Creamer Schemers

A couple weeks ago, my Nespresso coffee maker sprung a leak. As it brewed a cup, it also “espressed” a small river of coffee from the base of the unit. An online chat with the good people at Nespresso determined, a) the maker really was broken, b) the one-year warranty covered the repair (whoo-hoo!), and c) the fix would take up to ten business days. Well beans; ten business days meant regressing a full two weeks on drip coffee instead.  Hold the phone; did I just label myself a coffee snob?

Nespresso

Nespresso – for those of you not familiar – is one of the many capsule coffee systems on the market today. Unlike the Keurig K-Cup, “Nestle-Espresso” capsules spin as the water passes through the grounds (7,000 RPMs – vroom vroom!), adding a light-colored frothy cap of “crema” on top. The crema enhances the aroma, but more importantly delivers the mouth-feel of a latte, as if you stirred something in from the dairy family. But call me fooled; Nespresso’s nothing more than coffee in the cup.

Bunn’s coffee-monster

Coffee snob? Parvenu, perhaps. It wasn’t that long ago I contentedly drank “joe” from one of those big metal Bunn machines, flavor-boosting my Styrofoam cup contents with a sugar cube and powdered Coffee-mate. Then, I spent a year in Rome and my world was forever coffee-rocked. I returned to the States armed with words like cappuccino and espresso and caffe latte. But America didn’t even know the word Starbucks yet. A “coffee shop” was still a greasy spoon diner; forgettable joe in a forgettable cup.

Mind you, not having Starbucks didn’t mean I was gonna crawl back to the Bunn, especially after a year of Italy’s la dolce vita (look it up). Eventually I dropped hard-earned cash on one of those early model home coffee/espresso/steamed milk contraptions – a machine requiring twenty minutes, twenty steps, and a phone-book-sized operations manual to produce a small cappuccino. The birth of the American barista did not start at Starbucks, my friends. It started in the frustration of orchestrating an overly complicated home-brew system in search of pseudo-Italian-style coffee.

Sometime after Starbucks opened its first doors (but before Nespresso), Keurig developed the K-Cup. The Keurig coffeemaker felt like a huge step up from standard drip (and ushered in the concept of single-serve coffee at home). Keurig opened a seemingly new world of coffee to me – exotic names like Green Mountain or Paul Newman’s or Donut Shop – but let’s be honest. Keurig was basically glorified drip, and I still wasn’t taking my coffee straight, like I did in Italy. And that’s where Nespresso shines. If the K-Cup is a step up from drip, Nespresso is the entire staircase.

Ironically, the same company producing Nespresso markets a line of oil-based creamers sugary enough to make your coffee taste like Easter in a cup. Nestle already offered creamer flavors like Peppermint Mocha or Italian Sweet Creme or Toasted Marshmallow, before recently adding Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Funfetti. Not to be outdone, International Delight augmented its own coffee creamer line – REESE’S Peanut Butter Cup, Cinnabon, and OREO Cookie Flavored, with – no joke – a PEEPS flavor. Better check for bunnies before you take a sip.

For the record (if the Pulptastic website is to be believed), I’m not even close to being a coffee snob. I can choose from any of their twelve defining characteristics and come up short. I don’t read about coffee. I don’t speak the lingo (“Robusta?” “Arabica?”). I don’t know what “cupping” is. I do enjoy a Starbucks coffee every now and then. Finally, I’m half-tempted to check out the PEEPS creamer (maybe I won’t even need the coffee in my cup). See the Pulptastic list for yourself. Maybe you’re the coffee snob instead of me.

I’m still waiting (im)patiently for my repaired Nespresso coffeemaker to come back. I’m barely surviving on my backup K-Cups. But I’m no coffee snob. And I was just kidding about wanting to try PEEPS in a bottle. On the contrary, those creamer schemers can keep their product far, far away from my Nespresso.

Some content sourced from the 2/3/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “Rich Sales Boost Coffee Creamers”.

Coffee Breakers

Every now and then I take this blogging habit out onto the road, so to speak.  Instead of typing paragraphs from the home office, I’ll liberate my laptop from its cables, hop in the car, and head over to the local coffee house.  Working in a caffeinated environment – especially one buzzing with grouplets of chatty patrons – brings out the creative juices in me (if not the ability to concentrate).  Lately however, I’ve decided my little laptop show pales in comparison to some of the real road warriors out there.  Apparently, I need to show up with more toys in hand.  It’s time to go “Venti” instead of “Tall” and become one of the true coffee-breakers.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the patron I’m talking about here.  Coffee-breakers recreate their home office (or “office office”) on a table in the middle of Starbucks.  They consume more than their fair share of coffee house real estate (but not their fair share of coffee relative to their extended stay).  They arrange face-to-face meetings with colleagues, and interviews with prospective employees.  They hold Bluetooth conversations as they stare at nothing in particular.  Or FaceTime conversations as they have one-on-one’s with their phones.

I’ve come across several breakers in my coffee house stays.  They demonstrate distinct behaviors to separate themselves from those of us who simply want laptop time with our lattes.  First, breakers set up their workspaces, with enough time and attention to detail to announce, “Notice me!”  Then they go to the counter to place their coffee orders, deliberately leaving their setups unattended (as if to say, “This space is reserved!”).  Finally, they begin their “work”, which doesn’t really seem like work.  I can’t help thinking coffee-breakers are more often show than substance.

A few weeks ago at the local Starbucks, I left my laptop and Flat White to take a quick phone call outside the store doors (the polite thing to do).  When I returned, I found I’d been joined by a coffee-breaker.  She was carefully positioning two Bluetooth speakers on the table in front of her; then fiddling with her phone and a few other components from her oversized backpack.  As soon as her speakers gushed music (clashing with the Starbucks music playing overhead), she put in her AirPods and simultaneously took a phone call.  She operated as if she was in her own little world (i.e. I didn’t exist).  Therein lies another distinct coffee-breaker behavior: virtual walls.

On another visit, I was party to a conversation between a commercial real estate broker and a prospective tenant.  He sat his client (deliberately) adjacent to the counter queue, which (conveniently) put him in the center of the store.  The broker was hawking lease space in the adjacent soon-to-be-opened retail center.  No wonder he raised his voice as he spoke.  This coffee-breaker’s sales pitch was as much for me and my fellow patrons as for the captive soul sitting right in front of him.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently published a dozen rules for coffee-breakers; rules that should be laminated to every Starbucks building in the land.  Examples: Work only where and when you’re wanted (i.e. ask first).  Buy first, sit second.  Buy more than one small black coffee during the day.  Don’t take work calls – ever.  And so on.  Perhaps more enlightening was the reader comments in response to the rules.  I perused four pages’ worth (30+ comments) and not one came to the defense of coffee-breakers.  In fact, several comments added more rules to the list.

To my earlier comment about going “Venti”, I talk – of course – tongue-in-cheek.  A little attention is a good thing, but my hope is most of us would not deliberately choose to be a coffee-breaker (else this is the end of Western civilization as we know it).  Nope, I think I’ll take my road show to the library instead.

Some content sourced from the 8/27/19 Wall Street Journal article, “How to Act Like a Human When Working From a Coffee Shop”.

Ahoy, Matey!

At the Jolly Roger Restaurant in the small Southern California town of Oceanside, you can order an Avocado Blast as a starter (tempura-battered avo stuffed with shrimp and tuna), Orange Coconut Salmon as an entree (panko-crusted with a sweet ginger glaze), and fruit-topped New York Cheesecake as a dessert, all while watching live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights. The “JR” may be a little fancy for your tastes but let me tell you; it’s a LOT fancy for mine. That’s because the only version of the Jolly Roger I ever knew was my favorite boyhood burger joint.  As pirates like to say, “Aarrr…

Why blog about a long-ago restaurant?  Because I’ve just returned from several days of vacation in Del Mar (just a few miles south of Oceanside), where my family and I spent my childhood summers.  Del Mar is renowned for its county fair and thoroughbred racetrack (“Where the Turf Meets the Surf”), but for me it was – and still is – a nirvana of sun, sand, and surf; chock-full of happy, carefree memories.  Including the Jolly Roger.

Del Mar beach

The beauty of Del Mar back in the day, besides its seaside location, was the sheer simplicity of the place.  The town was the perfect setup for a kid.  You could walk or bike from the residential areas to the shops in minutes.  You could spend pocket money on Slurpees and pinball at the 7-11.  You could meet/greet frequent passenger trains at Del Mar’s tiny station (while those same trains flattened pennies on the rails).  You could also sneak into the racetrack, collecting discarded betting tickets in hopes of finding an overlooked winner.  And if you were lucky, you had dinner at the Jolly Roger.

Del Mar train crossing

The Jolly Roger got its start as an ice cream parlor in 1945, adjacent to the lake in Big Bear, CA.  But the lake promptly went dry, which led to a lack of landlubbers walking through the doors.  The parlor then relocated to Newport Beach (where the ocean never goes dry).  Patrons soon asked for more than ice cream, so the JR evolved into a coffee shop; then into a chain of restaurants.  At its peak, the JR had forty locations, each adorned with the trademark black flag with skull and crossbones.  But as one article cruelly described its demise in 1985, “…the Jolly Roger pirate has ‘walked the plank’, and the restaurant chain has been consigned to Davey Jones’ locker.”  As far as I know, Oceanside is now the only remaining restaurant.

There’s more to my JR memories than those couple of seaside locations.  The JR also had a restaurant in the heart of Los Angeles, in a shopping center my dad developed back in the 1960’s.  The center is still there but alas, not the JR (now a Mexican restaurant).  No matter; the memories remain.  I never complained when my dad wanted to stop by his center on weekends.  That usually meant a family dinner at the JR, and a lot of yo-ho-ho-ing around the table.

Jolly Roger menu – original cover page

Sadly, the Jolly Roger location where my family and I shared many a dinner – next door to Del Mar in Solana Beach – is also gone (converted into a Starbucks – shiver me timbers!)  And the Oceanside restaurant has evolved into something a whole lot fancier.  No matter again.  My JR will always exist.  I picture the restaurant where the waiters dressed like pirates, the kid’s menus looked like a pirate, and the best options for dinner were burgers & fries, grilled cheese, and milkshakes.  The JR also had quite the dessert menu, including full-boat chocolate sundaes and coconut-cream pie.

Dead men tell no tales, but I sure do.  Thanks for the memories, JR!

Poultry Par Excellence

Among its endless and varied topics, Wikipedia includes a list of “notable chicken restaurants” (just about all of them U.S.-based). In the fast-food subcategory alone, you find over 75 fowl food-stops. I recognized about one in ten as I scanned the list, including Bojangles’, Bush’s, Church’s, El Pollo Loco, KFC, Popeye’s, Raising Cane’s, Wild Wings, and Zaxby’s. That’s a lot of drive-thru chicken. Yet put ’em all in the back seat, because I side with those clever Holstein dairy cows, begging me to “Eat Mor Chikin”.  And I do eat more – at Chick-fil-A.

As the kids morphed from teenagers to adults, fast food pretty much disappeared from our eating-out options.  Starbucks aside (because coffee is the elixir of life), we stopped navigating the circuitous drive-thru’s of McDonald’s and the like.  Our palates demanded better and healthier.  More appealing sit-down options beckoned on every street corner.  But Chick-fil-A stubbornly persisted in the mix, as if waving a banner with the words, “Exception To The Rule”.

Dwarf House – Hapeville, GA

No matter how you label it, there’s a lot to like about Chick-fil-A.  For one, it’s the great American success story.  Its origins trace back to founder S. Truett Cathy, and a 1960’s-era restaurant near Atlanta called Dwarf House.  Its popularity swelled through twenty years of growth in shopping mall food courts. Its first free-standing restaurant opened in 1986.  Today, you’ll find more than 2,400 Chick-fil-A’s scattered across the continent, including a prominent three-story location in mid-town Manhattan, and several in Toronto, Canada.

It’s all about the food, of course.  Chick-fil-A’s most-ordered entree – the classic chicken sandwich (breaded, with pickles and a butter-toasted bun) – is a recipe unchanged since its inception fifty years ago.  The signature waffle fries accompanying the entrees are the most popular item on the entire menu.  And Chick-fil-A’s lemonade and milkshakes have a devoted following all by themselves.  Some patrons cruise the drive-thru for nothing but the drinks.

The Chick-fil-A’ “classic”

There’s more to like about Chick-fil-A.  Their brand of customer service is exceptional.  Chick-fil-A is the only restaurant I know where you’ll hear the words “my pleasure” in exchange for your “thank you”.  Between your order, payment, and the window itself, you’ll probably get “my pleasure'” three times in a single drive-thru.  That kind of courtesy never gets old.

American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)

How about the numbers?  Chick-fil-A is the third-biggest U.S. restaurant chain ranked by sales (behind only Starbucks and McDonald’s).  Their sales have quintupled in the last ten years, to over $10.2 billion.  Chick-fil-A’s market share among fast-food chicken restaurants hovers around 33%.  Their nearest competitor – KFC – is a distant 15.3%.

Here’s one more reason to love Chick-fil-A: they’re closed on Sundays (as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas).  In the company’s own words, “Our decision to close on Sunday was our way of honoring God and of directing our attention to things that mattered more than our business.”  No matter the faith angle, you have to respect a restaurant giving its entire workforce the day off once a week.  Not to mention, a closed Chick-fil-A just makes the heart grow fonder.

A recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) profile on Chick-fil-A shows they don’t mess with success.  McDonald’s regularly tests its patrons with trendy offerings (“Bacon Smokehouse Burger”).  Burger King reinvents itself with its upcoming “Impossible” (veggie) Whopper.  Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A maintains a little-changed menu of what’s been selling for decades: responsibly sourced, domestically produced, no-filler-no-preservative chicken.

At the conclusion of the WSJ article, I found one hundred reader comments about Chick-fil-A.  I scanned half of them, and every last one was positive.  That’s a first for me.  In today’s cynical world, 100% positive feedback may be the most telling statistic of all.

Final factoid.  For all my allegiance to Chick-fil-A, I must admit I didn’t know the origin of the name – until now.  Go figure, it’s just a mash-up of “chicken fillet”.  And the “-A”?  “Grade A”, a subtle nod to the quality of the Chick-fil-A product.  No wonder those cows push you to lay off beef.  They’re offering chicken par excellence instead.

Some content sourced from the official website of Chick-fil-A.

It’s All in the Cards

Back in the Boy Scouts, my troop-mates and I memorized statements designed to make us better young men. The Boy Scout motto was, “Be Prepared”. The Scout slogan: “Do a Good Turn Daily” (help others). The Scout oath – several sentences stated with a raised right hand (fingers forming the Scout sign) – included obedience to the twelve points of the Scout law. Recently I’ve been thinking about Point #2 of the Scout law, Loyalty; showing care for family, friends, and country.  But what about care for merchants?

Customer loyalty programs – those structured marketing ploys designed to tempt continued shopping at particular businesses – are standard retail procedure these days.  The use of plastic and punch cards, account numbers, or scanned apps is as common as pulling out your Visa.  I get suspicious when a merchant doesn’t have a loyalty program.  It’s all about the points, and the allure of discounts or freebies through accumulated spending.

American Airlines, credited with starting the first full-scale customer loyalty program in modern times (1981), had no idea its “frequent fliers” would become the trendsetters for countless programs to follow.  But the drive for customer loyalty started way before AA.  Anyone who remembers pasting S&H Green Stamps into collection books, clipping Betty Crocker coupons straight from the product box, fishing prizes from Cracker Jack caramel corn, or joining the Columbia House Record Club (“8 CD’s for a penny!”) has dipped their toe into the customer loyalty pool before.

I took a quick inventory of my own customer loyalty and the numbers surprised me.  I carry eight cards in my car.  I have another eleven apps on my phone and another ten on-line accounts.  That’s 29 unique programs, and over 30 if I include the couple of credit cards where my swipes eventually equal cash back.  For someone who rarely shops on impulse, that’s more attention to spending than I’d care to admit.

If I did a little spring cleaning, I’d likely reduce my loyalty programs by one-third.  Many sit gathering dust because I haven’t used the merchant or service in years.  Others accumulate points at a snail’s pace.  Fill my inbox with special sales alerts or saturate my voice mails with pleas to “buy now!”; it won’t matter.  I purchase on my own terms.

Here are two recent loyalty experiences; the reasons I chose this topic today.  Last September we took a weekend trip to Aspen, settling for a Westin hotel in nearby Snowmass (Aspen is over-the-top expensive to us commoners).  When I went to Westin’s website for the booking, I discovered their loyalty program (Starwood) was merging with Marriott Rewards (now Marriott Bonvoy).  Hallelujah – my Aspen getaway gets me points! But not so fast.  Logging into Marriott Rewards, the home page alerted me to the fact the program merge was still in progress, and a Westin stay might not result in Marriott points.  Long story short, I called the hotel, spoke to the front desk, and had them book the reservation for me instead.  Yep, you can still do it the old-fashioned way.  And you still get points.

My other recent loyalty experience involved Nicholas Mosse Pottery (Kilkenny, Ireland).  Mosse makes beautiful handmade plates and bowls and the like, and we’ve been collecting a few pieces at a time since visiting Ireland a few years ago.  Points for me (ha) for joining the Mosse loyalty program from the get-go.  Just this week they alerted me me to my quietly-amassed rewards.  I then purchased a $70 plate for virtually nothing.

My Mosse experience is the perfect example of my casual approach to customer loyalty.  I don’t keep track of points until they equate to something significant.  Sure, I favor certain products and services, but I’d still favor Marriott or Starbucks or Costco without their loyalty programs.  For someone who tracks every penny, there’s something very satisfying in the surprise of unexpected discounts.  That’s how it works best for me.

Here’s my advice.  Don’t let customer loyalty programs drive your spending habits.  If you do, the merchant “wins”, because you’re likely spending more along the way than whatever discount or freebie you end up getting.  Loyalty = showing care; yes, but with retail that should only mean preferring one store over another.  Despite what they’d have you believe, it’s not all in the cards.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and from the Wall Street Journal article, “Inside the Marriott-Starwood Loyalty Program Turbulence”.

A Distant Third (cont.)

Last Tuesday in cycle class, pedaling through the five-minute recovery after an hour of torture, our instructor asked if we’d like a Christmas carol or two from her playlist.  The one rider with enough oxygen lashed out vehemently, “NO!  It’s too early!”  Well how about that; score a point for Thanksgiving.  The sun set on Halloween two weeks ago and mighty Christmas is already trying to muscle its way to the forefront.  But Thanksgiving has a thing or two to say first.  If you please, keep the sugar plums out of my turkey and stuffing.

In last week’s post, I compared popular aspects of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas (i.e. history, music, food).  The final tally: Christmas the clear winner – no surprise – with Halloween solidly in second.  But lest we relegate Thanksgiving to the bronze medal year after year, my blog-intent is to reinvigorate America’s late-November holiday, and remind readers why Turkey Day stands on its own merits.

On that note, we’re starting November with promise.  My wife is getting endless mailbox catalogs, and I was delighted to find Williams-Sonoma’s “Thanksgiving Headquarters” edition: 180 pages of food, linens, kitchenware, and decor specifically designed for the holidays.  They even photo-profiled a barn-based “Friendsgiving” celebration in upstate New York.  Granted, the Thanksgiving section of the catalog ended on p.67, meaning the remaining 100 pages were all about Christmas.  No matter – 67 pages of Thanksgiving is impressive.  Way to go, Williams-Sonoma.

Starbucks also made a statement – albeit more feeble – putting their unique spin on Thanksgiving.  Right now, you can drive-thru and order a Turkey & Stuffing Panini (with cranberries and gravy!), perfectly nicknamed “a handheld turkey dinner”.  Then pair your panini with a Chestnut Praline Latte (“flavors of caramelized chestnuts and spices, topped with whipped cream and spiced praline crumbs”).  That combo speaks more to November than December in my book.  Not bad, Starbucks.

Retail aside, Thanksgiving plays out as more of an extended weekend than a single day.  Consider the before/after events.  Wednesday (“Thanksgiving Eve”) is routinely labeled “the single busiest travel day of the year”.  Well guess what?  It’s not.  Thanksgiving Day is the busiest travel day of the year, considering 90% of us drive our cars to the family gathering that morning.  Thanksgiving Wednesday (and Thanksgiving Sunday) only seem busiest because the chaos at the airports gets so much attention.

Now, on Turkey Day itself, besides the meal and the backyard football, we begin with the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”.  My family always seems to miss the broadcast because we’re so busy in the kitchen.  Macy’s is three hours of marching bands, dancing Rockettes, Broadway singers, flying character balloons, and – as far as I can tell – one nod to Thanksgiving (the massive turkey in the photo above).  But hang on ’til the very end of the broadcast, because… here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, wrapping up the parade the same way he’s done every year since 1924.  It’s like the Williams-Sonoma catalog – Thanksgiving on the outside but more “holiday season” in disguise.

Thanksgiving Friday is “Black”, of course – the so-called beginning of the Christmas shopping season.  We Americans spend over $50 billion that day (putting retailers “back in the black” with profits – hence the name).  It’s safe to say this bonanza of spending isn’t going away anytime soon.  By its very nature, Black Friday extinguishes Thanksgiving – almost before the pumpkin pie is served.  Black Friday sales begin as early as 5pm on Thursday evening (making the name obsolete, don’t you think?)  And if Thanksgiving isn’t early enough for you, some stores begin sales a week before Black Friday, with the teaser, “avoid the chaos of Black Friday – shop now!”  Uh, what’s the real meaning of Christmas again?

So there you have it – Christmas putting the squeeze on Thanksgiving like the Grinch on Whoville. Santa concludes the Macy’s parade at 12:00pm ET.  Christmas shopping begins five hours later.  In between, throw a meal on the table, mumble a blessing, and don’t forget to say thanks.  If we’re not careful, Thanksgiving Day will be reduced to Thanksgiving Hour.  It’s a phenomenon known as “holiday compression depression” (okay, I just made that up), but hey; it’s happened before.  In 1971, George and Abe got their standalone birthday celebrations mashed into a single holiday.  Even they feel Thanksgiving’s pain.

Tipsy-Turvy

Emily Post’s Etiquette is surely an authority on its topic, considering the book was first published in 1922 and is now into its nineteenth edition. I would’ve enjoyed meeting Ms. Post, as Etiquette remains “the most trusted resource for navigating life’s every situation”. The advice never veers from its original premise, simply adapting to times as they change.  Of course, it’s all about manners – good ones at that. And were Emily Post alive today, she’d have us flip to Chapter 13, for a review of a practice of growing concern (and confusion).  Chapter 13 talks about tipping.

   

I’ve written about tipping before.  Three years ago (!) I told the story of my family’s visit to New York City, and the cabbie who crammed the six of us into one vehicle, then demanded a bigger tip than I gave, as a reward for saving the cost of a second cab.  I disagreed with him, because I believed – still do – a tip reflects the service itself (which was marginal).  More importantly, the recipient should never expect the tip, let alone argue over the amount.

Square’s POS

So-o-o, why is tipping such a hot topic now?  Because restaurants and coffee shops are moving to point-of-sale (POS) technology at the counter, allowing the customer to complete the transaction through an iPad, no cash required.  POS software (like Square) includes a tipping screen, offering suggested percentages/amounts, or no tip at all.  It’s a change to the social dynamic.  Before POS, you could discreetly add (or not add) a tip to your receipt before signing, or perhaps throw a few coins into the jar.  With POS, the tipping decision is forced on you at the front of the line (hurry up!).  And don’t be surprised if the person behind you sneaks a peak while you choose your tip.

My issue is not with the POS technology itself.  I like the security of completing a transaction (i.e. the credit card never leaves the hand), and I don’t mind navigating a couple of iPad screens to do it.  What I do mind is “tipping manipulation” as I’m standing at the counter.  The suggested amounts are the first thing you see, and beckon in LARGE FONTS.  To leave a smaller amount requires additional screens.  The “No Tip” option sits at the bottom like an afterthought.  Behavioral science says you’ll almost always choose from the top row, whether the service deserves it or not.

POS software gives the merchant the option to remove the tipping screen altogether, but I’m not suggesting they go back to a jar of coins.  Instead, before the tipping screen, why not insert a common courtesy (channeling Emily Post here): a screen simply asking, “Would you like to leave a tip?”

If your habit is to always (or never) leave a tip, consider the variables behind the curtains.  Some businesses adjust employee pay down if the position receives tips.  Other businesses pool tips, then divide the pot between all service positions (did you really intend to tip the dishwasher)?  The American Restaurant Association claims some states allow service businesses to pay less than minimum wage, because tips are legally considered wages.  Finally, minimum wage varies by state, so a nice tip in one state might be an insult in another.  Yet you, the tipper, have no idea if one or more of the above applies as you’re about to pay.  Messy, no?

Timeout for a favorite tipping story.  After years of one-on-one sessions, my personal trainer decided to resign my athletic club and pursue another career.  Knowing she was leaving, I asked if I could leave a tip with my final payment.  She declined, saying club policy did not allow tips.  However, she said, I could give her a positive review through the club’s on-line survey, and then she would likely receive a bonus in her paycheck.  Money and acknowledgement by her manager?  I completed the survey.

Someone once said, “Tips are like hugs, without the awkward body contact.”  I like that, except we’re starting to get awkward again.  POS screens allow for invasion of personal space, bringing tipping into the open.  Maybe Square should take a “tip” from Starbucks.  Use the Starbucks app to pay with your phone at the counter, and the tipping comes later, in the privacy of your own whatever.  You’re given several hours to consider if and how much you should tip.  I think Etiquette Chap. 13 would agree with that approach.

I’ll continue to be a savvy tipper, no matter what I’m faced with.  If I use a POS iPad, I’ll go with a “Custom Tip Amount” if I need to.  If I sign a credit-card slip, I’ll always tip on the pre-tax amount and I’ll never blindly choose 15%.  If it’s cash in hand, I’m at the mercy of the denominations I have in my pocket.  And in every case, I’ll ask myself the same question Emily Post would pose: “Did I receive notably good service?”

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”,  from the Wall Street Journal article, “You Want 20% for Handing Me a Muffin?”, and from the USA Today article, “How Much to Tip…?”