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I currently work at a popular coffee shop to make ends meet while I do research in math and science. I consider myself a pretty good barista, attempting to go above and beyond for my customers whenever I can. Apparently many customers have wrote letters to our corporate offices to commend me specifically, and this news is then relayed to me.

So we have a tip jar that customers can leave money in, and we typically split the tips on a weekly basis. We leave daily tips in dated bags, kept in our safe. Last night a loyal customer handed me a specific tip, in an envelope, addressed to me only. The amount is very substantial - something like a big holiday tip.

My question is: should I split this tip with other baristas?

Am I ethically / morally wrong, if I kept this individualized tip all to myself?

I wanted to ask here before I consider asking our manager / corporate higher-ups.

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    Does the client normally put the tip in the jar? Or does he usually not tip? Also please put in the country tag – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 23 '19 at 21:47
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    Paul, great question; to my knowledge, they never tip. Additionally they have a dog that I provide extra care for, during the brief 15 minutes or so that they are in our store. I should note that other baristas are / were reluctant to accommodate their dog, even though we allow pets in our store. They visit us just about every night ... – user113021 Dec 23 '19 at 21:50
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    Paul, I would say so, yes. I was very busy and had kept the envelope in my apron pocket, making the long envelope obviously visible -- but I'm not 100% sure whether others immediately concluded that I had gotten an individualized tip. – user113021 Dec 23 '19 at 22:20
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    @LightnessRaceswithMonica The difference being that the customer put it in an envelope so there was no ambiguity about the tip being for anyone else but OP. – dan-klasson Dec 26 '19 at 19:05
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    @dan-klasson But it's not up to the customer. I daresay that very often a tip is not "for anyone else but OP" but, again, that's exactly why tip-sharing systems exist, because otherwise the "hidden" staff wouldn't get anything. It's not up to the customer. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 27 '19 at 15:52
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If that customer wanted to give a communal tip then they would have put it in the communal pot.

So, that was a personal tip, or present, to you, keep it.

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    Yes, that customer went to the trouble of using an envelope and writing the first name on it. That's pretty telling. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 24 '19 at 3:26
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    Plenty of customers who put money into the communal pot may do so intending to give an individual tip. There could be different explanations for why they gave it in an envelope, like it being too substantial to just throw into the pot. The employer may have a problem with pocketing individual tips because you get a cut of other people's tips, but they don't get some of yours. Not that I support tip sharing nor tip-based salaries. – Bernhard Barker Dec 24 '19 at 10:03
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    As a customer, I never put money into a communal tip jar because doing so would be tipping the restaurant owner/manager. If I want to tip an individual server, I give them money directly, and no one has a right to take it from them. – user92235 Dec 25 '19 at 10:40
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    Let me give a personal example as a customer: at the end of the year, I give my hairdresser a pretty substantial "Christmas bonus". My expectation is that that goes to her, as appreciation for all the work she's done to me thru the year. Based on that, I'd say this answer is correct, it's a personal gift, not a communal tip. – DaveG Dec 25 '19 at 16:25
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You may be obliged to share the tip, make sure that's not the case with your employee handbook. If the rule is that all the tips are to be shared amongst the staff, you likely may have to share this one too, as even though it was delivered personally, it's still tipped for the service provided in the store. If that's the case, clear it with your manager.

If that's not the case, then you have the choice between taking the tip and sharing it. Morally it seems that you've earned it. But as your coworkers know that you got it (and will wildly speculate about the amount inside) not sharing it with them will cause some resentment, whether they want it or not. So you have to consider whether keeping the entire tip is worth causing a potential rift between you.

Ultimately we cannot make that decision for you, as you know the factors, best I can do is highlight the potential consequences. Another way around it would be to share part of the tip with the staff, just enough to keep them happy about getting their share. It's a tough balance when a bigger sum of money gets involved.

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    Useful tips in the 2nd and 3rd paragraph. But the OP cannot expect to find moral leads in a employee handbook. – Ivana Dec 24 '19 at 9:51
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    True, but if the employee handbook states that all tips must be shared, then it kind of removes the moral question altogether. Because not sharing it in that instance is going against company policy and may lead to worse consequences than splitting the tip, so it's definitely the right call to check there first. – delinear Dec 24 '19 at 10:40
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    Really depends on the tip amount. Once a friend was waiting on a table with whom she conversed about her desire to travel to Italy. When she came to clean the table, the customer had left a tip of several thousand dollars in an envelope labeled "have fun in italy!". I think it would be immoral to share such a tip, regardless of company policy. – James M. Lay Dec 24 '19 at 13:38
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    @JamesM.Lay Probably the same here. The OP should be smart to conceal the envelope, or the more logical thing would be to share like 150-200 and be smart enough to keep the rest. – Rui F Ribeiro Dec 24 '19 at 14:02
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    Hmm, if the "employee handbook has a rule" and the employee benefited from it (received a portion of dedicated tips to others in the past), seems like the employee is obligated (and ethically too) in this case to share as per this answer. – chux - Reinstate Monica Dec 26 '19 at 10:28
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There's some people who have a tradition of giving gifts to common service people at the holidays-- my family always leaves an envelope with a tip for our milkman and used to tip the paper delivery, when we got the paper.

I would count this as a holiday gift from a regular customer. Unless your employee handbook specifically requires you not to keep it, or if you'll be laying awake at night feeling guilty, I would keep it as your own. It's a gift! I don't think there's anything ethically wrong with keeping a gift that was specifically given to you with your name written on it.

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If this was individually addressed and provided in a sealed envelope, it sounds like you received a gift, not a tip, even if it's to reward your service.

However, if you feel it should be split, split it - sharing with your coworkers is pretty great and it seems clearly at least as ethical, if not more. I'd first bring it up to your direct superior in case the event is covered by policy or just their past wisdom .. likely

  • keep it / bravo!
  • put it all into the pool
  • split a specific proportion or quantity of it (ie. 18% of their most recent bill)
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we typically split the tips on a weekly basis.

My question is: should I split this tip with other baristas? Am I ethically / morally wrong, if I kept this individualized tip all to myself?

It seems clear to me that the protocol is to split tips.

But if you think having someone put it in an envelope makes it an exception, talk to your boss and ask.

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    Yes, I'm tending towards agreeing with your answer now. I should do it quickly too, just to be transparent, so I'll ask tomorrow. Thanks Joe ... – user113021 Dec 23 '19 at 23:58
  • Yes, true. I responded to your comment above, btw. Thanks again. – user113021 Dec 24 '19 at 0:47
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    I disagree with this answer, because i think it is an ethics question, and relates to the OP and their co-workers. Unless their boss is an ethicist, i would not expect much from their answer other "just then follow company policy". – Ivana Dec 24 '19 at 9:49
  • There is the danger that the boss will take it all. – Andrew Morton Dec 24 '19 at 18:45
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    Talking to the boss could break the exception. It was targeted to the OP, with what would appear to be the implication that the boss would not know, since surely the regular customer would be aware of the usual distribution of tips. – Andrew Morton Dec 24 '19 at 20:01
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Well, on one hand, if it were me, I'd just split it, and would consider the goodwill I'd buy with that would be well worth it.

But consider if this gift had been, rather than cash, a prepaid Visa card. Would you be expected to split in that case?

Ultimately, it was given to you in the course of, and because of, the work you did as an employee, and therefore you are covered by your rules of employment. I suggest you read it carefully, before approaching the management for clarification of the exact rules; if a customer says "don't split", do you still have to split? And, if a gift is not in cash, do you still have to split?

Once you have that information, one option may be to ask the customer what they intended, and split it if they say that's what they intended.

If they say they meant the gift solely for you, then perhaps consider taking the gamble of apologetically returning the gift, with the explanation of the rules (like "unlike gifts and giftcards, all cash is considered a tip and must be split, so I can't take this, as I know that it wouldn't go where you wanted") - you'd be taking the gamble there that the customer would take the hint, and go the extra mile to convert it to a form that you could take all of, though.

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  • Not sure what the goodwill would be worth, tbh. ISTM that the OP is going above and beyond at their place of work, what can they expect from giving others the reward? A pat on the back? – bytepusher Jan 1 at 12:07
  • @bytepusher Backpats take many forms. How well we get on with our team is usually the main reason we like or hate a job: it's the best predictor of quality of life, just as networking is the best predictor of success. I've never found selfishness to pay as well as generosity. I got where I am, not by screwing over my team, but by being that "we know a guy" who always helps. I couldn't be here today without my colleagues and friends. But you're right: each person has to decide their own value for that stuff. – Dewi Morgan Jan 2 at 0:27
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    I'm referring to a very specific set of circumstances here. I agree fully with your point and yet, stand by my comment :) I have also done better helping out my team, and not struggling to get individual credit / rewards etc. Still, a tip like that was clearly meant for her specifically, who had gone above and beyond, which others did not do. Giving the tip, I would actually be unhappy having it distributed amongst the team. That's just me, perhaps. – bytepusher Jan 2 at 15:13
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Am I ethically / morally wrong, if I kept this individualized tip all to myself?

If company written policy exist

If the company written policy says you may keep it, then keeping all is OK ethically and per the company.

If the company written policy says you must share it, then sharing it is OK ethically and per the company.

If the company written policy says blah blah blah, then "blah blah blah" is OK ethically (likely) and per the company.

Of course there is a pattern here. If you disagree with the company written policy, you should seek work elsewhere (or encourage its amendment).

A "tip jar that customers can leave money in" would not rise to an implied company policy IMO.

If no company written policy

If the company written policy, if any, is silent on the matter, now you are stuck with the "tip jar that customers can leave money in" bit and musing on sites like this.

I doubt management will say anything other than to keep the overall staff happy and advise you to share it - but who knows - talk to your manager if your goal is long term with the company.

Do remember that if your manager advises you to share it, that that may have benefited you in the past when co-workers were also advised to share.

Unfortunate lack of clear policy

As the policy is unclear to OP, it is likely also unclear to patrons. Without clarity to all involved, I side with usual and customary practice: tips may be directed to the person.

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