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Chronquiry: Why can’t Duke students tip at the Brodhead Center?

It’s a Tuesday afternoon. After waiting in the line at Sazón for 20 minutes, a customer fumbles through their order—only changing their mind twice about what to get—and finally arrives at the cash register.

The cashier goes through their regular greetings, smiling through the fatigue of having to deal with indecisive students for hours. After the all-too-familiar beep of the DukeCard scanner, the customer stumbles off to find an empty table in the Brodhead Center.

The customer moves on with their day, and the cashier on with theirs. But why can’t customers tip the cashier?

While locations employing service staff members, such as the Devil’s Krafthouse and Nasher Café, accept tips from happy customers, counter-service eateries at the Brodhead Center do not provide that option, according to Robert Coffey, executive director of dining services. 

The lack of a tipping system is intended to accommodate Duke students who may not be able to tip, he wrote in an email to The Chronicle. Coffey added that Dining does not “want to put pressure on customers that might not have the means to feel the need to leave tips at these locations.”

However, he emphasized that tipping policies and wages received by employees meet community standards. 

“All Duke Dining counter-service locations implemented a $15 hourly wage Duke living wage for full-time team members in July,” he wrote. This rate is more than double the $7.25 minimum wage required for all North Carolina employees.

Coffey’s concern for students is not unjustified, as some first-year students expressed concerns regarding their meal plan. 

“I’m low on food points already. From my position, no, I wouldn’t tip. I just couldn’t,” first-year Nigel Veach said.

All first-year students on campus are required to purchase the same plan, which has 800 food points in comparison to plans offering between 2,321 and 3,606 food points for on-campus upperclassmen meal plans.

“If they allowed tipping at [the Brodhead Center], I think they would reduce wages for workers who receive tips,” Veach added. 

Older students with larger meal plans don’t share Veach’s worries. 

“I think I have so much more freedom than last year when I was a freshman. I feel like I can buy anything I want,” sophomore Grace Dessert said. “I’d definitely be willing to use leftover points to tip.”

Junior Brian Glucksman, who submitted the original Chronquiry question, wrote in an email that he eats at Sprout frequently and found the inability to tip strange.

“The workers there are always very kind,” he wrote. “Many remember my name and, when the line is not too busy, chat with me. It felt weird then that I am not able to express my appreciation through a tip.”

First-year Jordan Smith argued the merits of having a mandatory tip. 

“I think they could institute a mandatory tip—say, 10%—into every order, and then you have the option to give more if you want, maybe up to fifteen or twenty percent,” he said.

However, some students worried that workers at different venues would receive different amounts of money from tips.

“Workers at the busiest restaurants like Sazón or at the restaurants where the most non-students eat, like JB’s, could conceivably earn significantly more tips than any other worker,” Glucksman wrote. “I am not sure if that would be a desirable outcome.”

“[I would] definitely [tip] for vendors I go to a lot, especially if I know the workers—places like Sazón and Ginger & Soy,” junior Ana Martinez said.

If workers would become frustrated if they received lower tips than other workers, it could make tipping counterproductive, Glucksman postulated. He wrote that workers may feel obligated to work faster and move more customers through the line and thus earn more tips. 

Multiple Brodhead Center employees declined to comment when asked about their opinions on tipping.

For now, a smile and greeting may mean just as much as a couple bucks. Scarlet, who makes salads at Farmstead, said that it makes her shifts a lot easier when customers are friendly and interactive.

“I’ll have a bad day, and then they ask me, ‘How was your day?’” she said, “and it just makes me feel good.”

Editor's note: This article is a product of our service we call Chronquiry. A reader submitted a question, other readers voted on the question and The Chronicle got the answer. If you have a question you would like answered about anything related to Duke, visit dukechronicle.com/page/chronquiry or submit a question below: 


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