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November 24, 2007 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Techniques for businesses with tip jars- what works and what's annoying?

I've recently started working in a job where I have a tip jar beside the register. I work alone, so I have control over the thing, and I've gotten a few bits of advice I'd like to sort out. I've been told that I should put some of my own money into it at the start of each shift- does this actually somehow get people to tip more, and if so, how much should I put in? Also, the jar is decorated with dry-erase markers and we're allowed to redecorate it to suit ourselves when business is slow- should I make it eye-catchingly bright, or might people find that impolite? (I've had friends tell me both.) And are there any other techniques that could help me get better tips (besides good service, of course)?

If it makes a difference, I sell paletas (Mexican-style popsicles) to a clientele of mostly college students and young couples with children. Right now (in winter), I typically make about $6-$8 in tips per shift, but in summer it's more like $12-$18 per shift.
posted by showbiz_liz to Work & Money (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If a business has to put up with you for a while, they may have a tip jar out. If it's a "get-it-and-go" type of business, a tip jar is obnoxious. Why the hell should I tip a cashier?
posted by Afroblanco at 12:02 PM on November 24, 2007

The only thing that makes me tip in these situations is excellent and friendly service. The jar makes no difference.
posted by kimdog at 12:13 PM on November 24, 2007

Where I used to work we used to put out a tip cup and we used to put money into it at the start of working. We did it because if people saw the money already in there they were more likely to tip, at least thats why I always thought.
posted by lilkeith07 at 12:14 PM on November 24, 2007

One of the best tip jars I ever saw was just before The Phantom Menace came out. The guy had obviously rushed to Toys R Us the night before and bought action figures.

Darth Maul sat holding the tip jar. The sign read "Action figure fund. Donations please."

I threw in all my change.

So along with popping in a bit of your own change, decorate the tip jar with some personal touches.
posted by Katemonkey at 12:22 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm always irritated (and ergo will not leave a tip) when I see a tip jar that reads "We work for tips!" or another variation on "your tips pay our wages." Because, unless one is working in the category of food service where one's wages are subject to "tip offsets" (i.e. one makes $2.13 an hour instead of the federal minimum), then the person requesting the tips is no different from any other minimum-wage-earner -- and the lady at the tollbooth and the guy at the Wal-Mart counter and the kid stacking firewood don't have tip jars. The premise that "working with or near food = deserves tipping" annoys me, so when I see someone pushing that message, I will deliberately not leave a tip. I realize this could be a churlish attitude; this could be either a Mr. Pink side to me, or a result of my experience bartending.

It doesn't mean I won't leave a tip in the aforementioned scenario -- just that I'm discouraged from doing so when the tippee asserts that he/she is equal to a server in a restaurant.

Conversely, though, I hate small change and will regularly drop it in a tip jar if one is handy. Anything under 50¢, I'll leave behind if I can.

And I'm more inclined to notice a tip jar when the message is funny, and frequently changing (as in KateMonkey's example). I consider that a tiny bit of entertainment provided by the staff, which adds to my overall positive perception of the customer service experience.

I think the only reason to leave "seed money" in a tip jar is if it wouldn't otherwise be readily apparent that that is what the container is for.
posted by pineapple at 12:27 PM on November 24, 2007 [6 favorites]

When I do volunteer work where a donation jar is used, I always put our own cash in when starting out. Doesn't matter how much, just whatever loose change I have and a few dollar bills. Monkey see, monkey do.

As for YOUR tip jar, the best thing you can do is be kick-ass nice/funny/helpful/etc. To me, tips are for table service or delivery, not for walk-up service. The only times I've tipped at coffee shops or places where I picked up food was because I was bogged down with change or if the person was just super cool and I was in a good mood (and possibly bogged down with change).

Good luck!
posted by iguanapolitico at 12:46 PM on November 24, 2007

The "Action Figure Fund", while funny, might irk me. If I were feeling cranky, I would think, "Pfft, I don't want my money being spent on Jar Jars..."

The ones that have always worked for me are the "Employee Pension Plan"-style jokes. They're light-hearted, but also make me stop and think, "Okay, yeah, this money is going to help the employees..."

Although I guess toys can help enrich their lives too!
posted by polyester.lumberjack at 12:55 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm a sucker for "Liz's College Fund" with a nice smiling photo.
posted by smackfu at 1:40 PM on November 24, 2007

The "Action Figure Fund", while funny, might irk me. If I were feeling cranky, I would think, "Pfft, I don't want my money being spent on Jar Jars..."

Dang. He should have called it the Jar Jar Jar.

I have never worked for tips, but as a customer, here is my feedback:

I don't mind a tip jar that says "Thanks for your tip" or something similar. As mentioned, I HATE the ones that imply I have to tip or the server starves.

I also hate seeing a tip jar in a place where the server really doesn't do anything besides ring up the order. You may as well put a tip jar at the register of the super market.

I HATE HATE HATE when a server says "Do you want your change?" If I don't say "keep the change," then yes I want it. Just yesterday I paid for a $41 meal with a $50 bill. The waitress asked me if I wanted the change. That's really tacky, greedy, and yet puts the customer in an awkward position where he may feel like he sounds greedy. Side-rant: a friend of mine (at the same place, actually) paid for a meal for 3 of us. The total was about $75. He paid with a $100 bill. The waitress asked if he wanted the change. He was taken aback, and said "Yes, of course!" As she left to get the change, it really started to irk him. By the time we left, it had annoyed him so much he left NO tip.

"Seed money" in the tip jar is definitely a good thing, simply because it raises visibility of the jar. If it's empty, people may not even register it in their minds.

A happy, helpful person is always more likely to get a tip than a put-upon, harried grouch. However, your friendliness must not seem phony, then it looks like sucking up for a tip. Sincerity is important. Once you can fake that you've got it made.

Don't forget the "accessories." Napkins, toppings, silverware, whatever will make the whole experience better. Even if you just point out where such things are, it's a huge help.

Good luck!
posted by The Deej at 1:52 PM on November 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

In my experience, these jars tend to show up in places where you'd not customarily tip.
posted by jjb at 2:01 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

"TIP HEAVY OR WE SHOOT THE PUPPY" usta work for me.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:28 PM on November 24, 2007

I don't tip for counter service, but maybe something that could work would be to imply that the food you're serving will get spit on if they don't tip.
posted by rhizome at 2:36 PM on November 24, 2007

Until recently I sold drinks at work and got tips at the point of sale. My employer took good care of me, so I wasn't paid a "tip salary," but it really came to make me realize the importance. I tend to tip about 20%, and, whenever there's a tip jar, drop in my change.

Your profile indicates that you're a college student, so "Liz's College Fund," as others recommended, is probably a good way of doing it. It makes you seem human and suggests that the money is for a good cause.

I'd always "pad" the jar, to set a precedent. If people saw that there was change in the jar, I'd get change. Sometimes I'd put in a dollar bill too, and tended to get some dollar bills. This isn't to say that if you put in a 100 you'll get hundreds, but a lot of people have no idea what's customary to tip, but seeing the contents of the tip jar gives them an indication of what's normal. (If you're splitting tips, make sure you're clear on how much of your own money you put in!)

As shallow as it seems, my time there led me to believe that looks were the main determinant. Guys would give me (another guy) some tips out of courtesy... The coins they got back as change. Some nights I worked with a particularly attractive female, who would routinely get 5's dropped in. (This may be limited to the sleazy clientèle we had, and the product I sold, which was beer.)

As for visibility, I'd keep it somewhere prominent but be tasteful in its decoration. If you can smoothly hand people their change right over the tip jar, it's more likely that they'll be inclined to drop the change in. On the other hand, if you awkwardly try to steer the exchange over it, it comes across as a pathetic attempt at manipulation.

The "Would you like change?" may well be something that's become a rote phrase. I can definitely agree that it's rude, but I'm not sure they're aware of how blunt it can be.
posted by fogster at 2:41 PM on November 24, 2007

I hate having coins in my wallet and will through them in the tip jar if it's convenient. So my best advice is to make the tip jar as close to the path my hand takes when getting change back as possible. Also, too narrow of a top irritates me, becuase it seems harder to put the money in. Basically, if it takes me very low effort to tip someone, I will tip them. If I have to go out of my way, I won't bother.
posted by JZig at 3:00 PM on November 24, 2007

Something along the lines of what 'Katemonkey' posted...
When I was a kid I loved going to the local Fuddruckers with my parents because on the counter they had this very small dog house with a small dog over it as a tip jar (I can't remember if there was a barking sound after you put in change...) but I remember wanting to go there just to put in change in the dog house...

Since you mention that you sell popsicles and that kids frequent the place; I would definitely go with something colorful and memorable that will make the kids remind the parents to tip... I remember my parents having to carry me to put in the change since the counter was twice my size. So apparently location of the tip jar wouldn't matter for curious kids...
posted by MrBCID at 3:10 PM on November 24, 2007

I saw this on a tip jar once:


I asked what it stood for.

"Your Curiosity Just Cost You Your Change."

What could I do? I laughed, put my change in the jar and walked away.
posted by bondcliff at 3:29 PM on November 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

It's nice to read all the comments about tips and realize I'm not the only curmudgeon. My latest annoyance was a tip jar sign at a coffeeshop where the girl had written, "Tips please! I'm too poor to afford the coffee you're drinking!"...tacky much? Keep it polite and eye-catching and try dropping a dollar and some change in to prime the pump. G'luck.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 3:34 PM on November 24, 2007

I think this would be interesting to me but some might find it corny/cheesy/etc:

Every week, choose an item you had to purchase and make a tipping "fund". Don't make it over the top, make it something where if you are tipped fairly well you will make around 90-100%. Put a small thermometer and update it every day. It will make people think that they are part of a larger solution. Make the item fairly worthwhile, which should not be *that* hard as a college student. Maybe something like "Intro to Biomechanics by Dr. Blah Blah Fund - Our goal $67.80" (obviously, put a real book you actually bought here). If you're blowing all your dough on drinking at the bar this is a bad idea.

Similarly, you could put something like, "As of ___, this tip jar contains $5.75. If this was in pennies, it would form a stack 2 ft 11 inches high, the size of a ___. After 4 more dollars, it will be 3 ft tall, or about the size of a___" Google will probably be able to get you some interesting comparisons.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:29 PM on November 24, 2007

Seconding jzig ... that slit stuff is so annoying.

Nobody will be stealing your change, unless they are already mugging you at which point, who cares about the change?
posted by shownomercy at 4:47 PM on November 24, 2007

Tip jars are always annoying when people are already paying for an item, not a service. That being said, we're greedy capitalists and I would do whatever I could to maximize my income. I think the jar should be understated (i.e. "tips appreciated" in black marker), but placed in a very noticeable location on the counter.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:05 PM on November 24, 2007

Although I find The Deej's story horrifying about not tipping on a $75.00 restaurant check for such a petty reason, when are servers going to learn that it's soooooo much better to smile and say, "I'll be right back with your change" and let the customer say, "keep the change", or "It's ok, you're all set." It's that simple.

And having been a real server in a real restaurant, for a long time, I rarely put money in tip jars unless the person is extra friendly and EFFICIENT, get your head out of your butt, put the coffee in the cup and give it to difficult is that?
posted by starfish at 5:22 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

In Australia, tipping isn't as common but people do it once in a while, usually for smaller places. I was at a coffeeshop and their tip jar was filled with coins - and water. I asked them about the water and they told me it makes it harder for people to steal their change. I don't know how much theft is a problem, but it apparently was working because they got a lot of change!

Exemplary service is key. I gave the coffeeshop guys $2 after they managed to open a tight water bottle for me. Lovely.
posted by divabat at 5:45 PM on November 24, 2007

a coffeehouse i like has two competing tip jars with themes that change daily, so people are encouraged to "vote" with their change. i.e: one had a picture of alice from "the brady bunch" and the other had a picture of alice from "alice," or old elvis and young elvis, etc etc. they were placed prominently, probably with seed money. it always reminds me to tip.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:58 PM on November 24, 2007 [4 favorites]

I second thinkingwoman's suggestion, although it would require a second jar (or some sort of divider within the existing tip jar). I used to frequent a coffee house with a similar voting tip jar setup and I know *I* was more likely to tip because of it.
posted by sanitycheck at 6:14 PM on November 24, 2007

Oh, and the coffee shop I visited didn't use photos, but silly questions. e.g. "Who's you favourite Neil?" with the choices being Neil Diamond and Neil Armstrong, etc.
posted by sanitycheck at 6:16 PM on November 24, 2007

At my local coffee shop, one of the folk there was telling me he'd had trouble with a snatch thief making off with the entire jar once or twice. His response was to cut off the bottom of the tip jar (making it impossible to steal the contents).
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:22 PM on November 24, 2007

Personally, there is not one single thing on the face of the planet you could do to that jar that would get me to put one single sweaty stinky penny into it, unless you are one as described above that is victim to the tip offset. Otherwise, well, I'd like to be paid more than my earned wages too, but you don't see a tip jar on my desk at work.
posted by bunnycup at 8:43 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

You guys are all missing the point of tipping at the register: it earns you brownie points with the person behind the counter!

Forget service tips for a second, we're not even talking about that (plus, if you're not tipping 20% a meal you're a soulless husk of a human...)

Tipping at the register is just like tipping at a bar. The service the person is providing is minimum (pouring a cup of coffee or a glass of beer) but the tip itself creates goodwill.

At the bar I always tip a single with every order, maybe more if I'm wooing a girl and the bartender is making her drinks a little stronger than usual (yeash, that sounds horrible when I type it out loud) but this is because I've been a bartender and know that the job has its own hassles and skill requirements and that tips at the end of the night make it all worthwhile.

At the coffee counter I tip semi-regularly, perhaps it's only my change from the transaction, but sometimes a single if I like the person who is getting my joe. I always make sure the person sees me do this... and guess what? It pays for itself many times over. Not just in future good service but also in free coffee!

This also works at the food counter or elsewhere... the goodwill built by giving the person some change, a dollar or two always seems to come around and pay for itself many times over.

Granted this only works if you're a frequent customer, but you get the idea...
posted by wfrgms at 10:00 PM on November 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think the only reason to leave "seed money" in a tip jar is if it wouldn't otherwise be readily apparent that that is what the container is for.

Also, while I don't think of myself as generally a scrooge, I usually don't go out of my way to tip cashiers, unless they do something that I consider above and beyond their job function, or I happen to do something that makes their life difficult. At most, I'll dump my change in there if I pay with cash. (I hate carrying coins around.) I just don't really see a reason why I should tip someone who's just doing their job adequately -- that's their employer's job. I've done my time behind a till, and I never expected a tip unless I carried somebody's bags to their car or something (and then only if they weren't old or infirm).

That said, I do tip waitstaff 15-20% even if the service is only "adequate," because, well, it's customary, and I'm not going to wage a one-man war on it and become an asshole in the process. But if it were up to me, I'd just get rid of 'customary tipping' and build it into waitstaff's salaries and the cost of goods, and only tip for above-the-call-of-duty type stuff.

So, to answer your question, I don't think it really matters about the tip jar. If you want to get all wild and crazy by decorating it, go for it. If you just want to get a black marker and write "TIP JAR," that's fine by me, too. I'll put my change in there either way. The only thing I'd consider obnoxious are "OMG we're poor" panhandler-esque pleas. The tip jar is not really the right forum for a discussion on structural economic inequalities, and to be blunt, whether or not you're poor is TMI for a retail transaction.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:47 PM on November 24, 2007

I don't tip cashiers, but I do tip servers in cafes where I have to go up to the till to order. If you put coins in the jar to start the day, use a mix of coins, including a few quarters or larger coins. I've been known to mistake a tip jar for the take a penny, leave a penny jar.
posted by acoutu at 11:32 PM on November 24, 2007

all i can say is do not be that cashier who thinks its somehow okay to throw any small change into the tip jar without asking. this type of behavior seems to be most prevalent among fourteen-year-olds at the mall food court haagen dazs and the self-righteous, trust-funded bicycle enthusiasts who work at "anarchist" coffee shops, but if you are that cashier and if you catch me on the wrong day, i will make you dig that seventeen cents the hell back out and hand it to me.
posted by wreckingball at 7:47 AM on November 25, 2007

Why don't you do an experiment? Spend a week doing various suggestions above and report back on which worked best?
posted by aneel at 10:41 AM on November 25, 2007

I think tipping at places like Subway are a little ridiculous. I'd specifically NOT tip elsewhere if the jar said something like "Liz's college fund" because who are we kidding, tips aren't going to cover tuition. (Kinda like the panhandler who holds the sign "I need a beer - hey, at least I'm honest!")

The most likely way you'd get me to tip is if you had one of those specialty systems like they use at McDonald's and Dairy Queen to collect money for charity - the coins go through water and you try to catch them on a little platform. Of course, those things are probably expensive and precludes the use of dollar bills.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:05 PM on November 25, 2007

rhizome: "I don't tip for counter service, but maybe something that could work would be to imply that the food you're serving will get spit on if they don't tip."

If I saw that I'd call the health department, the police department, and corporate headquarters. The Consumerist would probably get a lovely e-mail as well.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:10 PM on November 25, 2007

A coffee shop I always liked visiting used to post a question or poll on a small blackboard each day with two possible answers. Usually topical, usually political, this was downtown Ottawa right in the heart of the politicians offices. Two tip jars, two running totals of what was in each jar.

They made a lot of tips---until the rent was jacked up by a greedy landlord and the location was turned into a copy shop.
posted by bonehead at 9:19 AM on November 26, 2007

I was amused by the sign near the coffee shop tip jar that said, "If you fear change, leave it here."
posted by cairnish at 12:49 PM on November 26, 2007

Tip Jar Signs on Flickr.

Search Flickr for Tip Jar.
posted by Locative at 10:01 PM on December 4, 2007

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