When you think of the term 'hipster,' some things that come to mind may be flannel shirts, tattoos, edgy haircuts, coffee, artsy critically-acclaimed music, and yes, mustaches. They are the icon of hipster, a signifier of embracing hipster culture, an emblem for all a part of that lifestyle. Where are you most likely to find them? Quite possibly within today's hipster-associated coffee culture. But we must ask, what kind of psychological effect does a mustache have when in context of the coffee industry? Should baristas have a mustache and would it effect how much a customer may tip?
To find the answer, I decided to put myself to the test, serving customers with and without a curled handlebar mustache and logging data for four months. For two months, we tracked average tip per transaction while having a mustache and two months without. I also took note of days I groomed and waxed the mustache versus the lazy days I did not. Ultimately I hoped maybe there would be some sort of effect my mustache would have on customer tipping for fun, but hypothesized there would be no significant correlation.
Turns out I was wrong! The average tip without a mustache was $0.97 versus a $1.12 tip with a groomed mustache, for a shockingly significant 15% increase. Also a surprise $65 gift from a customer wasn't factored... so maybe a mustache also has magical powers? However, average tip was only $0.90 with an non-groomed mustache, so simply having a mustache did not increase customer tip unless it were groomed. This study seems to indicate a well-groomed barista mustache does have a psychological impact that positively affects tips, while an non-groomed mustache is worse than none at all.
A second way we gained insight into the psychological effect of a barista mustache was through an interview with the famous Lem Butler. Lem works for Counter Culture Coffee in wholesale customer support and Barista training. He's set record of five wins at the Southeast Regional Barista Championships and this year, won first place at the 2016 United States Barista Championship and fourth place at the 2016 World Barista Championship. When asking about his big wins of this year, Lem said "I owe it all to my mustache because this is the first year I didn't shave." Lem happened into a mustache as he explained he is incapable of growing a full beard, but discovered "without a mustache in the coffee industry is like career death." Once again the mustache seems to have a physiological effect that generates positive impact for baristas as it did for Lem.
So to understand why a mustache has positive impact for baristas, I interviewed a couple customers I served both with and without a mustache. Although both seemed unsure if the mustache caused them to tip more, they did seem to agree it affected their perception of me as a Barista and of the shop. "A nice curly mustache automatically tells me they care about their appearance and makes me feel better about where I'm at ...they're most likely going to care about everything," said Meredith Heber. She added "a curly mustache isn't something you see everyday... uniqueness helps me remember experiences I have, especially when in correct context of atmosphere, like the mustache in a coffee shop." Similarly, Jordan Marsman explained, "a good nice mustache, especially nice curly mustache, adds credibility to a high-end coffee shop." The mustache created a memorable positive experience for Meredith and Jordan due to its uniqueness while strongly fitting into what Jordan says, "the stereotypical coffee shop hipster vibe."
It's shocking how strongly a Barista with a well-groomed mustache positively alters perception. It causes a significant increase in customer tipping and may even help baristas in competition. We understand when fitting the atmosphere, unique and intentional attention to appearance creates powerful experiences, like a nice curled handler mustache in a coffee shop. So would things like suspenders, a vest, bow-tie, artistic dresses, lipstick, and/or stylish hipster hats also be appropriate ways to show unique and intentional attention to appearance? With a few days testing this, it seems these alternative ways to enhance the hipster image do have similar impact as the mustache. Ultimately the most unique, classy looking hipster Barista will generate the best customer perception and get higher tips... and yes, that could mean growing that iconic curled handlebar mustache, but also may not be necessary.
Written By: Ben Vollmar