Aspen Times Weekly: Here’s a Tip … Leave a Tip

by Rick Carroll
Tip jar at Ajax Donuts.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times |

In the opening scene of “Reservoir Dogs,” an expletive-laced dialogue captures the debate around whether to tip your server.

Mr. Pink: Jesus Christ, I mean, these ladies aren’t starving to death. They make minimum wage. You know, I used to work minimum wage, and when I did I wasn’t lucky enough to have a job that society deemed tip-worthy.

Mr. Blue: You don’t care if they’re counting on your tips to live?

Mr. Pink: (rubbing his middle finger and thumb together) You know what this is? The world’s smallest violin playing just for the waitresses.

“for every Mr. Pink tightwad, there’s also the more generous Mr. White”

Mr. White: You don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. These people bust their ass. This is a hard job.

Mr. Pink: So is working at McDonald’s, but you don’t see anyone tip them, do ya? Why not? They’re serving you food. But no, society says don’t tip these guys over here, but tip these guys over here. That’s bulls—!

Mr. White: Waitressing is the number one occupation for female non-college graduates in this country. It’s the one job basically any woman can get, and make a living on. The reason is because of their tips.

Earl Rodgers, a co-owner of New York Pizza, has seen his share of Mr. Pinks and Mr. Whites visit the downtown Aspen restaurant, where a tip jar rests on the countertop next to the cash register. The pizza shop doesn’t have full tableside service, but its employees prep the food, bus the tables, ring up the orders, make the pies, and patiently deal with the late-night drunkards and clean up their messes.

And for every Mr. Pink tightwad, there’s also the more generous Mr. White.

“It means a lot to our employees,” Rodgers said of the tips. “It takes off the rough edges of some customers that aren’t so nice, while other customers provide (the employees’) faith in humanity.”

Tip jars, generally located at the point-of-sale in businesses, are about as ubiquitous in Aspen as ski racks. You’ll find them on the countertops at coffee shops, ski shops, pot shops and delis, and even at Local’s Corner, a convenience store and service station.

Employees have fun with them, too, by exhibiting their creative flair in an effort to entice customers to loosen their purse strings.

• “Keep your TIPS UP!” declares the message plastered on a ski boot that’s used for collecting tips at the Surefoot shop.

• “Excuse Me While I Tip This Guy,” insisted Jimi Hendrix, whose purple-hazed image and message to customers once rose from a tip jar at the Ajax Donuts stand.

• “Tipping Isn’t Just For Cows,” once noted a counter-top jar at CP Burgers.

So it’s obvious employees appreciate tips. Yet unlike food servers, who make a minimum wage of $7.18 per hour in Colorado, other service workers draw at least the state minimum wage of $10.20, which kicked in Jan. 1 after being $9.30 in 2017. The increase comes after Colorado voters in 2016 backed a ballot measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.

If you’re to follow the creed of Mr. Pink, then there’s no doubting you wouldn’t tip for a ski tune or a cup of coffee.

But as Max Meredith, store manager of the Stash cannabis dispensary, explains, Aspen is a service town with plenty of service workers who might not necessarily rely on the gratuity but still consider it a monetary nod for a job well done. Tips are “never expected,” he said, but they’re “always appreciated.”

Meredith and other pot shop employees oftentimes spend up to 10 to 20 minutes with customers with little knowledge and a lot of curiosity about marijuana products, whether it concerns the strain of a bud, the impact of an edible or the battery life of a vaporizer.

“It’s not like we’re getting a beer out of a cooler,” Meredith said. “There is a lot of info we give out, very detailed info.”

At the Four Mountain Sports next to Ink Coffee, the extra cash is used for recreational purposes only.

Employees pool their tips together to fund an end-of-season party at Lake Powell. The store’s tip jar was removed years ago after some customer complaints, said the shop’s lead technician.

“There is no expectation,” said Skyler Baskin. “This is not how we make our money.”

Even so, the unwritten rule is that a $5 or $10 tip is a customer’s expression of a job well done, he said.

A good boot tune not always translates to a cash tip, said Surefoot technician Max Ben-Hamoo. Every so often customers might provide some adult beverages as a show of appreciation.

“Some people leave beer,” he said. “But typically at least $5 says you did a good job.”

For Sarah Conlan of Paradise Bakery, the tips help fund her daily living expenses, while she sets aside her paychecks for her personal savings.

“It’s what we live on,” she said.

Or, as an employee at Butcher’s Block said: “It’s important, but it’s not that important. It’s just a nice thing to have.”