How to Tip for Coffee

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The flat white coffee drink was $4. A suggested tip was $3.

The cashier at Café Grumpy, a New York City coffeehouse, swiped the credit card, then whirled the screen of her iPad sales device around to face the customer. “Add a tip,” the screen commanded, listing three options: $1, $2 or $3.

In other words: 25 percent, 50 percent or 75 percent of the bill.

There was a “no tip” and a “customize tip” button, too, but neither seemed particularly inviting as the cashier looked on. Under that pressure, the middle choice — $2 — seemed easiest.

American consumers are feeling a bit of tip creep.

This person has never used a computing device before, so is apparently unfamiliar with the day-to-day constrictions that often present themselves in software design, such as in this case, where Square Register clearly requires that stores present three distinct tipping options to the customer, largely because of a warped aspect of American psychology which bizarrely demands “choice” when it comes to compensating underpaid service workers, in part because many older Americans believe that wielding influence over these workers’ livelihoods incentivizes better service (while younger Americans just crave the feeling of raw power, which is otherwise inaccessible to them on a daily basis). Thus, to ensure that these workers, such as baristas, receive something that might approach a living wage, if you squint real hard — because we are not ready to join other civilized nations in abolishing tipping except at the very highest ends of the restaurant industry — shops such as Grumpy (and taxis!) often present the minimum acceptable tip as the cheapest option.

For what it is worth — which is apparently something??? — until our civilization betters itself, the formula by which one should tip in a modern coffee shop is simple: a minimum of one dollar per drink. (This includes iced coffee and tea. And if you order twenty flat whites for your entire office during the pre-work or post-lunch rush — or something that involves a blender — you should probably leave a lot more!) If you cannot abide by this, drink Diet Coke.