I’ve been burned more than once by the fact that loyalty programs’ reward points can expire. Sephora Beauty Insider, PetSmart Treats, Starbucks Rewards—they’ve all let me down by setting a hard deadline for when I can redeem my loyalty perks. So as soon as I hit 50 stars in my Starbucks app this week, I spent them on a free Pike Place coffee faster than you could say “you aren’t gonna screw me over this time, Starbucks.” Little did I know that, by cashing out my points, I was about to inadvertently screw over Starbucks employees.
I placed my mobile pickup order in the Starbucks app and picked up the free coffee at my nearest location without incident. Back at my desk, I opened the app again to add a tip to the order. Since I got the beverage for free, I figured I’d tip the typical cost of the drink, $3.25. After several moments spent futzing with various menus in the app like a Boomer, however, I realized the usual tipping option wasn’t available. Because I had “paid” for the drink with Rewards points (or “stars”), I was not permitted to leave a tip on that drink within the app.
What—and I cannot stress this enough—the fuck, Starbucks?
I am far from the only customer to have noticed the snafu; many have taken to Twitter to express their displeasure with the seemingly arbitrary restriction on tipping. But the inability to tip on Rewards purchases is hardly the only problem the chain has when it comes to compensating its workers properly.
Indeed, tipping has always been a practice de-emphasized, if not outright discouraged, by the Starbucks Corporation. Even on orders paid for by credit card, the Starbucks app does not prompt tipping in any way throughout the checkout procedure—customers who would like to tip have to make a point of navigating back into their order history retroactively, then apply a tip of a set amount, and only within two hours of when the order was initially placed (not picked up, but placed). And while the vast majority of point-of-sale systems in the food service industry tend to ask if customers would like to leave a tip, Starbucks stubbornly keeps this step out of its process. Tip jars, when they are allowed to appear, are never labeled.
I reached out to Starbucks customer service, which confirmed that tipping on Rewards orders is not allowed. I tried asking why just about every way I knew how, but no answer was given. We’ve reached out to Starbucks’ communications team, but have yet to hear back.
Over on Reddit, where the odd policy was discussed earlier this year, one user who claims they’re a barista confirms that you can’t tip when redeeming stars, but has this advice for frustrated customers:
Next time you see the barista if you wanna hand them a tip individually put it in an envelope for them to make sure it stays with them. Otherwise if you tip cash or in the app the next time you order it’ll still find it’s way to them since we pool our tips and get tipped depending on how many hours we worked that week.
So, all is not lost. But carrying cash is probably the best way to make sure the workers aren’t getting screwed. Well, that and supporting Starbucks workers’ unionization efforts (and calling out the company’s efforts to quash them)!
Better late than never, I’m about to head over to Starbucks and drop a $5 bill in the tip jar. Cold, hard cash, free from the endless technicalities of digital payment systems. That’s probably what I should have been making a habit of doing all along.