Tip Jars, Where Art Thou?

A few years ago, a musician wrote an article regarding the effect the size and shape of a tip jar has on one’s tipped income. Years of observations lead him to believe that a large, glass brandy snifter prompted people to tip more. He went on to say that if bartenders used snifters and ensured that the tip jars were highly visible to guests that they would make more gratuities.

Prominently displaying the tip jar behind the bar is a good move. Although difficult to quantify, it stands to reason that putting a tip jar where guests can easily see it likely acts as a gentle reminder. It also stands to reason that a glass tip jar is better than an opaque one. Bartenders prefer a glass container because it suggests to people that other guests are tipping, so perhaps they should as well.

Tip jars are typically considered the sole domain of the bartending staff. While mostly true, management does have a vested interest in where it’s kept behind the bar. Case in point, there was a man who operated a high volume sports bar in Dallas who suspended the bar’s tip jar from the ceiling by a rope and pulley. The bartenders could easily dunk money in and usually did so with style and flair. They couldn’t, however, withdraw any money until after the bar had closed and the cash drawer had been removed. It turns out that operator had been burned one too many times by bartenders who used the tip jar as a repository for stolen funds.

The tip jars at most bars are kept next to the point of sale. That’s a classic mistake. It’s far too easy for bartenders to divert stolen funds from the cash drawer into the tip jar, a practice that is complicated and made riskier by moving the tip jars far away from the cash drawer.

Furthermore, if the bartenders are stealing from the business and using the cash drawer for stolen funds, they can easily retrieve the money from the register under the pretense of making change out of the tip jar. For example, a bartender could take ten $1 bills out of the tip jar, deposit the money into the register, but instead of taking out a $10 bill in exchange, remove a $20 ($10 of which are stolen funds) and put it in the tip jar.

Consider making it policy that all tip jar transactions are strictly “one way,” meaning that the money that goes into the tip jar doesn’t come out until after the cash drawer is removed.

Certainly tips are a bartender’s livelihood and as such should be considered sacrosanct and off-limit to management. But where the tip jar is located and how it is properly used is a legitimate management concern. The farther away from the cash drawer the better.