With Pavlovian reflex, customers are dumping money into tip containers left and right these days, leaving coffee shops, ice cream parlors and greasy steak joints to cash in on a growing trend.
``It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if you put a cup out someone will put a tip in it. It's begging,'' said Christopher Muller, an assistant professor in Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration.
``Why do we tip people for doing their job well?'' Muller asked. ``Do you leave $10 in an envelope for the garbage guys at Christmas? Does it mean that they'll toss the garbage on the lawn if you don't?''
Tip cups seem to be popping up in minimum-wage retail establishments that seldom solicited gratuities before the coffeehouse craze made them commonplace.
Kim Long, who documents annual trends in the American Forecaster Almanac, speculates that the tip-cup phenomenon is rooted in the growth of gourmet coffee shops, which invite tips by showering customers with smiles and specializing in hard-to-make coffee concoctions.
Seattle-based Starbucks is at the forefront of the coffee shop phenomenon. Unlike many retail food and beverage establishments, Starbucks pays part- and full-time workers starting wages of $6 to $7 an hour and offers them generous benefits and stock packages.
Even so, tip cups abound. The company allows workers to display 4-by-4-inch, unmarked Plexiglas cups by its registers.
At Dunkin' Donuts, individual store owners decide whether employees can display tip cups as a way of boosting morale, said Jennifer Rosenberg, spokeswoman for the Randolph, Mass., company.
Jamie Rubin, 20, knows the benefits of a well-placed tip cup. As a part-time worker at Ashley's Ice Cream in New Haven, Conn., the college student has taken home as much as $30 in tips on a good night.
``It's real important, because we only get paid five dollars an hour,'' said Rubin, who attends Southern Connecticut University. ``It really makes a difference.''
At Everything on a Bagel, a Philly sandwich shop, the tip cup has been around virtually since it opened last September, said co-owner Barbara Cahill.
Two young women who worked there got the idea from another sandwich shop and Cahill, 48, who describes herself as a good tipper, had no problem with it.
``A tip is a tip is a tip,'' she said, adding that customers are not forced to put a cent into the cup.