June 3, 2005

Café attendants come up with ploys to tempt tippers

Whether it is with creativity, flattery, or flat-out seduction, employees will do whatever they can to fill up that tip jar. But as it turns out, there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to tipping at student cafes on campus.

Depending on seniority, hourly wages at Cobb, Ex Libris, and Uncle Joe's coffee shops are typically around $8. A good day of tipping means that the jar is fuller by $3 for a two-hour lunch shift at Cobb, $7 to $8 for a four-hour shift at Ex Libris, and $8 to $10 for a four-shift at Uncle Joe's, according to the employees who pocket the extra coins and cash.

At Cobb, a small sign of a former employee holding dollars with a blurb saying, "Tips make us very HAPPY" lives on the counter in front of the cash register. But regardless of the effects on the moods at baristas at Cobb, first-year in the College Alex Yablon is firm in his tipping policy.

Yablon patronizes Cobb nearly every day and spends about a dollar on candy, soda, or coffee. But he limits his spending to the price of the purchases, "because I worked at a Coldstone Creamery and I did not get tipped very much, and I felt like I did much more work than they do," he said.

Employees at Uncle Joe's make individualized tip jars for their shifts. Alex Bethurem, a second-year in the College who has been working there all year, uses incentives and covert threats to earn his tips.

His personal favorite reads, "Spit-free drinks: 50 cents."

"Sometimes I'll play ridiculously bad music and put a sign that says, ‘I'll change the music for a dollar,'" Bethurem said. Though the tactic has drawn some laughs, it has not seemed to bring in extra money so far, he added.

In fact, according to several employees, tipping is an unscientific process.

Dave Maher, a third-year in the College who has worked at Ex Libris all three years said that a friendlier mood does not guarantee more money. Instead, "the mood is a result of the tips," he said.

The tipping pattern over at Cobb seems to be much the same. "Performance I'm convinced is negligible, and it really just depends on whether the person wants to be generous," said Elliott Goodman, a second-year in the College who works at Cobb. He did say, however, that generally regulars tend to tip more than infrequent customers.

As Goodman was making this claim, one such regular came to the cash register.

"Here's a regular," Goodman said, motioning to the customer. "We're being interviewed about customer relations. How do you think our customer relations are?"

"Fantastic," the customer responded.

But enthusiastic words don't always translate into banknotes. As the regular walked away, not having tossed any change in the jar, Goodman looked over and said, "Fantastic, but no tip."

Trickery is one way of getting the coins flowing for some employees. Goodman and other workers at Cobb place a "dummy dollar" at the bottom of the tip jar. The dollar comes from an employee's pocket or the cash register and is meant to encourage customers to tip. "I guess the theory is that it warms people up," Goodman said.

The dummy dollar also serves the dual purpose of keeping employees from having to stare at empty jars. "It keeps our morale up," Goodman said.

A little sex appeal does not hurt when it comes to raking in money. "We've got a few lookers at Cobb who are pretty successful at seducing customers," said Amy Conners, the manager of Cobb. "I like to schedule shifts with them to bring in tips. Two of the boys and I had a power hour where we turned up the rock, wore tight shirts, and pulled in the big money."

One of Maher's coworkers at Ex Libris flatters her customers and tends to make extra money. But she has another secret weapon. "Also because she's attractive, so that helps for her," Maher said.

When Maher visits other coffee shops, he tends to throw his extra change in the tip jar because "it's like a good karma sort of thing," he said.

If extras do indeed bring good karma as the Ex Libris tip jar claims, first-year in the College Hannah Bachman is putting her money in the right place. "If they're in a bad mood, it means they're having a bad day," she said. "So getting a tip might make that better."