The Intense Debate Over Whether To Tip On Black Coffee

Nothing quite inflames opinions as much as the debate over whether, and how much, to tip. Do you tip less on takeout and more for dine in? Do you tip if you buy a bottle of soda at a cafe? Do you tip on each drink at the bar or when you settle up? And how much?

When it comes to coffee, it's common knowledge that you tip your barista for each latte you order, but what if you just get a cup of drip? The intense debate over whether to tip on black coffee has made headlines before, and it would seem that if you ask a barista the resounding answer is, "Yes!". Food & Wine Magazine recently asked a number of coffee shop employees, and while it may seem that just filling a cup with black coffee doesn't require a lot of time or work, some of those interviewed pointed out that a fair amount of work can go into brewing a pot of quality drip coffee.

On the customer side of things, feelings are more mixed. A Reddit thread asking this question seemed to find people divided. There were those who insisted yes, tip on every drink (even if a $1 tip on a $2.50 cup of coffee works out to be 40%), while others complained about what they saw as out of control tipping culture and didn't feel the need to tip for something as simple as pouring a cup of coffee.

Tipping culture in America has a long history

Until relatively recently, tipping 15% of the total dining check was considered the norm, while during the pandemic that norm appeared to rise to 20%. These days, there is industry staff who say that larger tips are becoming more common, and tipping 25% might be the new norm for restaurants. Regardless of how much you choose to tip, it's impossible to ignore the fact that tipping is an ingrained part of American dining culture. 

The tipped wage for waitstaff remains at roughly $2.13 per hour nationally, although some coffee shop employees could fall under the Federal Minimum Wage at $7.25 an hour. Whether they earn $2.13 plus tips or $7.25 plus tips, a 2021 study found that there was not a single place in the country where a full-time employee earning the Federal minimum wage could meet basic needs such as housing, groceries, childcare, and transportation.

Tipping continues to ignite fierce debate on social media, like this viral Tiktok complaining about tipping culture. With the rising cost of food noticeable in almost every sector, a 20% or even 25% tip on a meal out can quickly become unaffordable for some. A simple cup of black coffee might seem on its face relatively quick and easy, but for many coffee shops, there are expensive ingredients and thoughtful labor that go into that coffee. Whether or not that labor deserves a tip is a decision you'll have to make when you reach the coffee counter.