To tip or not to tip, that is the question.

However, while waiting in line at the Fort Belvoir Commissary, the question is not whether or not to tip, but instead, how much to tip. It’s a Thursday afternoon, you head to the commissary after work, fruitlessly attempting to beat the weekend rush. But, just as you begin to load your items on the belt and tell the baggers you want paper, not plastic, you are, once again, at a loss for what to do.

You’re faced with that age-old commissary question: How much should you tip the baggers? They pack your bags, load them up and carry them out to your car. But, what is the magic amount that will satisfy both you and the bagger? Needless to say, as you drive off, groceries in tow, you either feel like a cheapskate or a chump.

After doing a little research, it became clear that many Fort Belvoir Commissary shoppers truly are at a loss when it comes to how much tip is expected for their baggers. Blogs have been dedicated to the question, reviews have been written and even a national court case came about from the issue.

Talking to some commissary regular customers it appears that, in general, people tip between $2 and $5, depending on the number of bags and the quality of service. The key thing to remember when deciding what to tip is that the commissary does not pay the baggers. The baggers do not get one cent for their service and they work solely off of tips. That means, if you do not tip them for bringing out your bags, then they will not get paid for the service they provided you.

But, packing up and bringing out customer bags is not the commissary baggers’ only job.

“Part of our job is to have a conversation with people. For some people, we provide the only friendly words they hear all day. Some of our shoppers come in just to have someone to listen.” said the Fort Belvoir Commissary assistant head bagger, Allen Stranbey, who goes by the name “Hawk.”

One shopper interviewed said she tips based on the number of bags and how friendly the bagger is. To her, the conversation and friendliness of the bagger is just as important as the quality of bagging. Like any other business, the customer is always right and, if a person chooses not to tip their bagger, that is their right.

Hawk told the story of a young Soldier who paid his bagger an extra tip because he noticed the man before him hadn’t tipped at all. There is little a bagger can do about customers who are less-than-generous, but, other people are always watching and a truly generous person does not go unnoticed.

In 1997, commissary baggers sued the Defense Commissary Agency for minimum wage because their tips were not enough for their work. The lawsuit was dropped but signs were put up informing the public that the baggers were, in fact, working only off of tips. Today, many baggers actually prefer tipping over a yearly salary because they usually make more money that way, especially during the holidays. One woman actually paid her teenage bagger a $100 tip during the Christmas season, telling him, with a smile, to buy his parents a nice gift for Christmas.

There are always those times when you truly have no cash to give. But, next time, instead of driving off feeling guilty, take note of your bagger’s number and go back later with a little cash. Hawk mentioned that more times than not, people do not come back to give a tip when they have forgotten. However, when people do, it truly means a great deal to the bagger.

In the end, they provide support to the men and women of Fort Belvoir. The baggers are a commissary tradition, always giving a smiling face and a helping hand for the men and women serving our country.

So back to the question - to tip or not to tip? The choice to tip is up to you, but, if you have a little cash to give, please do.