Tip Jars (and their slogans)

Jerry Seinfeld spoke a lot about tip jars. He seemed in favour of tipping in general, but the tip jar confused him.

They confused him because if tipping is for service and all one is doing is buying a product, then why are tips being asked for (even if it is an inanimate object, shaped like a tip jar, that is doing the asking)?

Seinfeld once concluded that when a customer puts money into a tip jar they are effectively saying, “Thank you for not taking my head and smashing it into the counter”.

If some Americans are confused about the appropriateness of a tip jar, what chance do the rest of us have?

Australians know the tip jar. It sits there on the counter, looking at us. It is often placed next to the cash register, ready to catch the crumbs of a transaction. As it looks at us, the tip jar is often eerily silent and deafeningly loud at the same time.

What to do?

Luckily many tip jars come with instructions.

We might not think of them as instructions as they are presented as witty slogans. They are designed to make us smile and, I suggest, make us feel more inclined to drop in a coin or two.

I call them instructions because they teach us to either feel more comfortable about tipping, in a situation where it doesn’t make intuitive sense to do so, or to make us feel uncomfortable about not tipping.

Below are some of the tip jar slogans one can find in Melbourne, along with what I suggest they really mean.


1. Tipping is not a city in China

(Google Maps agrees, although there is a place called Tiping.)

If its not a city then what is it? Well, given the tip jar is right there and you have coins in your hand, customers are being told, ever so delicately, tipping is something you should be doing.

2. Tippers make better lovers

(I basically threw my wallet into this jar. I was later told it didn’t work.)

The association of something you want and something you can do, such as tip, is a standard strategy in marketing to get people to buy things. (Although this all depends on whether you want to be a good lover.)

3. Instant Karma

(Think religion. Think guilt.)

We’re all familiar with the My Name is Earl view of Karma. Customers are being told tipping is inherently good. Not tipping is inherently bad.

4. The barstaff here are coin-operated

(Reminiscent of the song, ‘Coin Operated Boy’, by the Dresden Dolls, which is often thought of as the dildo song, although I’m it sure has a much deeper meaning.)

This slogan suggests the barstaff actually ‘work for tips’. This implies that if they work for you and you don’t tip, they are working for nothing.

5. Show us your tips

(Even a 1970s British sit-com writer would be proud of this double entendre.)

The use of irreverence allows the tip jar to become much louder and more direct in telling you what it wants.


These slogans are amusing and clever but they serve an additional, less obvious, purpose. I am suggesting to you that they are also, ever so slowly, influencing the way we think and act.

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9 Responses to Tip Jars (and their slogans)

  1. Roger says:

    Tipping is fine and generally I have no problem in tipping staff in Australia when the service warrants it. I worked for a number of years in restaurants during my uni days and naturally promoted tipping. However, you have to earn a tip. Even in “tip required” countries like the US, if your service is about as friendly as a wounded lion you are not going to get much of a tip. If you treat your customers well, help them to enjoy their time in your establishment and their meal (or whatever they consume), they are likely to be happy to tip (of course there are plenty of Scrooges out there, but thats something we all have to deal with anyway). I have been to plenty of places where the staff didnt give a rats arse and treated me like I was intruding on their sacred gossip territory and disrupting their day by being so bold as to ask for a menu and inquire if their were any recommendations from the chef (oh what cheek i had shown)……no, they didnt get a tip (and seemed so surprised that I didnt want to toss in a few extra bucks)
    Tip jars are an efficient way of sharing the tips with the whole “team” but again they need to earn it. Its not hard to earn a tip, simply do your work and treat your customers as, well, customers. They pay your salary and you provide a service. Its not rocket science by any stretch, more common sense really. Good service = Good tips.

    • tippingoz says:

      That all sounds fair enough to me. But it seems like I was unsuccessful in my attempts to convince you that the signs attached to the tip jar might have some level of influence on how we think and behave in regards to tipping?

      • Roger says:

        Good point there and one i didnt address. The signs can go either way I think. They can easily encourage you to tip (hopefully reminding that your meal was made more enjoyable by the oh so wonderful staff and service) or they can totally put you off the notion. Personally I dont really take much notice of them as I have already made up my mind before making my way to the register. At best they will get a few bits of shrapnel that I dont want jingling around in my pocket. I am not sure I have met anyone that has been offended or put off by them, more that they are amused or just plain ignore them.
        If its a good slogan/sign, I say by all means pop one on the jar, but dont expect it to actually make people tip more or those who dont tip to start tipping.
        The whole tipping issue in Australia has been going for many a year. I have heard that in establishments in cities like Sydney and Melbourne, people tip quite well, while in other areas like Canberra and Adelaide, tips amount to enough for a Mars bar or newpaper (total hearsay here though). Visitors to Australia often ask me “should I tip” and I always say “if you want and think its worth it”. I dont really see any need to make a big deal out of something that has been working more or less as well as it work in Australia for decades…. But thats just one lone opinion..ha ha ha

  2. Kirsty says:

    They don’t work for me. The slogans make me smile and then I think ‘nice try’. It suggests that they don’t see the link between tipping and great service. Why would I want to encourage that way of thinking?

  3. Kim says:

    Let’s start with a factiod. Everyone loves them. Apart from stinky hippies. So here goes, it is a little known fact that Americans are confused not only by tip jars but jars in general.

    Returning to the topic though. I have occasionally placed change into a tip jar. Particularly when given 10 and 20 cent pieces in change. I think tip jars and prices are linked. My brain is thinking about coffees now. Coffees, hovering around the $3.20 price range. Sneaky. And where exactly am I going to put a fist full of cents when I buy my coffee? Not in these skinny jeans. Barely enough room for my shapely pins.

    Are tip jars “ever so slowly, influencing the way we think and act.” My word yes. The other day I saw a well endowed broad on the other side of the street. I shouted out at her “Show us your tips!” Zap!

  4. Jess says:

    The saying ‘Tipping is not a city in China’ best represents Australian attitudes towards tipping. It implies that China is foreign, thus the action of tipping in a sense is a unfamiliar concept. Perhaps, it highlights our ignorance toward the whole idea of tipping, as it is something we encounter (in our everyday territory) but distance ourselves from it because we do not consider it apart of our national identity.

    • tippingoz says:

      I agree that some tip jar signs are designed to highlight a customers ignorance (or suggest that they are ignorant, even if they are not). I presume that this is done to perhaps to change customers behaviour in some way.

      Also national identity is a tricky one to deal with. I’ve tried to deal (part of ) it in a previous post and will come back to it again. But at this stage I’m not quite sure what to make of the concept, people’s attitude and how/if it relates to tipping attitudes/practices.

  5. Pingback: Tip jars 2 (the glass is always half something) | The debate: Should Australians tip?

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