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Are corner stores requiring tips after purchases? It depends

Rhea’s Deli in San Francisco’s Mission District| Garrett Leahy/The Standard

If you’ve gone into a bodega, corner store or deli to buy a Coke and been baffled when the payment screen asks for a tip, deli staff are here to clear up the confusion—they say you only need to consider tipping if they make you a sandwich.

“We never expect a tip from a regular purchase; only when a high amount of effort is put in,” said James Choi, owner of Rhea’s Deli in the Mission. “Money is a very private issue, if people can’t tip, they shouldn’t feed bad. It’s a courtesy, not a law.”

Choi, who has run his store for 15 years, said a generous tip at a corner store with a deli is between 10% and 15%.

James Choi | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“For me, the percentage of the tip is how good the service is, how friendly, how knowledgeable, and the experience of the product,” Choi said. “Like, how satisfied am I? Did it take a lot of time? Do I feel important?” Choi said.

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Ted's Market and Deli | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Diaa Askandafi, owner of Ted’s Market and Deli in SoMa, also said that tips are only expected if a customer is buying a freshly-made sandwich.

“If you’re just buying a drink you don’t need to tip,” said Askandafi. 

Do you have strong opinions about tipping for services in today’s economy? Contact with your questions and comments.

Tips are appreciated even more these days due to inflation, Askandafi said. Tips help pay workers as Askandafi struggles to buy pricier ingredients—a case of deli meat that used to cost $240 now costs him $675, and profit margins have dropped from 40% before the pandemic to 10% now as inflation jacks up costs.

Diaa Askandafi, owner of Ted’s Market and Deli in SoMa, says tips are not expected for all purchases, just sandwiches. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“Covid has changed everything,” Askandafi said. “If I raised my sandwich prices, customers would complain and I’d lose business.”

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Customers at several delis The Standard visited around San Francisco said they usually tip between 15% and 20% for good service when they buy a sandwich.

Molitani Finau, a regular customer at Ted’s Market and Deli, said he always tips 15% when he buys a sandwich.

Molitani Finau pays for his purchases at Ted's Market and Deli. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“Especially if they give you good service,” said Finau. “Here they pay attention to you. They know your order.”

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Customers at Go Go Market and Deli in SoMa, who are often lower-income and use food stamps to buy deli sandwiches, said tipping for them is a privilege they often can’t afford, especially as prices have increased.

“It was $5 for a sandwich three years ago, now it’s $8,” said Robert Williams, a regular customer who lives above the deli. “I’m not making any more money, so that’s affected me being able to leave a tip.” 

Robert Williams, a customer at Go Go Market | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Go Go Market and Deli cashier, who gave his name only as Charlie H., said he understands that reality.

“Whatever you feel comfortable [with], if they make something good,” he said, “you should show you’re grateful.”