Starbucks' New Tipping System Is Getting Some Serious Heat

Starbucks has not always been known as the easiest place to tip. In the past, customers could tip through the Starbucks app or in cash where tip jars were available but not when they paid in store with their debit or credit cards (per Reddit). In an increasingly cashless society, this was becoming a problem. According to Newsweek, the right to receive tips on credit and debit card orders was something Starbucks baristas began petitioning for more than a year ago with the technology finally rolling into stores gradually throughout the fall and winter of 2022.

While wages at Starbucks vary by location, many baristas at the chain make minimum wage or close to minimum wage and rely on tips to pad their income (per Starbucks). For example, an open barista position in Massachusetts, where the minimum wage is $14.25 an hour, has a $15-17 hourly starting wage. That being said, Starbucks employees do not receive the "service rate" — sometimes called a tipped wage — which applies to workers in service roles who receive more than a certain amount per month in tips, such as waitstaff or bartenders. This wage is a dramatically lower hourly rate. (In MA, it's $6.15.) Not every state adheres to the tipped wage model and the service rate varies dramatically by state, as does the number of tips earned per month that qualifies workers for this payment type, with some states going as low as $20 or as high as $120 (per Department of Labor).

A blessing or a curse?

Despite campaigning for the right to receive tips, not all Starbucks workers are pleased with the new system, and customers don't seem too thrilled either. Employees also don't seem to be worried that they may be converted to the dramatically lower service rate wage. This may be due to the fact that Starbucks is based in Washington, a state that the Department of Labor notes does not have the service rate.

Workers may not be worried about the future of their wages, but they are worried about the customers' ability to use the pin pad. The additional step in the transaction seems to be confusing patrons, leaving one Starbucks barista on TikTok to say "so embarrassing when customers go 'its not going through!!!!' bae there[']s an extra step now." The barista called the new tip option one of the "top 10 wor[st] disasters to ever happen to human kind."

Customers also find the new tipping system less than ideal, but for different reasons. Before they can finish their transaction, people are prompted to either tip $1, $2, $5, or a custom amount, or to actively select "No Tip," which customers and baristas agree makes the interaction uncomfortable (per Entrepreneur). Customers are especially disgruntled about being pushed to tip at the drive-thru, where they feel there's not enough interaction to warrant it, with one Twitter user saying, "you're literally just handing it to me." However, it's good to remember that Starbucks pools tips, so just because the person who hands you your drink may not have mixed it, someone still took the time to make you that half-caff hazelnut macchiato with almond milk.