Slipping into Tipping

January 16, 2016

At the very end of 2014 I wrote an essay about my tipping dilemma and asked for advice.

You know, I suspect, something about restaurant tips. Restaurants are able to pay a modest hourly wage, below the normal minimum because the preponderance of a waitstaff’s salary comes from tips. This is a good thing for both sides. Restaurants are able to contain labor costs and waitrons earn far more than they would if they were receiving an hourly wage.

Of course it’s you who are paying the difference.

Retail is something else. Bread Furst pays a good wage to our retail staff – well, good by industry standards.   We do that because we don’t expect customers in our bakery to pay a 15-20% tip. Indeed, I don’t expect our customers to tip at all.


It is not, after all, expected in hardware and grocery stores, nor at Saks Fifth Avenue.  So why should it be in a bakery?

I have always disliked the way in which quick-service food retail handles tipping .

For me this is an aesthetic issue and I take my lesson from what I have experienced as a customer:

I order at the counter from a young woman in torn jeans and a wrinkled and slightly soiled shirt. I want a coffee to go. She turns around, takes a cup, presses a spigot, asking, “Leave room for milk?”  

She turns back, hands the coffee to me and with a few strokes hands me an I-Pad that says:  

Coffee                              $2.95 

Gratuity          ______      10 %

                          ______      15 %

                          ______      20 %

I think, “Jeeze, she’s simply filled a cup. Why should I tip her?” I look up querulously. She is looking directly, expectantly into my eyes. 

I didn’t want customers to have this experience here and so I banished tipping.


Well, guess what. It happened here.

If you are a regular customer of Bread Furst you know that our service has been slow. One of the principal reasons is that I made a big mistake at the beginning in my choice of point-of-sale systems – our cash register system. At the time it seemed to be the best choice available; but in fact, I chose a system that made customers wait long times to check out. It was frustrating to you and awful for us.

We took a long time to choose a new system but finally we did and we installed it last week. It comes with a tipping option that forces you to choose.



As a result tipping increased 300 percent.

I really don’t know what to make of this and what to do about it. I know that customers have asked frequently during our year and half of life if they could leave tips; and for a year we have had a discretely placed jar for those who really wanted to do so. That seemed like a good compromise. Customers who really wanted to tip could do it and those who didn’t want to weren’t made to feel guilty about that.

But it seems to me that some customers who didn’t think about tipping were now being asked directly to tip and I wonder if some of you may resent that.

But perhaps that is just the view of a 77-year old traditionalist.



Eun Yim, our general manager and a far younger person than I, says that the practice “has become so standard (that when I shop) I don’t think about it. If it’s a quick service place and I order a cup of coffee, I don’t see any reason to tip.”






Matt Demma who works here on weekends, a young man committed to the retail food business, says he always tips when he buys because he knows that like him, the people serving him “survive on their tips.”

And I know that some of you want to tip.  Indeed a customer told me just a day ago that she wanted the option when she checks out.  (But another customer overhearing the conversation said he finds the tip screen a subtle coercion.)

I really don’t know what to do. On the one hand I don’t want to deprive our service people of a wage increase. That’s what it is, a wage increase that costs us nothing. On the other hand we already pay a decent wage and we are paying a fortune for health insurance.

We could do what restaurants do and, in view of the energized tipping, lower our base wage. We’d benefit from that as an organization but it wouldn’t please our sales people.

But what about that? Why is it that the salespeople alone benefit from tips?

Our sales staff is very important as it is the face of our bakery.   But what about those who produce what we make for you? What about the bakers, cooks, and pastry staff? They don’t benefit from tips unless we pool them; and that is something that some restaurants do.

None of this addresses the curious fact that in spite of what I wrote in 2014, we slipped into tipping and did that at a time when others, led by Danny Meyer, the estimable New York restaurateur, are questioning and abandoning the practice.

We have taken the tipping option off our point of sales system at least for the time being. Please let us know what you think.




  1. HI Mark, I feel the same way about the POS tip screen, I find them obnoxious. We use Square (the best POS for cafe bakeries in my opinion) but we disabled the tip screen from the beginning. We do however have a tip jar by the register because customers complained they had to walk back to the barista station to tip. A few customers really don’t like a tip jar on the counter. They basically feel like “what has this world come to when I have to tip someone for handing me a loaf of bread”. I agree with the sentiment, but a lot of folks don’t. We have customers who ask if they can tip on their credit card even without the tip screen present. But we leave it at, “catch us next time”. As far as the bakers getting a piece of it, well… it really doesn’t add up to that much. Retail tips are distributed communally, based on hours worked per employee. I hope I compensate my bakers well enough, and the retail folks need the incentive to be super nice on a moment to moment basis (not easy!).

  2. Dean Smith says:

    Your history tells me that you have observed more than once that some problems are impossible to solve equitably and eventually go away. Whatever solution is chosen all should share the pool after having met their skill levels. Your tipping brackets could disturb customers when they should be thinking good thoughts on leaving.

  3. Well, Sir, when I lived in Norfolk, Va. a very intelligent member of the hospitality trade, said to me, “Pauline, surely you do not tip a doctor, or a dentist.. and, why not, pray?” Because, this person said “We in our profession do not think we should receive tips”.
    So there!

    • Lila says:

      It’s opposite in some parts of Europe! Bad habit to tip waitstaff, but completely custom to tip doctors. Strange huh?

  4. John Donaldson says:

    From one traditionalist 77 year old to another: oh that we could follow the European system of “servi compris”(spelling?). A tip should only be given for service above and beyond routine task performance. But of course this is not the practice in the United States, so I go along with the flow; however, in food serving establishments, I restrict my tipping to a table service server.

  5. Susan Caporaso Mcbride says:


    Thanks for taking the tips option off your screen. I don’t like buying a cup of tea and the screen asking for tips. Personally, I find it uncomfortable at check out counter. If tips are collected I think they should be given to cooks and the entire staff.

    Thanks for asking,



  6. Patricia McAuliffe says:

    A world without tipping is a much better world!

  7. Rhona says:

    Mark Furstenberg, you are wonderful.

  8. Monsieur le Flanneur says:

    I think your first two commenters are correct: you should pool the tips. I thought that is what “tipping out” meant: whoever collects tips “tips them out” at the end of the day so the busboys and “back of the house” hourly workers can share in the tips. I appreciate your explaining so clearly that tipping gives your “service people” “a wage increase that costs us nothing.” But when I tip I do so with the hope that your bakers and chefs and sous chefs will get a share, because they create the wonderful food that the service people serve.

  9. C Kirk Lazell says:

    I appreciate your conflicted feelings on this topic but am also sure from talking to all of your wonderful staff that even though you pay above the industry standard (applaud health insurance and who knew), it’s still not enough in DC. I recommend reinstituting the tipping option, removing the term ‘None’ if possible and using something such as ‘No Thanks’ or N/A, thus removing that uncomfortable sense of coercion when one sees the word ‘None’. I would also recommend pooling. Why not , as there would be nothing to sell if not for the backstage folks ?

  10. Don Rockwell says:

    Mark, I really appreciate you taking the tipping option off your POS screen – when I suddenly find myself being stared down by one of those things, with the cashier standing right there, waiting, it feels like I’m being judged by the world, and if I don’t pony up, I feel like a cheapskate – I generally leave 15-20%, because I feel like I have to; not because I want to. They are the very definition of passive-aggressive, and I strongly suspect the majority of people – even if they don’t say anything – have varying degrees of resentment towards them (and by extension, the businesses that use them). I vote for raising your prices by 20%, so your customers know what they’re getting into, and don’t feel like they’ve been through a surprise shakedown at the very end of the transaction.

  11. franwu says:

    Well put, Marc!  I always ignore the option for tipping at point of sale. I feel a bit bad about it but not enough to tip – although I tip generously whenever I am served in a sit-down place.  So by doing away with the automated tip option at BF, you have removed the smidge of guilt I had – thank you! Frances

    From: Bread Furst To: Sent: Saturday, January 16, 2016 9:18 AM Subject: [New post] Slipping into Tipping #yiv9819047586 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv9819047586 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv9819047586 a.yiv9819047586primaryactionlink:link, #yiv9819047586 a.yiv9819047586primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv9819047586 a.yiv9819047586primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv9819047586 a.yiv9819047586primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv9819047586 | Mark Furstenberg posted: “At the very end of 2014 I wrote an essay about my tipping dilemma and asked for advice.You know, I suspect, something about restaurant tips. Restaurants are able to pay a modest hourly wage, below the normal minimum because the preponderance of a waitst” | |

  12. Eben Lenderking says:

    I find tipping to the extremes that exist in US restaurants really horrifying. 20% as an amount on top of the value consumed is absurd–if I order an expensive wine why should a waiter get a bigger tip than if I order a cheap one–there is no more labour involved. I also think that tip cups or the expectations for tipping implied on POS machines in counter-service establishments a bit like the inmates have taken over the asylum. Its your job to pour the coffee or to hand me my muffin. Tipping should be for service over and beyond, not for a waiter or counter service person just doing what they are paid to do. Waiters in restaurants should be paid more as a salary, and tips should be dropped. Continental Europe has it right. In France, Italy, Germany, Spain you have waiters that are professional, proud of their jobs, well paid, and there is no tipping. In Italy a small service charge is added to every bill which varies by the establishment, and is a closer reflection of the value added–they refer to it as a cover charge. Tips have no place in a bakery.

  13. benquo says:

    I always feel just a little happier at the implicit reminder that the posted price already includes the wages of the people working at Bread Furst. It’s nice touch and I’d encourage you to keep it.

  14. ylkim says:

    I remember one time getting a coffee somewhere (I forgot where, actually, but it was in DC) where the tip screen came up, and the options were 15%, 20%, 25%, and Other. I chose Other and tipped $0.00.

    I don’t mind tipping. I don’t mind being asked to tip on a POS screen. I do mind being coerced into doing so.

  15. D says:

    Late on the train here, but have you changed the way you are handling this since posting? I find the topic very interesting.
    On one hand paying someone extra for pouring a $2 cup of coffee seems absurd, but on the other I feel the need to give positive reinforcement when a drink like a $4 cortado/cappuccino is made properly…
    I also deplore the lack of customer service often found in the states and wish tips were used properly to award excellent service and punish anything below, but that is up to the customers to enforce.

  16. Andrea says:

    I find that asking for a tip when the service is basically making a coffee and serving a croissant not very fair to customer.
    If someone want to leave a tip should be able to do so, but making an habit is completely wrong and inappropriate to customer.
    Prices are already very high compared to others.
    Also the people who really work on the inside do not benefit of it..

    It is really out of proportion asking for a tip she is the customer should be tipped for serving himself to the table, cleaning and be fast ..

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