Should you tip for counter service?

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David Sabitino, owner of Sip This in Valley David Sabitino, owner of Sip This in Valley Stream, makes a triple expresso drink for friend and customer Anna Falcon on Bring Your Own Vinyl night in Valley Stream. (Feb. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

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Erica Marcus Erica Marcus (face disguised) is Newsday's food writer.

Marcus has covered food for Newsday since 1998.

What do you think of tip jars at counter-service establishments?

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I am very conflicted.

First, let's hear from my inner Scrooge: His understanding has always been that tips are given to the people who deliver your food and/or drink. The state of New York calls these workers -- waiters, captains, busboys and bartenders -- "tipped food service workers." Because they receive tips, their hourly wage is $5; that's $2.25 less than the currently mandated state minimum wage of $7.25. The idea is that they make at least $2.25 an hour in tips, which puts their total compensation at or above the minimum wage.

The folks behind the counter should be earning minimum wage. I'm sure many of them deserve more, but I could say that about many of the service workers I come across during the day. The young woman at the supermarket checkout doesn't have a tip jar next to her cash register, nor does the toll taker at the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, nor do all the behind-the-scenes workers I don't see.

Now, my Mother Teresa wants a shot: Just because I can't tip every worthy worker doesn't mean I shouldn't do so when I can. The relevant question is: "Can I afford to tip?" and not "Is my tipping behavior absolutely consistent?" After all, how does it help the supermarket cashier if I don't tip the barista?

Finally, a word from my inner Freud: The truth is that I can afford to tip that friendly barista a dollar. It's not that I begrudge him the money, it's that I resent being shamed into giving it. He's handing me my macchiato, we're having a pleasant interaction. But the tip jar is there, and if I don't put a dollar in it, I feel like a cheapskate. Thus, it doesn't feel like I'm tipping out of a sense of generosity and gratitude; it feels like I'm tipping out of a sense of obligation.

Now getting a cup of coffee has turned into a moral quandary, and I'm thinking that next time I should just make my own coffee.


When I cook fish fillets at home, I often find bones in them. What can I do to avoid this?

Fish have bones, and even the most expert fishmonger can leave some behind in filleting the fish. If you want to make sure your fillet is bone-free before cooking it, grab your toolbox and pull out the needle-nosed pliers. (You can also use a pair of tweezers, but I so rarely get to talk about needle-nosed pliers that I couldn't pass up the chance.)

Pass one hand back and forth over the fillet, applying gentle pressure. When you feel a bone, pull it out. Your eyes won't help you much here; depend on your sense of touch.

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