Remember When There Were No “TIPS” Jars?

I don’t remember exactly where I was the first time I saw one – a plastic container placed next to a cash register, with “TIPS” enscrawled in black magic marker.  A Dunkin’ Donuts or Subway or the dreaded Starbucks perhaps.  “The gall of these people!” I said to myself.  These cashiers…I mean, these baristas…trying to expand the tip zone like the German annexation of Alsace-Lorraine after the Franco-Prussian War.  Well, I never signed on to that treaty!  See if I care!  And proudly I accepted and kept my three pennies of change.

At the time, I did not think the trend would catch on.  But soon after that I saw a tip jar at the supermarket.  I was picking up Yodels for the week and noticed the plastic container in front of a young man bagging groceries.  So not only had they stopped making new episodes of Sex in the City, but they had spun off the bagging function of the supermarket cashier, so that the cashier could focus more on making small talk with customers and co-workers, and the bagger, or bagging-agent, or comestible transport administrator, could focus more on piling five-gallon containers of laundry detergent atop cartons of eggs.

“Perhaps I’ve been wrong about this tip jar phenomenon,” I said to myself.  “Perhaps the tip jar is this person’s sole source of income.”  And for a moment my mind was changed about the tip jar.  I still didn’t leave a tip, but I at least thought about it.

Unless you’ve been in a coma and without an Internet connection for the last ten years, you know that these tip jars are everywhere now.  Convenience stores, delicatessins…even the guy who sold me fireworks out of the trunk of his car had a little plastic container with “TIPS” written in several different languages.  And I would had left money in the tip jar at the library had the funds not already been earmarked for late fees on Ivanhoe, which I was supposed to read in 11th grade.

I thought back to when I had first started going to the diner with my friends, during high school, and had first confronted that labyrinthine branch of etiquette known as tipping.  I remembered the arguments over my friend’s “no change” rule, which meant that he never left change on the table, even if we only got coffee, which cost $1.50.

“But that’s a tip of, like…” I said, punching my calculator watch, “…like, 66 point 6, repeating, or point 7 if you round-up.”

“So?  Just give ‘em a dollar.  You can’t leave change,” he said.

“Says who?  What’s wrong with change?” I said.  “I love change.  I like the way it sounds when it jingles in my pocket.”  And to demonstrate, I took a few steps towards the cigarette machine, jingling the change that was in my pocket.  My friend rolled his eyes and shamed me into replacing my nickels and dimes on the table with a crisp dollar bill.

As the “TIPS” jars proliferated in the early 21st century, I suffered from more than a little insecurity.  Was I to simply accept this unilateral imposition of custom as I’d forced to accept the “bless you” custom after someone sneezes?  Were these cashiers and baggers doing me a favor by providing a receptacle for the change that must surely burden me and leaving me with more room in my pocket for receipts?  I tried to discuss these issues with someone, but my therapist fell asleep during my diner story.

The only way to solve this dilemma would be to contact the only person I knew who could help me—the same friend who had shamed me into leaving a dollar instead of change.  I arranged to meet him at a bagel shop we both enjoyed, and on my way over I was having second thoughts.  My friend probably left wads of cash in the plastic container.  What if he told me to do the same?  As I got out of the car and pressed the button on the door-locking remote repeatedly until I heard the confirmation honk, I reminded myself that I was not bound by anything he said.

The line was long and I saw that my friend the tipping expert was at the front of it.  He was passed a tray with a bagel, a large chocolate chip cookie, and a Yoo-Hoo.  He handed the cashier a bill and was handed change in return.  And then I saw it—a plastic “TIPS” jar next to his hand, which closed over the change and went in his pocket as he walked away in search of an open table.  I blinked but I had seen correctly: my friend had ignored the “TIPS” jar.

As I approached the cashier, I thought I knew what I was going to do.  I thought I would leave no change, convinced that my rule had won out in the end.  But when the cashier handed me the change, and looked me in the eye, and smiled, and said, “Thank you for your business,” my heart melted, and I saw myself capitulating, and dropping my change as if my hand had been possessed.

“Thank you—‘preciate that,” the cashier said.

Heart pounding, mind reeling, and stomach growling, I took my tray and turned towards my friend, who had not yet seen me.  And I stood there, wavering, not sure if I could bring myself to eat with such a miser.

26 thoughts on “Remember When There Were No “TIPS” Jars?

    1. There are many blogs who solicit support from their PayPal accounts.
      I don’t happen to be one.
      On the rare occasion when I post something I actually wrote, the truth is that I wrote it FOR ME!
      If someone else likes it, that’s reward enough.

  1. I like that idea Jess has! Ah tipping, that world of uncertainty. I once dated a waitress who broke down the economy of the thing, even explaining that time at table is valuable as your presence prevents other tickets from coming through. I still consider part of the tip as rent if I stay extra long in someone’s section. As for the tip jar? I don’t really worry about it since I take care of business on the check. If I get some change and don’t have pockets I might toss it, but my tipping conscious is clear. I went through these questions as well.

  2. My Wife has a different version of the “change rule”. In her version, it’s rude to leave anything smaller than a quarter.
    I tell her I’m leaving it all on the table, if she’s embarrassed about the small change, she can pick it up and leave a bill (or just pick it up).
    The jar thing is cool with me. Anything to help out folks who probably have no health insurance (shame on you people who don’t want universal healthcare). And, what the heck, it really is a cheap and effective way to encourage polite service!

  3. One should not equivocate table tips with jar tips. Waitstaff rely on tips as their sole source of income (the hourly pay is generally $4 an hour and goes right to taxes). Your experience at that establishment is dependent upon their expertise. Good table service is rewarded with good tips – this is the social contract we all sign with our butts when we sit down at a table. Leaving change is fine, as long as it is in addition to the actual tip. Tipping waitstaff less than 2 dollars is unacceptable, even if you ordered a $1 small cup of coffee and drank half of it. This is because you chose to occupy a seat where someone else might have ordered more and would have left a bigger tip. Leaving change is almost the same as leaving nothing at all.

    I ignore tip jars unless the counterperson went above and beyond for me, or if I ended up giving them a hard time. This was my standard practice anyway, before the jars became more prevalent. If other people want to contribute a little extra for their own reasons, that’s fine with me, but I feel no obligation to tip a counterperson.

    1. People should sign more things with their butts. Certainly would make life more interesting. I like that term counterperson – it’s like there’s a person, and then there is the response to that person…a counterperson. Maybe for every person on Earth there is a counterperson…someone who is equal but opposite to us in every way…blond hair to our brown, preferring the Pembrokes to our Powells…and whose gravitational field pulls our loose change to them, never to be seen again except as gamma radiation.

  4. I had an uncle who absolutely refused to leave tips on the principle that TIPS stands for “To Insure Proper Service.” He said that was called a job. And when one was on the job, one should make sure he/she is providing the proper service. Period.

    No amount of discussion about minimum wage could persuade him otherwise.

    He. Never. Tipped. At. Restaurants.


    I always snuck back and left money on the table.

    So embarrassing.

    That said, I can totally ignore a TIPS jar. Have I become my uncle?

    1. Did your uncle ever see Reservoir Dogs, with Steve Buscemi’s explanation at the beginning as to why he doesn’t tip? I would think he would have liked that. That was nice of you to go back and tip. I probably would have done the same. And I can ignore TIPS jars too. As the comments have shown here, there is a difference between the two.

  5. This was wonderful as usual. Don’t tell anyone, but, every once in awhile, I like to, (whispering here), even put dollars in the the TIPS jar. Just around the holidays. Wouldn’t it be fun to put a really big bill in the TIPS jar? Like say a hospital bill, or an electric bill? No really, I think it would be fun to put a $100 bill in the jar. I hope I can do it some day.

    1. Thank you. A $100 bill would definitely insure proper service. Just make sure they see you doing it. Unless you get a kick out of the altruism, and watching the employees wonder which customer left it. Or maybe they would fight over the money. Wouldn’t that be ironic. I hope you get the chance to do it someday – let me know what happens 🙂

  6. (I’m a lurker, but wanted to comment on this post.)
    I have always been a good table tipper, but not the best jar tipper. But then lately I heard you’re “supposed” to tip a dollar every time you get, say, a coffee at Starbucks. A whole dollar! That’s crazy, and adds up. And now I feel hella guilty if I don’t do it.
    Also? “Standard” tipping just went up recently from 15% to 20%. So now to be a good tipper, you have to go up to 25%. Jeez louise.

    1. Thanks for stopping by all these times and for deciding to comment. Your comment is a good one. I have also thought about the 20% standard. If I tip 20% in a diner, what do I tip at a five-star restaurant? I know that for many, if not most, the old standard of 15% is still the standard for standard service at standard restaurants. But still I find the number troubling. It requires more sophisticated math than 20%, and I feel like it’s petty to do that much math just to save 5%. I’ll have to think about this a little more.

      Sent from my iPhone

    2. I think you are nuts to tip at Starbucks. Starbucks is supposed to be a higher end coffee shop. The fact that they even have tip jars is disgusting, even more disgusting than a DD, which is disgusting as well. I have emailed them about that and I got no answer.

  7. I’m not altruistic enough to tip properly into Jars, but it’s important for me to gain the perception of generosity from attractive baristas. I can easily palm the quarters in a handful of change while I rattle the detritus into their cans.

    1. That’s a pretty good skill. I have trouble just sorting out the correct change with my palm wide open. There’s always buttons and little crumpled up gum wrappers in there, which can be a little embarrassing, especially when there is a long line of people behind me.

  8. Tip jars are nothing more than welfare for the working. It is disgusting. The owners of these establishments should pay their workers more, not have customers subsidizing, It is ok for waiters, cab drivers and the usual array and tradition of tipped jobs. It is not ok to beg for money at a counter. Sorry I will not leave one cent for these greedy POS’es and by the way I tip well at the traditional tip jobs.

    1. In my post “Remember When There Were No Interactive Graphics,” I link to a site with an interactive graphic about how much to tip the workers in various lines of work. I think you might find the site interesting. Forgive me if you’ve already been there.

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