A Lesson in Being a Professional: Earning (yes, earning) Tips
Tips are something I think about a lot. I always have. I used to get tipped in nickels at a my job at the pool snack bar, and that was really exciting. Now, when someone flips their wallet over and empties their coin pouch into my tip jar I just feel slightly offended. However, tipping from the guest perspective is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about tipping from the barista perspective.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the US a decent amount this summer, and to cities that I’ve either never been to or never spent much time in. Naturally, I spent a decent amount of time going to coffee shops and checking out all the things. Batch brews, espressos, pretty machines and coffee contraptions abound just about everywhere, and, sure, it’s fun to see all of that stuff. There’s certainly a lot of hard work and creativity going into making coffee in the US. However, I always had an awkward part of the interaction, and that was tipping.
In the early days of Amethyst I had a guest comment:
‘Ohhh I tip beforeI get my drink, that’s tricky of you, isn’t it?’
At first I was upset, but then (after I got over myself) I realized he was right. More than anything, I feel obligated to tip at a coffee shop. Throwing a dollar in the jar or on my tab doesn’t necessarily mean that I felt very taken care of, it means I’m going to feel like a jerk if I don’t do it, and, to be honest, most of the time I don't feel great about it. More often than not my barista is disengaged at best and my coffee is okay. If I had gotten the same service and same average beverage at a bar, I would have tipped less than if my experience was good or great. At coffee shops, I generally tip the same whether I get an awesome shot of espresso and some engagement of out of my barista or I get a cup covered in espresso splatter, no spoons, and frowns all around because I have to tip before most of my experience. Of course, this is something I could change, but I am attempting to look at this from the perspective of your average coffee consumer.
I’m not asking for mind blowing coffee nor life altering service. I’m asking for a smile or some physical gesture of acknowledgement when I arrive and a well extracted cup of coffee; that I will gladly tip for. The idea that just because you put on clothes, combed your hair, and tied an apron around you so you deserve a tip is less and less exciting for me. Of course, this brings into play the idea of abolishing tips, which I am personally all for and am working pretty hard to make that a viable move for Amethyst, but that’s not what I’m talking about. If you’re going to enter into a job market where tips are a thing, you don’t just sit there and assume because you pushed some buttons and dumped some coffee in a cup that people need to give you extra money. Wake up, get dressed, go to work, and respect your employer by earning your tips and also earning your hourly wage. Work hard, be kind to people, and engage just a little bit more. If you are tired of people and the service part of your job is wearing you down, maybe you need to consider a career change. There are plenty of people out there who want to be baristas, and plenty of people out there who are baristas and don’t really understand what their job is. Their job is to make good coffee and show people a good time, but mostly their job is to show people a good time. That could mean very little conversation , handing a drip coffee to-go across the bar, and getting someone on their way as soon as possible. That could mean engaging about the menu or having more in-depth information about various coffees. Part of being a coffee professional is understanding what the person in front of you wants, and understanding it quickly.
Anybody can make coffee at home these days for much cheaper than going out and getting coffee every morning. People go to cafes for the community, the convenience, the experience, and because we supposedly know what we’re doing and they can potentially get a better cup of coffee. I think it's okay for guests to expect a certain level of service in order to feel good about tipping. That is a reasonable thing for them to want. Bring them a water, bus their dishes, just do something nice for them because they paid you to do what you love and that’s pretty rad.
An idea that’s really helped me as of late is this: don’t reserve your jovial self just for your regulars. Treat everybody like they’re part of the club. It makes people happy, and if you have the power to make people happy, why wouldn’t you do that? Sure, regulars are great and fun because you have more of a rapport with them, but those other people who are coming in for the first time and are slightly unsure of what to do also need some extra smiles and attention. That’s how regulars become regulars, right?
Something Amethyst’s manager, Cierra, does is one of my favorite things. When she hooks someone up with a free drink she tries to tell them not to tip. Amethyst has a ‘free drink’ policy among the staff, and whenever Cierra cashes hers in she tells the recipient that she’s trying to do something nice for them and that she isn’t expecting that $5 to go in her tip jar. She’s asking them to save it so they can buy themselves a chocolate bar or some flowers, or something else. I love that. I think it’s a really great way to approach the situation and also another thing that makes her stand out as a professional. Granted, most people still surely tip her, but it’s the thought behind that idea that I find particularly remarkable.
If you’re going to work in a tipped industry, understand that you still need to earn it, you do not inherently deserve it. If you don’t want to work in that kind of environment, don’t do it or talk to your boss about it. I genuinely believe that most baristas these days really like their job, so I don’t understand why a lot of them tend to come off like they don’t. I’m not asking for in-your-face bubbly people behind every bar, but I would like some interactions that feel more genuine and like the person making my coffee is actually happy to be making my coffee.
As a coffee shop owner, I try not to forget what it's like to be a barista. I still work bar shifts, though not so many as I used to, but I try not to remove myself too much. I still know what it's like to feel like I gave great service and like my espresso is really dialed, and still not get tipped. It doesn't feel good, that's for darn sure. I try to pay my staff so that even when tips aren't awesome they're still taken care of; however I make it clear that service is a big part of Amethyst whether you're making bank in tips or not. Amethyst is not even close to as busy as some other Denver shops, and tips aren't crazy. We run a tight ship with a small staff who work pretty darn hard for the money they make, and I wouldn't have it any other way.