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Tipping Etiquette Shifting With iPad-Based Systems

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - You may have noticed that technology is changing the way we pay for coffee, meals and even clothing.

More and more businesses are moving to an iPad-based system where, along with your signature, shops suggest percentages, or even dollar amounts, for you to tip.

Tipping is nothing new to the service industry, but the etiquette of adding gratuity in this digital age is evolving.

Every day, hand crafted lattes take shape at Bull Run Coffee, and the skill of frothing milk and espresso is often rewarded monetarily.

"I always tip on the high end," one customer said.

Bull Run is among the dozens of businesses around the metro using iPads at checkout. Instead of a printed receipt, customers can type a tip amount or choose a percentage.

"I think it's easier for the customers and for us," a Bull Run barista said. "It kind of is, 'Okay, let me tip,' rather than, 'Here's your receipt,' and they're on their way out."

Some see it as an easy out to calculate gratuity quickly.

"If you're buying a lot you, don't have to do any more math and it's just convenience," a customer said.

Across town, Dogwood Coffee takes a different approach: Gratuity suggestions show up as dollars rather than percentages.

Manager Keith Mrotek thinks the math isn't necessary

"I think this system drives gratuity more than a percentage base," Mrotek said. "The options that are prompted at a credit receipt at the end of a transaction are 'one dollar,' 'two dollars,' 'three dollars,' 'custom gratuity amount' or 'no gratuity.'"

He says most customers leave more than a few cents, even when it totals 50 percent or more of the purchase price.

"What I've noticed is people who get a small coffee or an espresso or an espresso-based drink will typically tip a dollar," he said.

A University of St. Thomas marketing professor Dave Brennan points out the suggested tip systems put the reward before the service.

"You don't have to get any kind of service at all, and you're still going to get that beneficial compensation for it," he said.

He also thinks there's the chance customers will read into a mere suggestion.

"I think anytime you give suggestions in terms of how much you should tip, you are putting additional pressure on the customer," he said.

But many baristas see it another way and navigate the tipping point to make customers' responsibilities clear.

"I think it's important for people to know they don't have to tip us, and they're still going to get great service," one barista said.

Meanwhile some businesses, like Five Watt coffee, mix the old and new.

When Lee Carter opened the doors a year ago, he went with an iPad order system but skipped the customer hand off, opting for paper instead of punching in a percentage.

"You don't want to make people feel pressured at all to do a tip," he said.

Five Watt gives customers a paper slip they can fill out in private so "it seems like more of a free choice."

"It's kind of old-fashioned but its foolproof," a barista said.

This may just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to rewarding great service, but even those who choose technology can't deny the success of the old tip jar.

Most baristas say tips, on average, lead to around another $1.50 an hour.

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