Good tips can have a significant impact on a worker's take-home pay, making them happier and less likely to quit. They're an essential part of how people get paid in the service industry.
A rise in third-party ordering and delivery coupled with mobile ordering and contactless pickup means fewer and fewer guests are even making their way to a counter where they can consider leaving a tip. And for those who do show up in-person at a quick-serve restaurant, they're paying in cash less than one-third of the time.
Here's a comprehensive list of creative tip jar ideas, examples, and best practices to try out in your restaurant, coffee shop, or food truck.
Cash Tip Jar Ideas
Cash tip jars don't require any credit card reconciliation or POS taps - just a split of the funds among all eligible staff at the end of the shift. Which could be done manually or with tip pooling software. And even with a rise in mobile payments, the tip jar is still a mainstay.
Here are a few ideas to catch someone's eye when they're placing their order or picking it up from the counter.
Make them laugh
Funny tip jars might initially catch a patron off guard, but they can break down the perceived barrier between the front and back of the counter and add a personal touch to a guest's experience.
One way to get a laugh (and a tip) out of your guests is with references and plays on pop culture imagery.
It also never hurts to use a pun—like this one from La Cañada Imports pizzeria.
But the laughs don’t stop there. Even something as simple as an image in place of a word can be effective. In this example for Lucky Perk Coffee, replacing “must ask” with a drawing of a mustache works as well.
Create a poll or question
This or that?
The idea of a poll-based tip jar is to actually put out two tip jars (or place a divider in a large one). Ideally, strong-willed guests will “vote” with their dollars.
One way to tap into this idea is to focus on a pressing pop culture subject, like how the Starbucks location featured in the below viral TikTok video posed the now-moot question: Team Pete or Team Ye? With constant online chatter about the debate, it seemed like everyone and their mother had an opinion.
Beyond timely, eye-catching debates—there are a few pop culture debates that never seem to end. Look to popular film and TV franchises to get people excited.
This example from Tumalo Coffeehouse pits Star Wars fans against Trekkies.
More poll or question tip jar examples
More of a fantasy fan? Look to Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings. And when it seems like theres a new movie every month, you can't go wrong with superheroes.
And if you're near a stadium or in a sports town, find out where allegiances lie. New York Yankees or Mets, USC or UCLA, Cubs or White Sox—people tend to get fired up about their teams.
Just be sure to stay lighthearted enough to not ruffle feathers. Sports, movies, and pop culture are a safe bet. An innocent example of chicken versus the egg is another idea to consider.
The Great Consequence
What's the worst that can happen if someone doesn't tip?
Now, before you jump into something too drastic, remember the sentiment should be lighthearted and comical — something that will grab a customer's attention and get them to act.
Take, for example, this gentle reminder (pictured below) that every time someone doesn't tip, a child gets a mullet. Billing something comical as tragic to get more tips can prove effective.
Another “tip or else” example is this one, where a toy fish resembling a beloved Pixar character is caught in a tip jar that looks like a fish tank and can only survive by “swimming” in money. The visual of the giant fish inside the tip jar is enough to capture attention — the message should do wonders in securing the tip.
Appeal to Vanity
People love to feel good about themselves, and while some people relish in the natural selflessness of leaving a little something extra in the jar, others need a bit more of an incentive.
This is where appealing to vanity comes in. It’s a way to increase gratuities with over-the-top, preemptive compliments about a customer’s looks, taste, or intelligence. In this example, guests are prompted to leave a tip from $1-$10 to correspond with how attractive they see themselves.
Another option, like this example, is to just serve up kind words for those generous enough to leave a tip and make them feel good about themselves for doing so.
Tips for a Cause
Everyone loves to support a good cause. Combine the real impact tips have on workers with a hint of comedy, and tips could start to roll in.
Maybe it's in support of one of your staff's vices — messaging like “caffeine fund” (like in the example below) makes the act of tipping more personal. Or it could be in service of fundraising for a local charity.
If your counter staff is composed of younger faces, it's beneficial to make the jar a “college fund” — especially if these workers have been employed for a while and regulars want to support them on their way out. Bonus points if you have the workers list out which colleges they're going to, as anyone who shares the alma mater may be inclined to support further.
You've likely heard the phrase “money is the root of all evil” — and so have the people who came up with this idea.
Quotes about karma, generosity, service, paying it forward, etc. make for some of the best tip jar ideas. It could just be the quote, the inspiration, or the reference someone needs to help them make it through their day and contribute a tip. It also can remind guests of the positive, real-life effects of leaving a tip.
Digital Tip Jar Ideas
Sometimes even the most generous customers who would love to leave a tip don't carry cash. Luckily there are many options for restaurants to make digital tips possible.
POS Connected Tipping
Many restaurant POS systems come with an option to increase tips through a guest-facing screen with a tip option. Guests will be presented with a touchscreen to sign for their purchase, and in the process, be prompted with an option to tip. Setting up this screen to have pre-selected tip percentages (10%, 20%, custom %, etc.) or amounts ($1, $2, custom amount, etc.) makes a tip a simple tap away.
Guest-facing technology comes in one of two ways. First is a fixed screen that always faces the guest, like Toast Flex.
The other option is to use just one terminal and swivel or rotate the order screen to the guest, similar to the example from Square below.
Tap & Tip Digital Tip Jar
An alternative to POS tipping is a tap-and-tip digital tip jar. These options use credit card or mobile pay readers to accept tips in lieu of cash. However, unlike the guest-facing screen on a POS, this hardware stays in one place and isn't literally placed in front of guests while they're closing out. This puts less pressure on guests to tip, but still gives them an opportunity to do so digitally.
One option, the DipJar, is a credit card terminal you can place right by the cash register. Customers who would like to tip but don't have the cash to do so can simply “dip” their credit cards into the machine to add a dollar to the virtual tip cup.
Another option is the Tap to Tip from TiPJAR, which accepts mobile pay or credit card taps. Tip amounts can be customized, while the device's screen contains information about where tips go and how to tip.
App-Based Tip Jar Ideas
With more than 70 million users, Venmo is one of the most popular ways for people to exchange funds. Apps like Venmo open up a new realm of digital tipping options, as guests can simply take out their phone to leave a tip.
This option is great for individuals who pay via mobile app, show up to the restaurant to pick up their food, then see the venmo tag. Other app-based tipping options include Cash App or PayPal.
You can use something like a Venmo sticker for a DIY virtual tip jar. Post it on social media too, so loyal customers can find it.
Alternatively, each worker can get their own sticker from the restaurant to use during their shifts — wearing it on their name tag or placing it near their register.
Lastly, if your restaurant has its own mobile ordering app, remember to include a tipping option upon checkout. For diners who quickly come and go during their lunch hour, they simply may not see a tip jar — virtual or otherwise. Customers having the option to tip when ordering also helps allow anyone who's willing to tip to do so.
Recommended Reading: Tip Pooling Tools to Easily Manage Tips at Your Restaurant
QR Code Connected Online Tip Ideas
Not only do not all Americans carry cash — some don't even carry credit cards. With app prepays and mobile wallets guests can enter and leave a restaurant without opening their physical wallet.
However, to access these apps, customers need to have their phones on them, and this reality makes tipping a possibility once more. How? Through QR codes.
This first example is to have a sign or stand with codes, either to complement or replace a traditional tip jar. These signs can be printed and stationed throughout the restaurant, making promoting and collecting tips simple.
The other option is to physically print or draw a QR code and tape it to a typical mason jar, so that it looks something like the jar drawn in this example below.
How to Increase Tips
As much influence as quotes, pictures, or QR codes can have on tips, there are other ways your staff can work towards higher gratuities. Clever messaging, suggestive selling, and an intelligent use of technology can help tip amounts (and frequency) increase—meaning extra money in your staff's pocket.
Here are a few ideas to try in your restaurant to increase tips.
Use Specific Messaging
Specific messaging prompts that make tipping seem more like the norm can help up gratuity amounts.
For example, on POS screens, having a tip prompt that asks a tip-related question in a more instructive way might be able to up tips.
Asking “what tip would you like to leave the staff today?” instead of “would you like to leave a tip?” changes the framing of the question. Instead of a yes/no question, it's now a question of what size tip you'd like to leave.
If you're using a physical tip jar, showing some appreciation proactively can also work wonders. Instead of a jar label that says “Tips,” having one that says “Tips - Thank you!” or “Tips - Thanks in Advance :)” lets your customers know how much their tips mean to the staff.
Provide the Guest Experience That Drives More Tips
Ultimately, better service leads to better tips.
When you're working in a counter role rather than as a server, you might have just seconds to interact with a guest. Thus, communicating with them in a way that results in a tip is exponentially more challenging. In these roles, you can maximize the guest experience (and the chances of getting a gratuity) by focusing on accuracy, efficiency, and positivity. Ensure counter workers take the following steps when working their way through the line of customers:
- Greeting guests with a hello and asking how they are.
- Taking orders quickly.
- Smiling (yes, this works!).
- Repeating their order back to ensure accuracy.
- Thanking customers.
Part of the job comes from reading the room as well. For example, if a guest seems more talkative, reciprocating this behavior and engaging them in conversation could make them feel more connected to the staff and more likely to tip. Conversely, if someone seems in a hurry, working to be more expeditious shows guests you value their time and want to let them get to their next destination.
Recommended Reading: Tip Pooling Tools to Easily Manage Tips at Your Restaurant
Suggesting Gratuity Options Strategically
If you're using a POS-managed digital tip jar, there are quick wins you can employ to increase tip amounts. For example, you can set the tip screen to have a range of tip options — potentially as high as 25% or 30% — in an effort to encourage guests to click a higher tip option for excellent service. Additionally, you can pre-select a defaulted tip percentage (i.e. $1) once a customer sees the tip screen. Rather than take the extra effort not to tip, guests may accept the recommendation and move forward with signing for the tip.
A word of caution here, however: “guilt tipping” — the practice of seeking a high-percentage tip on a low-ticket item — is frowned upon. While POS-prompted tipping is still effective, some customers may feel awkward or annoyed when faced with the ask to tip $3 on a coffee that costs them the same amount.
With that in mind, if your store sells low-ticket items, consider setting a lower threshold for tips (perhaps starting at 50 cents instead of $1, or 10% instead of 20%) when customers first see the signing screen. A more reasonable request may be enough to get folks to stick with a pre-selected tip amount rather than bring themselves to choose “No Tip,” which could ultimately raise the total tip jar amount by the end of the shift.
Use smaller bills for change
One small, effective way to get more tips is to give guests cash change back in smaller bills. Hand them back a five and they may be reluctant to tip. But five singles instead? Chances are that one or two of them end up in the tip cup. It's a small shift—but training counter staff on it may be the difference in an average payout, or one to get excited about.
Getting the Most Out of Your Tip Jar
While not as necessary as they are for servers, bussers, and bartenders, tips can go a long way for the happiness and retention of counter employees.
Trying some of these ways to get more eyeballs on a tip jar, increase a customer's willingness to tip, and expanding the ways guests are able to tip can dramatically increase worker's take home pay.
Now, it's your turn to employ some of these clever tactics to make the most of your restaurant's tip jar.
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