The debate over whether to tip your barista at coffee shops might have been simpler years ago. When cash was more common, it made sense to slide the change from your order into the tip jar without much thought. But now that we have order-ahead apps, mobile payments, Square, etc., how much are most Americans tipping on lattes or coffee? It varies from state to state, but on average: 11.4 percent.
That figure comes from a recent report from the Specialty Coffee Association and Square, the credit-card processing company. Square gathered data from coffee shop transactions across the country—Square transactions at restaurants prompt the customer to select a percentage tip, usually 10, 20, or 30 percent—and calculated the average percentage tipped on coffee orders. New Jersey had the stingiest coffee tippers, at just 7.5 percent on average, while Alaska had the highest, at 17.5 percent. (MarketWatch has a tidy map that shows all states’ averages.)
An 11-percent tip might sound stingy compared to the suggested 15-20 percent you’d tip at a full-service restaurant, but customers likely don’t equate the effort that goes into pouring a cup of coffee with the effort of waiting on a table for a full dinner. Sure, it doesn’t take long to pour a cup of black coffee, but what about that fancy-pants latte—half-caff, extra foam, with a dusting of mocha powder, etc.? On a $4.50 latte order, for example, that 11 percent works out to just under 50 cents. The same Square report shows that the average American requests two custom add-ons to their coffee order—does that put them in 15-percent tip territory?
While this comments-section poll from The Washington Post isn’t necessarily scientifically valid, it indicates that 70 percent of respondents don’t regularly tip anything at a coffee shop. If we match that up with the Square data, that means there’s a huge gap between customers who don’t tip on coffee period, and the minority who are making up for them with hefty gratuities.