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Should you tip your budtender?

Several cannabis retailers in the Spokane area have tip jars, although there's no accepted formula for how much gratuity is suggested per transaction. (Terry Bain / EVERCANNABIS Correspondent)
Several cannabis retailers in the Spokane area have tip jars, although there's no accepted formula for how much gratuity is suggested per transaction. (Terry Bain / EVERCANNABIS Correspondent)

No standard yet created for cannabis recommendations

Let’s say you’re a cannabis novice.

Your budtender just spent 10 minutes recommending the best flower for your personal taste. They seem engaged and really seem to want to help you out. You are satisfied, happy even, with the recommendation and attention, and are about to head out with your purchase when you notice the tip jar on the counter.

Do you leave something behind?

Before March 16, 2016, the answer was supposed to be “no,” since the practice of tipping wasn’t technically legal. Taxing entities were initially concerned that product prices might be manipulated so retailers could avoid paying excise tax, with the understanding that a little extra coin would find its way into the tip jar.

But changes to the tax structure reduced concerns of this practice taking place, so the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board released a clarification stating that “customer tipping is now an allowable practice in licensed retail marijuana stores. However, tipping cannot be required or a condition of sale, nor can it be linked to the price of the product to avoid tax obligations.”

If your favorite retailer didn’t have a tip jar before this clarification, chances are good that they have one now. Rather than personal tips for each budtender, shared group tip jars seem to be the norm, likely because it makes distribution and taxation simpler (The LCB has reminded licenses that there may be business or employee taxes associated with tips received), and because it’s easy for customers to throw a few dollars into a jar after a transaction.

Tipping in general, of course, has long been a part of the American service culture. Restaurant servers probably couldn’t make ends meet without the extra cash-flow provided by gratuities. Many of us routinely leave a little extra at the espresso stand. But some budtenders say working in the cannabis industry is a little different.

“You don’t rely on tips as you would as a barista,” said Brooke Crone, who was a barista for five years before going to work at The Vault Cannabis. “If someone tips, it’s more like a bonus for us.”

She said tipping is less regular, or expected.

Every budtender interviewed for this story shared similar stories, including James Wendt at Greenhand.

“We don’t expect people to tip. If you have a lot of questions, and you want to tip, we appreciate it,” he said.

He said some people come in and say they don’t have anything extra to tip, but he doesn’t mind.

“If you walk out of here happy, that’s all that matters,” Wendt said.

Mia Gover, medical marijuana consultant and budtender at Satori, said it’s not as common to tip budtenders as it is to tip your server in a restaurant, for instance.

“I’d estimate around half of our customers will leave a tip, usually under $5,” she said. “Some of our customers come every day, so I know they will tip later even if they don’t do it on every visit. Personally, I’m not offended if a customer chooses not to tip, but if I’ve spent a long time discussing options and discovering the customer’s preferences, receiving a tip does give me a sense of satisfaction.”

An unscientific survey of Spokane-area budtenders indicates, depending on the retailer, anywhere between 25 and 50 percent of customers tip, while every retailer contacted had some form of tip jar.

Though there is evidence of a small no-tip movement elsewhere in the industry, the environment seems to be leaning toward tipping for exceptional service, when you’ve got spare cash, or because you feel like it’s the right thing to do.

With all of this in mind, and you decide a tip is in order at your next cannabis shopping trip, how much do you give? The consensus seems to be “that depends.”

All budtenders interviewed said a suggested number doesn’t seem to be attached to any formula like a percentage of the total sale or a minimal quality of service. In fact, some said even establishing a recommended price range may create an expectation that tipping is required, something budtenders said they want to avoid. But many say standard tips they’ve received seem to be around $3-$5.