Talking about tipping baggers at the commissary (Spouse Calls, May 6) generated some interesting letters and comments, including one from a friend’s husband who said I was “out to lunch” to suggest tipping more than a buck or two for a load of groceries.

The results I reported from a poll of military spouses and a recent poll on the Spouse Calls blog put the usual tip between $3 and $4.

However, 18 percent of those answering the blog poll said they didn’t want to tip at all, suggesting the commissary should pay the baggers. (For more results, see the Spouse Calls blog at

A military spouse stationed in Okinawa wrote with insight gained from experience. Here are some excerpts from her e-mail:

For years (25 years and counting) I had the same question and was never really sure how much to tip … Until that dreadful day when I lost my well-paying job at Merrill Lynch and couldn’t look for another job, because the time was too short due to the anticipated transition to a new duty station. Somebody told me to bag in the meantime … and I was hired. Now I know out of experience and would like to give you a little “insider update” on how much to tip and why you tip.

The first unknown fact to the commissary shopper is that the baggers must pay a fee to work. They pay an hourly amount to the head bagger (For 3 or 4 hours you pay about $3 … the amount may vary.) This money is partially used to pay someone who fills up each cash register with paper and plastic bags every morning. In a regular size commissary this is about a two-hour job for two men, because it is a heavy job. The money is also paid for someone who brings all these carts back from the parking lot during the day.

Second, I would like to answer the question on how much to tip. As a bagger, I can tell you that my experience was the more carts you bagged, the lesser the tip! Often people who had 5 or 6 carts full of stuff and two baggers who worked for about 20 minutes tipped you as much as someone who had only one cart. In general, the tip for 1 or 2 carts was between $2 and $3; very rarely you received a $5 bill.

In general, customers rather don’t want to pay for the bagger, because they want that service included. I think it should be calculated into the bill at the commissary and then be paid to the bagger at the end of the shift, because the commissary saves a lot of money due to help of the baggers.

— RA

Gerri Young at DeCA Europe explained that the head bagger’s fee is set and voted upon yearly by the baggers, so it’s different at each commissary. “The baggers are not employed by the commissary at all,” she emphasized. This includes the head bagger, who receives the fees as his or her only payment for administrative tasks — stocking bags, cart return, scheduling — which do not generate tips.

Thank you, everyone, for your responses. It’s good to look at an issue from both sides and to see the bagger who puts your bacon in the car as a person with a story — and her own bacon to bring home.

Terri Barnes is a military spouse and mother of three stationed in Germany. Send comments or questions to her at

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