My rules for tipping on those iPad “cash registers”


Working from home has many perks, but it can be lonely. Realizing this, a few months ago, I resolved to spend my Friday afternoons working from our local coffee shop. Changing venues boosts my productivity, reconnects me to my community, and gives me an opportunity to think strategically about the upcoming week.

The baristas there know me by sight at this point, and they’ve memorized my order, too: a 16-ounce mocha latte with ¾ shot of chocolate syrup and 2 shots of espresso. I’ll typically add a maple-walnut scone (perfect for dunking).

After the clerk keys in my order, she flips around the iPad that serves as the shop’s cash register. I’m then faced with one of modern retail’s most awkward exchanges: the tip touchscreen.

Jennifer Levitz reflected on the dilemma in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

Tip jars have long sat on counters, but consumers have all sorts of viable excuses for avoiding them or tossing in just a few coins, such as not having the right change, according to Michael Lynn, a professor and tipping expert at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. Not so, he says, with the electronic tip prompts that explicitly require consumers to opt out of gratuities. “You can’t even pretend like you forgot,” he says. “It clearly ups the social pressure to tip.”

Here are my rules for navigating this situation from now on: if the barista concocts a custom drink—frothing a latte or blending a smoothie—I tip a dollar per cup (or maybe a bit more, if the total is already close to an even dollar amount). For food that requires prep work—say, toasting a pastry—I’ll tip a modest amount. 10–15% seems fair.

However, if the clerk simply rings up my order, or if they’re just grabbing a pre-made item from behind the counter, I’m probably not going to tip.

What do you think? Are these rules reasonable—or do they make me a cheapskate? ■