Tip Jar Tips: 5 Creative Tip Jar Ideas to Boost Gratitude

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Phil Sykora
May 25, 2023
A customer at a coffee shop is putting a tip in a colorful tip jar.

Digital tipping has become the new normal.

In virtually every cafe across North America, the person standing behind the counter – often with no smile on their face, no friendly greeting, and limited eye contact – twists the tablet in your direction. And then you are faced with the dreaded question: “Would you like to leave a tip?” with the following amounts:

  • 18%
  • 23%
  • 25%
  • Custom: __

And now you’re looking at your black medium roast coffee that they served you in no more than fifteen seconds, wondering why you didn’t just make it at home.

This article is designed for cafes, bakeries, ice cream shops, and all other quick-service establishments to help you avoid guilt tips. The payment transaction is the last impression you’re leaving on the customer, and if they walk away feeling guilty that they didn’t leave a tip (or, worse: duped, since they left a tip in the heat of the moment that was far too big), they’re going to associate that feeling with your business. 

Despite the additional revenue these tips generate in the short term, they’re going to create unnecessary tension – and possibly even fewer customers – over the long term.

Ditch the Digital (Or Modify the Asking Amounts)

No one wants to tip 18% for a coffee, and it’s pretty clear why the machine even suggests it in the first place. It anchors the price high so that the customer comes in lower, thinking they compromised. People think to themselves “18%?! That’s crazy! Is everyone else tipping 18%?” and they hit the “Custom” amount and enter 10% out of guilt, when they probably wouldn’t have tipped anything in the past. And then there are the “lazy” or rushed customers who just accept the 18% in a haste to get out. 

It’s not the customer’s job to pay your employees. Lower your asking amounts or eliminate digital tipping altogether. Most payment machines have a way of doing this, and some can even make it dependent on the total. For example, if the customer only paid $4.25 for a coffee, the amounts would be $0.25, $0.50, and $1 – or a custom amount. To most, these are much more reasonable amounts.

If you insist on keeping the machine, another common issue is that the customer can’t tell if the employees know they left a tip — or even worse, if the employee ever actually receives that tip. The customer wants to feel gratified for leaving a tip and they want slightly better, premium service.

Embrace the Jar

Tip jars are the best way to make tipping fun again. Tip jars avoid all of the most common issues, such as an expected (and inflated) amount, visibility, and the pressure of being directly asked.

In order to make sure that people who don’t have any cash are still able to leave a tip if they desire, many cafes, bakeries, and other quick-serve establishments have a QR code that they tape to the jar.

A tip jar at a cafe.

5 Creative Tip Jar Ideas

1. Incorporate Your Brand

One of the best and most creative tip jar ideas is to somehow incorporate your brand into the sign on the jar. Ideally, you’d be able to do this in a way that is unique and consistent with your branding. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Board Game Cafe:

“Monopoly Money”

Campus Cafe:

“Tuition Fund”

Bakery or Donut Shop:

“Kneading the Dough” or “Please Doughnate”

Hipster Cafe:

“Thrifting Fund” or  “Fund My Record Collection”

Co-Working Cafe:

“Keep the Wi-Fi Running”

Vegan Establishment:

“Save a Cow, Tip Us Instead”

Wine Bar:

“Feeling tipsy”

Mexican Restaurant:

“Let’s Taco ‘Bout a Tip”

Barber shop:

“Cash Stache”

2. Puns and Humor

Along the same vein, in order to keep things light, you can use puns and humor in order to hopefully put a smile on someone’s face and have them contribute some of their hard-earned cash to your tip jar. Examples include:

  • Tip, tip, hooray!
  • Tip karma in your favor
  • Even the Titanic tipped
  • If you fear change, leave it here
  • Tipping: bad for cows, good for us!
  • Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s your [ice cream, bagel, etc], so tip me maybe!
  • Tip me baby one more time

3. The Transaction

Another fun tip jar idea is to create some sort of mini-transaction. Some people don’t like putting money in a jar without anyone noticing, and this is a sure-fire way to make sure that people get something in return for their “donation,” however small. Some ideas might be:

Give a Tip, Get a Tip:

If the customer tips, an employee gives them some piece of fortune-cookie-like advice (“Don’t just exercise your body; exercise your mind”).

Gift Basket Entry:

You can have your customers write their name and number on a dollar and use the money as a gift basket entry. Maybe they’ll win a $15 gift card to come back to the business, for example, as well as some brand-specific products.

Give a Tip, Get a Compliment:

Similar to getting a tip, you can have employees give out compliments to customers if they give out tips (“You have an aura of self-confidence; your laugh is infectious; etc).

The Tipping Jukebox:

If you’re in charge of the music that gets played, you can turn the tip jar into a jukebox and allow customers who tip to choose the next song that gets played.

Tip for a Riddle:

You can give a list of riddles to your employees and have them give one out to each person who tips.

A couple is leaving a tip on a POS system.

4. Fuel the Team

Another tipping idea is to make the request more personal and specific to helping out the part-time workers in the kitchen or behind the counter. This category of tipping could be called “fueling the team,” where the tip jar says something that directly supports the bartenders or baristas in a certain way, making the tip more material and less amorphous. You could also put this on a menu, since it’s typically a bigger ask than the typical tip jar amount, in the range of $10-15 or so. This grew in popularity during the pandemic to help supplement the lost tips. Here are some examples:

  • Buy the kitchen a round: Donate $10 to buy the kitchen a round of beers.
  • Fuel the baristas: Support the team’s coffee addiction.
  • Pizza dough: Buy the staff a pizza. 

5. The Competition

Finally, some of the most successful tip jars that we’ve ever seen have been competitions. This can be a conversation starter or popular argument that people have. You’ll have a divider or between the two options or two separate tip jars so that people can vote for their favorite. Here are some examples:

  • Who tips better: men or women?
  • Which show is the best? 
    - The Office vs. Parks and Recreation. 
    - Friends vs. Seinfeld.
    - Schitt’s Creek vs. Kim’s Convenience.
  • Apple vs. Android?
  • Netflix vs. Hulu?
  • McDonald’s vs. Wendy’s?

It should be noted that you should only do one of these if it’s on-brand for your establishment. Having a somewhat risque-poll about men or women being better tippers could work for a bar, but it might not be great for a higher-end gelato shop.

Final Thoughts on Elevating Your Tip Jar

Tipping should never be expected. Many customers have been very vocal about feeling pressured or uncomfortable with digital tipping. While it might be increasing revenue in the short term, it could damage business in the long term.

Although tablet tipping is the easiest, it can create unnecessary tension with customers and dampen the customer experience, which is never a good thing. A better idea is to go back to analog: the good old tip jar with fun and on brand messaging. This gets customers excited about tipping and brings it back to its roots, a feel good way of showing your appreciation for the staff. 

Table of content

May 2023


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