Yesterday, Starbucks announced that patrons would finally be able to tip their baristas digitally. Which seems like a good thing but is in fact really kind of awful.
Beginning March 19, customers using Starbucks App for iPhone in the U.S., U.K. and Canada will experience a streamlined design and easy access to their account and My Starbucks Rewards information. In addition, customers using the app will have the option to leave a tip at more than 7,000 company-operated Starbucks® stores in the U.S.
Customers can show their appreciation to store partners by tipping through the Starbucks App for iPhone. Customers are given the option to provide a tip in the following denominations: $0.50, $1.00, $2.00.
Note: The tips will not be based on percentage. They'll just be a flat rate. If you're, say, picking up the office coffee order and it comes to, like, $40, the highest tip you can leave is $2.00, or about a 5% tip. Starbucks doesn't mention if you can give more than one tip, but I doubt it—so that's the first bullshit thing.
The second bullshit thing is that this is most likely a way for Starbucks to dodge paying their employees more.
As Dominic pointed out yesterday in this piece you should read about the proposed $15/hr minimum wage, one tactic employers are trying to use to cut their own labor cost in the instance of an increase is "total compensation," or rolling tips in with wages. This is a way to offset labor costs, while essentially placing the burden of paying service workers on to customers.
Previously, the only way for customers to show their appreciation/help baristas reach anything close to a living wage was to tip in cash. Cash tips are sort of a double-edged sword; while people carry actual bills a lot less frequently, resulting in fewer tips, cash tips aren't documented. The IRS does require baristas to declare tips as part of their income, but those who work at places without digital or credit card tipping rarely do, because a.) there is no record, and b.) there are rarely enough of them to make them worth declaring.
Additionally—and this is perhaps the most salient part of all this—Starbucks can't point to those tips as part of the baristas' wages.
As a result, tips have been sort of a see-no-evil aspect to Starbucks's (and similar companies') business model. Digital tipping allows them start accounting for those tips and, potentially, get away with including them in barista wages.
To be fair, when I was working as a Tully's barista, I would have loved digital tips because it would have meant more much-needed money in my pocket. And in the immediate future, digital tips will absolutely be beneficial to low-wage workers, because it will just be more money.
But in the long-term, especially when the fight to increase the minimum wage is happening right in Starbucks's front yard, the timing of this decision is definitely suspect.
Oh, and the $2.00 limit thing is pretty shitty, too.