Business Etiquette Tips - Do I Have to Put Money Into a Tip Jar?

Tips About Tip Jars That May Surprise You!

Woman putting a dollar in a tip jar at a coffeeshop

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You might wonder, will co-workers or clients see me as “stingy” if I do not stuff bills into a tip jar on a counter? Do I have to put money into a tip jar?

No, your coworkers most likely won't notice if you tip, and no, you're not required to do so. By definition, a gratuity is optional. When it comes to counter service, most people seem divided on whether or not tipping is the proper etiquette.

On the one hand, the workers are being paid an hourly wage and don't necessarily rely on tips to get by as restaurant servers do. However, keep in mind that these tips are shared among workers who earn a low wage for work that is often quite demanding. A dollar here and there might not be a big deal for you, but it can make a difference to the folks who split it up at the end of the day.

However, you shouldn't feel obligated to tip, especially if the service was subpar.

How Much Should I Add to a Tip Jar?

Toss in the leftover coin change, or a dollar or two if you want, but do not feel obligated to add big bills. Some people think that if you see large bills in a tip jar, they may have been put there by employees or managers to encourage other people to match the fake tip. While this does sometimes occur, it may also have been a larger tip on a big order, so you shouldn't feel compelled to match it.

If you do choose to tip, as a rule of thumb, 10% to 15% is a perfectly acceptable tip on counter service.

Forget The Tip Jar – Hand a Tip (or Praise) to an Individual Employee to Make A Bigger Difference

If you are trying to reward an individual for good counter service, your tip will be shared – not given directly to the employee you are rewarding. If you want to tip one employee in particular, give the tip to them directly – not the tip jar. They might add it to the jar themselves out of team spirit, but at least you let them know you personally appreciated them.

Another way to show your appreciation is to take the manager aside and praise the employee’s performance. More customers complain than compliment so taking the time to thank someone for a job well done goes a long way.

Write a thank you letter to the corporate office to show appreciation for management staff. A raise at review time based on good performance is worth more than tip jar pennies.

How Much Do Employees Get From Tip Jars?

There is little data on how much money the average employee makes from a tip jar each day. When this article was first published in 2008, the author did an informal survey and found employees at establishments they frequented made on average $5 a day in tips, not a significant amount of income.

However, as touchscreen payment systems have risen in popularity, it seems that more people are tipping on counter service. A New York Times report in 2019 obtained data from a payment processor indicating that just under 50% of customers leave tips on their credit cards for an average of 17% of the bill. So, depending on how the tips are divided and the price of the tipped items, the average employee could be earning between $2 and $10 more per hour in tips.

Tip Jars – What Not to Do

  • Never take money – even pennies from a tip jar - to cover your bill. Tip jars are for employees not customers. Taking from tips jars can be summed up in one word: Stealing.
  • Do not put in a five-dollar bill and then take four ones out for your change – if you need to change to add a small tip to a jar ask for it from the cashier.
  • Don't feel guilted into putting money in the jar if you don't want to. It is not considered poor etiquette in the business world if you do not add to tip jars. However, it is considered rude – not “networking” - to add your business card to a tip jar – do not do it!