I could not agree less with the Tools R Us crowd that just reported in. It is all about serving the best coffee to my customers and showing them respect. People respect quality and manners, if someone judges you by your appearance, f*** them. I bite me lip regularly, but for the most part my customers treat me respect because I am passionate about serving them great coffee and providing them with great service. I'm 45 years old with a mohawk and two sick coffee tattoos on my forearms, yet I am the President of my local business association and sit on three other local boards. It is really time in America in 2008, almost 2009, to stop judging people by their appearance, or accepting those who do.
As for compensation, margins are very tight for retail coffee businesses, but it doesn't seem right for you to be taxed so much on tips. I don't enforce my baristas reporting tips, but we only accept tips in cash, to avoid a necessity to report them. It sounds like you are doing a great job, as long as you focus on quality and customer service, respect and eventually compensation should follow. Good luck.
I do feel appearance is important, I feel at some level we judge everyone by the way they look, that said I feel you can have a personal style and be professional at the same time. You can have tats, piercings. but be clean and professional . No matter what the Barista is wearing if he/she looks like they don’t care you’ll taste that in your drink. the bottom line is if you care it will show.