If you use your credit card for coffee, you’re a douche-bag.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Aug 26, 2012
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How to be a Conscious Consumer on your daily Coffee run.

If you use your credit card at a local, indie cafe for a purchase under $5, you’re a douche-bag like many of us. Here’s some info about what happens when we use our credit cards for small purchases.

This blog comes out of a dialogue with a local barista who’s really worked up about a subject that most of us don’t think about at all. So hopefully, if we read, and share this post, and add ideas in comments, we can help to fix this blind spot.

1. When people use credit cards, according to our cafe source, people tip less—generally baristas make $20-40 less per shift than they used to when credit cards weren’t allowed.

2. When we use our credit cards, we’re giving a cut of our purchase to support multinational corporations (not all are bad, but Visa, Mastercard are all making money off of us all day already, thank you. And the huge banks were, remember, involved in our last economic downfall) instead of our independent, character-full local businesses.

3. Remember: the café has to pay not only a credit card fee, but a fee to a middleman credit card transactions processing company.

4. We’re not keeping our money local. Why’s that matter, beyond guilt and fear? It’s in our own self-interest to support our community, jobs. The more money kept locally the more businesses can support our tax base, which equals parks, safe streets etc. for us. More taxes from business theoretically equals fewer increases in property taxes. More, better independent, shops have more character and keep more jobs locally—making for communities we want to live in and enjoy.

5. Independent shops have a reputation for being pricier. Many cafés will have to raise prices to make up for losses, instead of keeping prices low.

Protip: Get cash back at the grocery, or pick up enough cash at your bank.


And here’s our solution—I thought about this without any help from Jeanne.

If your concern is getting points or miles, encourage your favorite café to offer a Loyal Patron Card for Cash Users: buy 10 cups with cash, get your 11th free. This will help the cafe attract and keep more loyal patrons and give said patrons an incentive, beyond typical liberal guilt or fear-mongering.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


88 Responses to “If you use your credit card for coffee, you’re a douche-bag.”

  1. elephantjournal says:

    Technically, it's…well, you can look it up. In common usage, it means "selfish jerk." But…it just sounds so wonderfully insulting, it's become incredibly popular and common and often is used with some sense of humor.

  2. elephantjournal says:

    Well, that's why I made a suggestion at the end, there.

  3. elephantjournal says:

    Awesome. I don't mind being a douchebag, either, Aunty. Guess it's in the blood.

  4. LynnBonelli says:

    I understand and appreciate the information being presented about simply staying informed with regards to what happens when you use your credit card (and I suppose you mean debit card as well since I think that's what many of us are doing). However, I don't understand why it's okay to use it at the grocery store to get cash back but not at Starbucks (or whatever coffee shop you choose to buy from). Doesn't the same thing happen at the grocery store? Especially if one buys from a local grocer? I would highly recommend that places like Bux start printing their cc receipts the same way that restaurants do…with a tip line included so the consumer at least has the option of stiffing the barista or not. And while I know that this is an article to support consciousness of our actions, IF I happen to be on the road, and all the cash I have on me is $5 to pay the bridge toll AND I could really use a coffee to make it home, I'm going to use my debit card. I will not drive around burning fossil fuels to find an ATM that won't charge me $2.00 in fees so I can buy a $5 coffee.

  5. LynnBonelli says:

    BTW, as a former waitress I can empathize with the baristas who rely on their tips (although I know Bux employees make more per hour than waitresses) but I tip on the quailty of service given…which really seems to be lacking at many establishments lately. Also, when I have to stand in line, order my drink, stand in another line to pick it up it's a far cry from being 'waited on'. I don't tip the guy at the deli counter who takes my order, slices some cheese for me and tells me to 'have a nice day…

  6. elephantjournal says:

    We do have a comment policy. It includes no personal attacks.

  7. LynnBonelli says:

    I find just the opposite is true. If someone is paying with cash (epsecially exact change) they are usually fumbling around with counting the bills and/or coins. Or the barista is fumbling with cracking open a new roll of pennies so they can give correct change back. When I use my debit card (which is always automatically run as a credit card at any coffee shop I've been in) it's in my hand when they ring me up…one swipe and I'm done (90% of the time there is also no need for a receipt). This is true at any store…even the grocery store. Paying with cash (sadly) is almost as anitquated as writing a check.

  8. Olive Tree says:

    I agree with some of the other posters here: did we really need to be insulted to learn about the downside of using a credit card? Sometimes that's all I've got in my wallet when I go in for a coffee. What's better? Buying something from my local coffee house or skipping it because I'm short the cash.

  9. elephantjournal says:

    Agree. I overtip for coffee. I overtip somewhat, generally. That said, I feel pretty good about supporting my baristas…there's some cartoon about how the baristas or waitstaff or other service industry folks who we may not think of as best friends are in fact among those we see and talk with most consistently. I appreciate their role in my life immensely.

    That said, I dig your point. For me, pulling a good shot and some friendly banter, along with using their wifi/electricity/table is well worth it.

  10. elephantjournal says:

    Amen. I think the emphasis here was using cash for small purchases. The assumption at a grocery might be that we're generally spending well over $3 bucks.

  11. monika says:

    yes i know:) and I'm adding 'Bitcoin'… wondering if EJ has heard of it? & would love to hear more ideas from the others… or if anyone is starting to implement any of these in any other of their small businesses? http://bitcoin.org/

  12. monika says:

    Also SQUARE has some cool small business offers… BOX CAR COFFEE ROASTERS in Boulder is using their interface (on an ipad to checkout) and was really happy when I asked them about it….. sure still ultimately using same big name creditors but along the way empowering an innovative middleman… that could turn into something.

  13. monika says:

    thank you! when we are paying digital…. we don't usually want paper receipts 🙂 somehow that's still not understood. I reference above SQUARE that is an cc interface service like paypal (Box Car Coffee Roasters in Boulder is using)… and even the signature is digital on an ipad. Its 2012 people… wake up and smell the coffee!

  14. jcn says:

    I am very grateful for this post.

    I own a small retail establishment with 26 employees. Each year we spend over $50,000 in credit card fees. This amount would allow us to provide one or more jobs with benefits to local workers, or it would give us more money to reinvest in our community – we normally give about $10,000 to local non-profits per year. Instead the money goes to big banks, who have us all wrapped around their fingers.

    Why are we so accepting of the world "going paperless" with the costs going into raising retail prices to consumers and even more profits to corporations? Why aren't more people resisting the credit card industry and sticking with cash or barter or local currencies? Yet one more place where we screw ourselves over for the sake of convenience. And those cards with "points" are the worst, as they cost the most to retail stores, so basically the places you shop will raise their prices and you will spend more to get "rewards", when the real rewards go to the credit card companies.

  15. Martin Murphy says:

    The challenge here is that the monetary system as is, is the actual challenge. Whether it be CC's, money in major banks. The sentiment is to get local. We are in a transition phase of human evolution where we are the ones who have to adapt. Certain areas in the UK are experimenting and using community money. If you want to keep money local move away from corprotocracy of any kind. Also, don't be pointing fingers, be the change. As Buckminster Fuller epsoused, 'Don't fight the existing reality, create a new one that makes the old one obselete.' …Perhaps? 🙂

  16. emer says:

    I guessed! We say ‘a total tosser’ or ‘a right tool’ but I’m branching out from today. Thanks Elephant.

  17. jcn says:

    We are not a paperless society – note what happened when a big storm hit the east coast and the internet was down…
    We as consumers need to get with the program and remember who and what we are fortifying with our choices. Educating consumers about the number of parties chipping away at their card transactions is only gonna make for better discussion and perhaps create some new ways of doing things. Let's not just accept the program from the moneyed powers of Visa, Mastercard, etc, who feed us advertisement showing how "inconvenient" our cash transactions are. Inconvenient to their profits, perhaps.

  18. Ann says:

    My neighborhood snowcone vendor (small business) accepts only cash. If a small business does not want to incur the cost of processing credit/debit card transactions, then they should not. Thereby the credit/debit card industry would be duly pressured to make their service more affordable to small businesses. Many businesses set a minimum purchase for card payments. Small businesses just like consumers can vote with their dollars. I know I still go for snowcones knowing that I’ve got to have cash on hand, but when I forget my neighborhood small business just says, pay me next time. 🙂

  19. Emily says:

    While I by no means am trying to preach or lecture…If you don't have cash available in your bank account and have to resort to using a credit card, maybe you should rethink your spending habits? Especially if you're more likely to tip more with plastic. It's easy to spend money you don't have and end up in debt. While I am 100% for supporting local coffee businesses, or any local business at that, you also need to be financially responsible!

  20. bobcat says:

    Thanks a bunch. I've studied with Dr. Douillard. It's a great article.

  21. John says:

    It's a way of insulting someone based on the underlying assumption that there's something inherently disgusting about something that comes into contact with a vagina. Never really understood it myself.

  22. @chrishough says:

    How about having them change their old POS Systems to use Square. They would have an immediate savings + the streamlined tip interface would yield more tips overall.

  23. […] that wasn’t the Universe talking to me? I can go on with my life enjoying my morning coffee, or I can recognize that I’m part of that conversation and sit with that biker’s […]

  24. Vanessa says:

    I, for one, welcome your use of douchebag. For the past year I've seen far too much of you …traipsing about in your underwear, squatting on a rock looking vaguely pouty, and way to many times looking ironically lost. Your words never cease and obviously you don't edit your own work well. So yes, by all means call me a douchebag. I feel exactly the same way about you. Grow up Waylon, you're always trolling for hits and a provocative title will certainly generate hits. But there is no there there.

  25. […] first one isn’t engaging in comment wars on the internet. It probably has more to do with letting go of anger. Or being grateful. Or being compassionate to […]

  26. Angie says:

    Well said, Karen. I would want to spend my money at your business simply because of your attitude.

  27. Angie says:

    Dear Barista person who inspired this article:
    I am 98.6% sure who you are, and I would like to help you in case enough people don't switch back to cash in the meantime.
    Tips on getting tips:
    1. Smiles. Genuine smiles. If you can't be genuine, learn now to fake it or learn it and really feel it.
    2. Gratitude even before gratuity. Shed some of that anger. I think it'll feel better overall. I personally have a resistance to tipping you – ever – after the lecture I got once. But, I probably will at some point for the sake of personal growth.
    3. Stop giving the lecture on how much it costs per cup of coffee to use your credit card. It just makes people feel bad and doesn't promote good feelings which promote TIPS! And, I'm curious about the integrity of your info.
    4. Talk to the owner about having people sign their credit card slips. This is HUGE! It feels really awkward for most to speak how much they want to tip as you're ringing them up.
    5. Maybe consider another line of work or use this problem to create an opportunity for you. How else can you solve it? Could you educate people even more or in a more constructive way? Like – get the real facts and post it places. I am sure you have some good ideas.
    6. Good luck.
    Speaking of real facts – does anyone have them? I want to know if business at small businesses increases with the use of cards, stays the same, or decreases. And – what's up with the $5 minimum? I was under the impression that you pay a percentage of sales.

  28. ann says:

    read through a fraction of these comments until i just couldn't take it anymore…for crying out loud! this is a thoughtful article with well-made points across the board. i've worked in coffee shops, bars, and restaurants, and i assure you, if people don't carry cash, they tip less. and whether we like it or not, the united states functions for the most part as a service-oriented society – ergo, we tip. we tip cabbies, hair stylists, even the guy who carries our luggage to our room. it's how it works. we get all our lovely cheap commodities, employers pay crap to their employees, who in turn continue to provide service with a smile because maybe they can compensate for their sorry wages with our tips. try buying a beer in paris or zurich and see how cheap it is. no – they don't tip – because employers pay their staff more, so they charge more. different economic system. guess what? the staff don't smile as much either, and the customer is most certainly NOT always right. and those banks making billions off of us every year are spending a good portion of that money on things many of us most certainly do not support (think small arms trade, for example). what a lot of hate for a piece that actually gave a lot of good info…please keep 'em coming, waylon.

  29. emer says:

    Wow! Thanks John. Not a word I would ever use.

  30. kevin says:

    Failure or not, you're at least trying. And yeah, that's good I suppose. But that's not a justification for not trying harder, for not writing better.

    For the three years I worked as a barista, I invariably preferred people to use cards. Aside from the hassle of waiting for the transaction to complete (yes, it was a hassle) and the marginal fees that our shop paid for the convenience of our customers to use cards, I regularly noticed card-payers tipped substantially more.

    Not only were they more prone to tip higher amounts – quickly signing off a $1 tip versus throwing a couple of dimes and pennies change into the jar – but they did so more frequently. There you go, personal narrative that shuts down your barista friend's argument.

    Thing is, neither of our accounts are necessarily accurate – perception is a hell of a thing.

    Why people are insulting the article is (1) the unnecessary use of 'douche-bag' and (2) the general insubstantial nature of it.

    (1) If you want to be aggressive in your writing (To attract attention, is that it? Or are you generally just reactive rather than reflective?) at least be more creative than "douche-bag".. Seriously? That reads only as laziness.

    (2) Back it up with some numbers if you want any credibility. Or back it up with ANYTHING more substantial than "My friend said…"

    You're at least trying, yes. Try harder. Either respond to the points people bring up (especially the ones about you NOT responding do points) or accept them, if you have no counter-argument. If YOU want to measure the success of your blog, read the comments. Trolls live under bridges, sure. But they don't have laptops and internet there. The people that comment on your undeserved articles write with more clarity and substance than you do – take advantage of it and learn.

  31. kevin says:

    Do you refuse to tip at restaurants?

    If the shop raised their prices to pay a living wage (that was a decent proposition, by the way), would you still buy coffee there if it cost $1 more? Or would you go next door, pay less, and still refuse to tip?

    His points about locality should be read as, "Keep things as local as possible." If we HAVE to have our coffee, as much of the money going toward it should stay as local as possible. Obviously, coffee beans aren't local. Waylon's arguing that we shouldn't throw extra money away elsewhere.

  32. Natali_78 says:

    Totally agree. Consumer debt is just huge because people use credit cards everywhere. Paying for coffee with a credit card is a strange thing. I would allow that only if I had absolutely no cash in my wallet and paying with a card would be the last resort. Paying for coffee can not be serious reson to make a debt, it's better to use card for more important and expensive purchases. But there are people who even apply for immediate loans till payday to go to restaurant to get a few drinks. As for the tips, when you pay with card you leave people lesser tips. So I think that it's not worth to use credit cards in some occasions. Financial products like credit cards are intended for more important occasions.

  33. Not having cash available is not the same thing as not having cash at all. PBK could just be loaning to theirself from next month's budget and not carrying a balance on the card at all.

  34. The internet didn't, "go down." That's next to an impossible feat. An internet outtage may be had for a client at an endpoint, but the internet was made with the intent of surviving nuclear holocaust. We are moving to become a paperless society and I personally am glad of that fact. Death to the hard copy!

  35. Square does ok, but I wouldn't say they're a good replacement to a POS system just yet (admittedly, I program and sell a big name POS system). It's a good simple interface, but I'm not really a fan of having everything on the cloud just yet. Not redundant enough for tracking sales in the event of an outtage. Great for food trucks and the like though

  36. CC Processing rates are not that high really. If you're having an issue with the rates, especially if your parents have multiple businesses, they should have no issue at all negotiating for a better rate. Processors are businesses too and there are many to choose from. They will do a lot to retain customers, especially high volume ones.

  37. This website really has all the info I needed concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

  38. strangegrapes says:

    I suspect your friend's real issue is that she would rather have the higher tips from people paying cash. This is fine but the owner has deemed it a good trade off to accept credit cards which brings in more people and helps keep the place open. And really, the rest of the stuff about credit cards is rather silly. See, when a business provides a service they don't do it just out of the goodness of their heart–not the bank, not the credit card processor, and not the shop owner. If there wasn't a bit of profit somewhere, the service would go away. Further, the money really does not leave the local economy just because it isn't physical bits of paper and metal being handed over (provided this is a locally owned shop), it's just moved around electronically with the bulk of it going back to the shop owner who then pays expenses and whatnot. Yes, there is a much more involved explanation but this is wordy enough.

    On a side note, I would hope the owner is setting prices according to what it really costs to provide the service. I think most people will happily support a somewhat more expensive local business rather than a corporation, provided it is for a quality product and nice people who aren't shooting them dirty looks for pulling out plastic.

    Btw, I don't really care if you use the term douche-bag (my 2 cents on that bit of silliness).