The Bad Rules 

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Bad rules irritate me.
Bad rules irritate me.

I handed the barista a $20 bill because I wanted to break it and leave her a tip.

“Thank you so much,” she said, “but we can’t accept tips.”

The Starbucks was co-located inside an elaborate new grocery store in my neighborhood. I gestured to my surroundings.

“Because you’re in here?” I said.


“Feel free to not answer this question, but are you financially compensated for your inability to accept tips?” I said.

Without turning around, a second Starbucks barista behind her said: “No. No, we’re not.”

“So let me get this straight: The new Starbucks across the street has a bunch of workers in it and they all split the tips. You guys also work at Starbucks maybe 200 yards away and are paid the same wages, but can’t receive tips?”

“Exactly,” she said.

“Hmm. Sounds like bullshit to me. Thanks so much for the coffee.”

For all of capitalism’s faults, there is something beautiful about the freedom to pursue whatever work you want and for employers to be able to hire anyone they choose and pay them (so long as it’s at least the federally mandated minimum wage) whatever the employee is willing to work for.

Meaning, much of the responsibility lies with the employees who chose to work at a Starbucks where tipping isn’t allowed. They have the freedom to try to get a job at a Starbucks that does allow tipping. And they can get a job in an entirely different line of work if they so choose.



Decision makers sit in board rooms and fancy offices and make decisions. These are presumably the smartest people in a particular company, so I’m always floored by the decisions that seem so poorly conceived.

I’m speaking out of school here about this particular Starbucks co-located inside this particular grocery store. I’m not privy to the legal terms of the two companies’ relationship, nor whether the Starbucks is owned by a franchisee and how that might factor in.

That said, I have a fundamental problem with a Starbucks employee doing the exact same job as another Starbucks employee literally across the street but making less money for it by virtue of a rule preventing that employee from receiving tips in a line of work where tipping is a common and expected practice and income supplement.

I know a guy who goes to school and works part-time at a Starbucks. I have no idea how many hours he works, but it’s not uncommon to earn an extra $50 per week from tips.

Quick and dirty math: If an employee is making $10 per hour and working 20 hours per week part time, they’re earning $200 per week, and $10,400 per year.

An employee earning an additional $50 per week in tips would earn $2,600 more per year than an employee not getting tips.

Thus, the tipped employee doing the same job as the non-tipped employee is earning about 25 percent more. Doing the same job! In the same town! Across the street!

And I don’t get it. And I don’t like it. Because it’s a bad rule.

And bad rules are bullshit.

Anyone With a Job Gets It

And if you don’t, you’re fortunate. Because many companies have bad rules.

For example, I have a job where in addition to my paid time off, I also have a week of unpaid time that I’m allowed to use. BUT. I’m only allowed to use it AFTER I’ve exhausted my paid time off. You know, at the end of the year when you’re spending the most money on gifts and travel and presumably have the least amount of budgetary wiggle room.

What would be the harm in letting employees use their unpaid time whenever they want?

It’s a “Because I said so” rule, and I’m particularly not fond of those sorts of edicts.

How about this one?: Single parent’s child gets sick and is forced to use vacation time to care for the child (and probably also get sick and use EVEN MORE time.)

You know what I do for a living? I write stuff. On the internet. And communicate via email with my co-workers, many of whom are close enough to speak to without moving from my office chair.

Millions of people have jobs exactly like mine.

Tools for the job? Functioning computer. Internet access. Maybe a phone.

If an employee can get her job done despite having a sick child at home (and won’t the proof be in the pudding based on production?), why are we punishing said employee simply because she can’t make it into the office?

Is she competent enough to stay in touch via phone and email and send in her electronic work electronically? I know I am. And I know that my superiors know how much work I typically get done in a day or week, and it would be simple enough to gauge how much work got done when I wasn’t physically present in the office.

I have every confidence that millions and millions of employees globally can do the same thing. Maybe the weather’s severe and driving conditions are dangerous and the kids have a snow day at school. Maybe a million different things that shouldn’t matter so long as the work is getting done at the expected quality.

But in many instances, they are punished for things completely outside their control.

One sick child equals one less vacation day. And for what? So they couldn’t be physically babysat by an adult?

It’s a bad rule.

And it’s bullshit.

We don’t have to tolerate bad rules and policies.


Women’s suffrage.


Those are huge things that should not be compared to silly corporate policies, but are great examples of people rising up in opposition to things that don’t make sense.

There is A LOT of gray area in this world. So much that half of all voters in the United States believe something almost completely opposite of the other half about virtually every political topic. They’ll scream at each other and hurl insults in private conversation and on cable news talk shows.

It’s very frustrating sometimes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The open exchange of new and different ideas is how the world becomes better. And how we grow.

But sometimes there really isn’t any gray area.

Sometimes, things are just bullshit and make little sense.

We should do something about those things.






19 thoughts on “The Bad Rules ”

    1. Thank you. I was really surprised there wasn’t a policy in place to compensate employees denied the same money-making opportunities as probably 95 percent of other company employees.

      Made me think about the thousands of bad rules that exist in the world and how sad it it is that they’re tolerated.

  1. I was told this is not a Starbucks policy but the policy of the storefronts which Starbucks are located. From my understanding (a friend worked at Starbucks inside a Target for a while), because they are actually considered employees of the base location, like Target, they are under Target’s rules.

    They are trained by Starbucks and wear Starbucks uniforms, but their paychecks come from Target. And Starbucks Target baristas do make $.50 more per hour than Target cashiers… At least they did a few years ago.

    Perhaps that doesn’t make it right… Maybe we should be able to tip whomever we damn well please! But I thought I’d point out that Starbucks isn’t the enemy here…

    1. And to be sure, I didn’t mean to pick on Starbucks and hope I didn’t see as if I was. (Even though they are at least partially responsible for putting their name and product in this situation.)

      I knew there were some moving parts I didn’t fully understand.

      But your info does change the premise a little. These are not two people doing the same job for the same company.

      These are two people doing the same job, but for different companies.

      And different companies pay on different wage scales all the time. Interesting.

      That said. The no-tipping thing is still a bad rule.

      And bad rules are crap. I’m attacking bad rules. Not Starbucks, which serves fine coffee and generally makes my life better.

      Hope you had a lovely Christmas, Mel.

      Super-awesome of you to do some homework on this.

      1. Yes. Bad rules suck. Agreed, 100%. I just know that sometimes rules are misunderstood… Wouldn’t you be pissed if you were the super awesome and helpful cashier at Target who couldn’t accept a tip, but the dick behind the starbucks counter could??

        1. No.

          And let me explain why.

          I have a job that I can do from anywhere in the world with computer access, and I’d like to be able to.

          If you’re someone who works on a computer, I think you should be able to take your laptop out to a picnic table and sit outside and enjoy a nice day while you get your work done if you want to.

          The caveat is, I want you to be productive. If you’re doing a shitty job, you don’t deserve the privilege in the first place.

          The obvious response to someone at my company might be: “What about me!?!? I work inside the distribution center! I CAN’T do my job from a picnic table outside, so why do other people deserve to do things I can’t do!?!?!”

          THAT’s what I’m talking about, Mel. The bad rules are in place because of those people who would cry about not being able to work outside or from home.

          1. I would like to get paid $500K per year and have six weeks of vacation like an executive. I would like to go on elaborate trips to other cities and countries and party with the big wigs like the C-level guys (CEO, CFO, CMO, etc.) But guess what? Tough shit, Matt. You’re NOT an executive!!

          I am what I am. I got good at the things I’m good at and I was hired to do it. I don’t get the perks because I’m not an executive, and I don’t get stuck working inside a warehouse because my job requires me to be in the nice corporate offices.

          I say the Target cashier chose to be a Target cashier. And the Starbucks barista chose to be a Starbucks barista.

          And we can have a conversation about whether cashiers, in general, deserve to be tipped, and I’m totally okay with that.

          But it just so happens that cashiers are routinely not tipped, and baristas routinely are.

          And I didn’t like that I wanted to tip a deserving person last night and she wasn’t allowed because of a bad rule.

          I don’t believe we make the world a better place when we restrict achievers because their reward is greater than others’.

          This was totally over the top, wasn’t it?

          You’re the best. Thank you for playing. 🙂

          1. Of course, when the bad rules affect you directly, they are even more frustrating! (I’m with you on the work from wherever you want thing… Have laptop, will travel! Unfortunately my boss has bad rules too!)

            I would love this world with less restrictions you are dreaming of!!! LOVE LOVE LOVE.

            But there are too many bastards in this world who would totally take advantage. For example: the whole Pay It Forward thing at the McDonald’s drive thru. About a month ago, I stopped for a Pumpkin Spice Latte (so bad…) and the cashier told me the guy in front of my had paid for me, that it had been going on for about 45 min. Well, I didn’t want to end it! But the guy behind me was $19…

            So, I paid $19 for a PSL. The following week I stopped for another (I know, SO bad), and the same cashier remembered me, and told me that jerk behind me took his free meal and ended the PIF. :*(

            She said the guy behind him also only had a PSL.

            Because of those people Matt, the people in charge HAVE to look out for circumstances such as this thing with the barista. If they move to a “no policy” situ, you know it would be taken advantage of left and right.

            It sucks. But this is the society we live in today.

            I’m on board, though, if you figure out a way to change it! You know, if the opportunity arises again, I will pay $19 for PSL again so the guy behind me can have his three free value meals.

            Maybe you should’ve left the tip on the counter anyway? It’s not like they could have thrown it away!!!

            And no. None of this is over the top. These are the conversations people should have more often!!!

  2. Oh, I so agree with you! Bad rules frustrate me so much, I actually have to do my best to completely avoid situations where they exist. It’s simply too much stress. Tax season for example, makes me crazy, not because it’s particularly hard, but because the rules are so blasted irrational, they irritate me. One plus one is going to equal four today, people, four, and this may not make any sense, may not be fair, may not even be true, but we simply demand your compliance. That kind of stuff just makes me crazy.

  3. The Ginja may or may not work at a barber salon in which she is allowed to blog, doodle, write (and publish!) books when not immediately busy with salon work… =D

      1. Yes, Senpai is most agreeable. ^_^

        Unfortunately, the majority of employment is designed to make the rich richer while the poor get poorer.

  4. Your writing is always so wonderfully paced, Matt, a story tucked into a story. And even when I’m not all that invested in the topic (I’m a stay-at-home Mom, remember? I literally invented dumb rules…) I still always love to read your posts.
    Well played.

    1. What you think means a lot to me Mrs. Groeber because I think you’re a delightful human being and as talented a writer as I’ve come across on WordPress. Your compliments make my day, and I continue to be flattered every time you take a moment to read anything I’ve written.

      Thank you, Jennifer. I hope you and your family are having a very happy and blessed holiday season.

  5. I work in an industry that has truckloads of rules that don’t make sense. Many of those rules are federal rules which, if you’re a driver and not a federal bureaucrat, are absolutely insane but must be obeyed because it’s the law. Rules which actually help cause the very problems they were supposed to solve.
    Now, most of those rules don’t apply to me personally because my vehicle is under the 10K magic limit which decides whether a vehicle is a “commercial motor vehicle” or not. Some may consider that another of those insane rules– after all, a van weighing 8,000 pounds might not be as deadly as a tractor/trailer weighing 40 tons, but if the driver falls asleep behind the wheel it can kill just the same.

    So— coffee. Hmmm…. I buy Speedway or Pilot/Flying J coffee, personally, so Starbucks hardly falls within my experience. I always thought “Latte” was Latin for “You paid too much for that coffee” but that’s just my opinion. However– if tipping is the norm, then a rule which forbids it in one store but allows it in a same-brand store across the street doesn’t make much sense UNLESS the employees in the non-tip establishment are paid more to compensate for not being tipped.

  6. Wait. Where can I get a job like this?!?

    But I totally agree. I actually don’t know any Starbucks that allows tipping. Or maybe they do and no one ever sees it? I’m not sure. But I’m from California. And we all know how California works.

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Matt Fray

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