Starbucks Tip App Sparks Tipping Questions That We Answer

PHOTO: A tip sits on top of a check at a restaurant.Angela Wyant/Getty Images
A tip sits on top of a check at a restaurant.

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Starting next week, you'll be able to tip Starbucks baristas with the coffee chain's mobile iPhone app, but how much of a gratuity, if any, should you leave? Deciding who gets tipped and how much is more complicated than ever, so read on for some tips on what to do.

First off, those hard-working Starbucks baristas do depend on tips, but it's entirely up to you. The Emily Post Institute, named after the legendary advice columnist, says customers aren't under any obligation to tip baristas, unlike the way social norms dictate one should tip a restaurant waiter.

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If they go out of their way to help you or provide a great level of service or courtesy, Daniel Post Senning, great-great-grandson of Emily Post and author and spokesman for the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt., says you almost can't go wrong in tipping a service professional.

The Emily Post Institute offers general suggestions for tipping, based on historical precedence. But there are some industries that aren't considered traditional tipping services in the eyes of many.

While Post Senning doesn't have a suggestion for occupations such as full-service gas station attendants or tailors, that doesn't mean you should refrain from giving something to them.

"I would never tell someone not to tip if they felt inspired," he said. "That's what a gratuity is, to show they're thankful."

He adds that a genuine verbal expression of gratitude can go a long way, and sometimes might even go further than disrespectfully throwing money at someone.

"Saying that or leaving a little note is a meaningful gesture," he said.

Social norms tend to guide individuals in tipping for services that are more intimate, such as personal grooming.

Post Senning includes in that category home services, such as house-cleaning or driveway plowing. And it's usually a nice gesture if you tip service professionals, such as au pairs, private nurses, pet groomers, more during the holidays, the Institute advises. Tipping in certain professions, such as doctors and teachers, might be frowned upon, but non-cash gifts in those cases are usually appreciated, Post Senning said.

In case some people, cultures or businesses might be offended at a tip or lack thereof, the Emily Post Institute says it doesn't hurt to ask about guidelines. And tipping "discreetly," the Institute says, is "classy."

Here are some more tipping guidelines from the institute:

quicklist: title: Sit-down wait service category: Restaurants text: 15-20 percent, pre-tax

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quicklist: title: Buffet wait-service category: Restaurants text: 10 percent, pre-tax

quicklist: title: Host or Maitre d' category: Restaurants text: No obligation unless they go "above and beyond" to find you a table during a busy time

quicklist: title: Takeout category: Restaurants text: No obligation, although extra services like curb delivery or a large, complicated order merit 10 percent

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quicklist: title: Home Delivery category: Restaurants text: 10-15 percent of the bill, $2-5 for pizza delivery depending on the size of the order and difficulty of delivery

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quicklist: title: Bartender category: Restaurants text: $1-2 per drink or 15-20 percent of the tab

quicklist: title: Tipping jars category: Non-Sit-Down Restaurants text: No obligation, but "tip occasionally if your server or barista provides a little something extra or if you are a regular customer."

quicklist: title: Restroom Attendant category: Restaurants text: $0.50-$3, depending on the level of service, but Post Senning adds you're really under no obligation especially if you don't partake of the attendant's resources, like mouth wash or lotion, unless you're thankful for an immaculately clean bathroom.

quicklist: title: Valet category: Parking text: $2-$5. Tip when the car is returned to you.

quicklist: title: Skycap category: Travel text: $2 first bag, $1 per additional bag

quicklist: title: Doorman category: Travel text: $1-$4 for carrying luggage; $1-$2 for hailing cab (add an extra $1 if it's raining); $1-$4 beyond the call of duty; and "a smile and a thanks when he opens the door."

quicklist: title: Bellhop category: Travel text: $2 first bag, $1 per additional bag; $2-3 for each additional service, such as room delivery

quicklist: title: Housekeeper category: Travel text: $2-$5 per day, left daily with a note marked "Housekeeping - Thank you"

quicklist: title: Concierge category: Travel text: No obligation for answering questions; $5-10 for tickets or restaurant reservations; and $15 for hard-to-get tickets or reservations, or 10-20 percent of the ticket price

quicklist: title: Taxi driver category: Travel text: 15-20 percent of the fare, but minimally $1; $2 for the first bag, $1 for the second

quicklist: title: Hair Salon category: Salon/Spa text: 15-20 percent, ask to be split among those who served you

quicklist: title: Manicurist category: Salon/Spa text: 15-20 percent

quicklist: title: Facial, waxing, massage category: Salon/Spa text: 15-20 percent