There’s a common misconception that tipping is a generous act and that 10% of the bill should suffice. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an economy that justifies that train of thought or math. As the battle for restaurant workers to earn a living wage continues, it’s crucial for American consumers to remember to tip food servers—and tip them well—every time they dine out or order in (you should tip delivery people too). Food service employees depend on tips for their livelihood and customers who think tipping is optional are either totally oblivious or just cheap. In some states, like Colorado, tipped workers can make even less than the minimum wage. So here in the Centennial State, where the hourly minimum is a measly $8.23, a server who can receive direct individual tips (vs. a tipping pool), may be legally paid as low as $5.21 an hour. Yeah, that’s insane and that’s why you should always tip your waiter or waitress. As a conscious patron, you need to acknowledge when a person provides you with a service, and that acknowledgement comes in the form of monetary gratuity. Sure, the better service, the more you’re willing tip. But to tip anything below 15% (although I prefer to leave at least 20%) is like announcing your compliance with a problematic system that devalues those in the service industry. Don’t be so inconsiderate or indifferent towards the individuals you depend on almost daily, who help feed and nourish you. If you can afford to eat out, then you can afford to recognize the work of servers.

photo courtesy of Dennis Miyashiro/Flickr

photo courtesy of Dennis Miyashiro/Flickr

And I’m insisting that you show your appreciation and support for all food service employees. That includes members of a fine-dining restaurant’s wait staff—who may or may not be splitting their tips with runners and bussers—and a front-of-house employee at a casual eatery—where you order and maybe even pick up your meal at the counter. If they accept gratuity, think of it as an obligation and not an invitation: if there’s a tip jar or a tip line on the receipt then you have to pay up. If someone takes your order, delivers your food, and/or wraps your food up, then you have no excuse not to tip them other than the restaurant doesn’t allow it.

In general, bartenders are the best-tipped employees in the food industry. Maybe it’s because we tip more when we’re drinking or because we can actually see the work that goes into tending bar, which encourages us to tip bartenders better than other servers. Most customers will tip a bartender even if he or she just pours them a beer, but they’ll tip especially well if a fancy drink is made. And yet, baristas don’t get the same kind of recognition. Most people don’t transfer their drink gratuity etiquette to those who serve them coffee. From your morning caffeine jolt to your after-dinner espresso, baristas across the country provide you with the valuable service of helping you fuel your days. And while tending a coffee bar may not always be as strenuous as working with alcoholic drinks, it’s still a position that deserves proper compensation. While some experienced baristas in artisanal cafés are paid more than the minimum wage, the majority of them are still dependent on tips. Since you can’t guess their exact pay situation, the best practice is just to tip all coffee shop employees, every time. Whether it’s at Starbucks or Stumptown, you should leave a tip every time they make you a drink or grind your bag of beans. Whether they poured you a cup from a coffee urn or used a manual espresso machine to craft you a drink with latte art, you should leave a tip.

Personally, I try to leave a dollar per drink. I often tip better if I order a time-consuming pour-over or if I get an americano that tastes super delicious. I also tend to tip better when a coffee shop is super busy but the staff still manages to give excellent service and serve quality drinks. But otherwise, I don’t have an elaborate gratuity guide. The simple dollar per drink goal helps me avoid wasting time calculating the tip and risking the potential of being cheap.

You may think I have high standards when it comes to tips, but that’s only because I know what it’s like to depend on them for a living. Even when I was a barista getting a relatively decent paycheck, I still relied on my tips to pay my bills. I can only imagine the financial struggle involved for food service employees who are paid the bare minimum or who have dependents. As long as workers continue to be denied sufficient hourly wages, then gratuity should be considered a patron’s responsibility and not something that’s an optional bonus. Until we raise the federal minimum wage or put pressure on businesses to properly compensate their employees, a tip should not be seen as a gift; it should be considered mandatory by customers.