux and whatever image corporate is trying to uphold.


Post a Comment

<< Home