UnderCover Waitress: Baristas Fighting to Keep Tip Jar Tips

Friday, May 31, 2013

Baristas Fighting to Keep Tip Jar Tips

All eyes are on the state of New York. Baristas at Starbucks are complaining about manager-level employees dipping their paws in the tip jar.

Let's review:

  • We know that it is against federal law for back-of-house employees to take server tips. 
  • We know that it is against New York law for owners "and their agents" to take server tips. 
What is an agent? An employee who works on behalf of the owner; for example, a manager. The problem here is that New York has not specifically defined who qualifies as an agent. The result is a tip jar depleted by those working in management positions. 

Currently, Starbucks managers and assistant managers may not take part in the tip pool. Shift supervisors are considered between management and barista. They have more responsibility than the lowly baristas, but they do serve customers.

Never having worked at a Starbucks, I wonder if the shift supervisor is, essentially, a hostess in a sit-down restaurant. The hostess seats customers in waitress sections and oversees all of the tables. When a waitress needs help, the hostess is there to make sure everything runs smoothly. Ideally, a hostess should not be paid as a tipped employee, although I would not be surprised to discover shady restaurant owners doing it anyway... but I digress. 

With the added responsibilities and authority, the shift supervisors at Starbucks should be making more per hour than the baristas, before tips. And I know that when I am in a coffee shop, when I drop a dollar or my change into the tip jar, I hope/expect that it is going to the person behind the counter, on her feet, looking at a long line of potentially impatient people and smiling the whole time, as if she were making coffee at home for a friend. 

That change that gets dropped into the tip jar brings up an important difference between Starbucks and a sit-down restaurant: the tips left for baristas are smaller than those left for a waitress. I highly doubt the volume makes up for it, but I could be wrong. 

Shift supervisors should be paid according to their level of responsibility, and should get their paws out of the tip jar. Leave the tips for the working stiffs. According to MarketWatch, Starbucks' profits are up and rising. Therefore, if they complain that they can't afford to pay their shift supervisors we should all sneer at them. 

The shift supervisors are arguing that 98 percent of their work duties are the same as the baristas, which is why they feel entitled to tips. 98 percent is high, and if that is true then I would not deny the smiling, on her feet shift supervisor behind the counter making my coffee a cut of the tips. However, I am skeptical of the claim. I am listening and watching to learn how this plays out. 

What Do You Think? 

I would love to hear what others think about this, especially if you have experience in coffee shops including Starbucks. Please feel free to leave an anonymous comment expressing your viewpoint. Thank you! 


  1. I would be extremely skeptical. I don't go into Starbucks myself, but the tips jars should be kept from the greedy paws of anyone remotely resembling management.

    Thanks very much for your kind words on my blog.

  2. I am a shift at Starbucks. I, personally would not care if the tips were exclusively for baristas. That being said, I do ALL the work that a barista does every day (Trash runs, register, drive-thru, making drinks, sweeping and mopping, cleaning the bathrooms, etc.) PLUS, I have the added stress of the "shift" duties (cash-handling, food orders, maintenance calls, conflict resolution, customer complaints, covering shifts for ill partners, etc.) When I became a shift, I received a $1 an hour raise. Everyone gets periodic raises throughout the year, so there are a few baristas at my store that make more than I do simply because they've been there for so long. Truthfully, it's the guaranteed hours that are the real benefit of being a shift. Not the hourly pay. Our tip rate usually ends up being between $1.30 and $1.60 an hour at the end of the week. If we shifts did not receive the tips anymore, many of us would be making LESS than baristas for doing the same job, and then some. Like I said before, I choose to remain a shift because of the guaranteed 37-39 hours a week I get. If the baristas decided that they felt it was unfair for us to receive tips, I would stop accepting them. I would never want to make my valued coworkers feel cheated.

    1. Thank you so much for weighing in! Based upon your words, at first it does seem silly for the baristas to be complaining because you do much of the same work. It seems to me that the added responsibilities make you worth more than just $1 more per hour. While it is nice that Starbucks gives raises periodically, which certainly must help them retain their employees, it does seem nuts that a shift can end up making less than a barista. With responsibility should come more than just guaranteed hours; it should mean a higher salary range. In a perfect world, anyway. :-)


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