It is 2 p.m. on a Saturday in an East Sac coffeehouse. I, nearly two hours distant from my last cup of coffee, break from my studying friends for a refill.
As I approach the counter, I get the nagging feeling that something is off. Then it hits me. The guy who was at the register before is on break. Normally, having someone else ring me up wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for one thing: the other guy saw me tip.
He smiles at me, and I order.
“One medium iced coffee, please.”
He turns around and reaches for a pitcher as I break into a cold sweat.
“That’ll be $2.10.”
I hand him my debit card to scan into the iPad register that nearly every independent coffeehouse has decided to install. Oh, how I despise those registers.
Now for the part I’ve been dreading since the whole exchange began: tipping.
With the proliferation of the iPad as a point-of-sale device (particularly with the use of the Square mobile card reader), tipping is no longer something that you do in a jar with your spare change. Now it is the default.
The numbers that appear on the screen aren’t even modest sums. At Tupelo, the three options are $1, $1.50 and $2. (Keep in mind that those prices range from half to almost the entire price of my drink.)
Anything else, and you’re either required to choose the “custom tip” option or simply choose “no tip,” which makes me feel and look like a complete cheapskate.
Of course, no one’s ever said anything to me about deciding not to tip, but I can feel the icy, judging stares from the barista as I return to my table with my iced coffee.
I’m an American, a nationality known for our strong opinions. We hate communism, we believe in the right of the average citizen to own a high-powered assault rifle and, most importantly, we believe in the right to pay 70 percent of our waiter’s wages.
My policy is to put everything smaller than a quarter into the tip jar. It’s not big, but it’s certainly equivalent to the effort of grabbing a pitcher full of iced coffee and pouring it into a glass.
At the risk of sounding like a whiner, I like to feel like tipping is something extra that I do for someone, not a default option that I feel guilty for avoiding. And please, coffeehouses, make those amounts smaller. I’m happy to pay double once in exchange for bumming around your place for four hours, but no more than that.
The iPad makes its malevolent swivel.
Long have I been enslaved under its rule. Not today, I decide. I select “no tip” for the first time in ages.
“Thank you. Have a nice day!”
Previously published in the print edition on Nov. 25, 2014.