Tipping Amid Inflation: Should Consumers Draw a Line for Sake of Their Finances?

An unrecognizable coffee shop customer stands across the checkout counter from an unrecognizable barista and reaches out to put a paper bill in the tips jar.
SDI Productions / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Inflation has tamed some (but it’s still wild), the country is likely on the brink of a recession — and yet there consumers are, at the beginning of a long day, prompted with a request on a digital screen to tip 30% on a breakfast muffin. Nobody (hopefully) wants to be a cheapskate, but… has tipping gone too far? Should consumers draw a boundary for the sake of their own financial well-being?

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First, let’s consider the financial well-being of the barista because this is, after all, a two-way street. The average salary for a barista is $14.59 per hour in the U.S, plus $20.00 tips per day, according to Indeed. Let’s say this hypothetical barista works five shifts a week — that’s $100 a week, or $400 a month in tips — and easily the difference between making and not making rent.

It is not the consumer’s fault that the barista possibly has to rely on tips in order to get by, this much is true. However, when walking into a coffee shop or other establishment where tips are essentially the unspoken law of the land, one should be accepting of the terms. If you’d rather not tip at all, a convenience store or supermarket may be a better place to pick up your morning snack.

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But then, one may counter that 30% is too high — certainly a valid point, particularly as tip inflation becomes a hot topic in common conversation. A 30% tip should be reserved for only the most excellent service after a complete dining experience, or for treasured service people around the holidays (and some etiquette experts might argue that this is still excessive). There’s an easy solution: simply toggle to the 10% tip option. You may feel a bit of social pressure, but it’s a lot better than declining to tip at all, and it’s an appropriate amount to tip for what you’re purchasing. Plus, if the muffin was, say, $3, it’s only setting you back 30 cents, which hopefully isn’t going to put you in the red.

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About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.
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