Luckily, the employee guided me through it. He pointed out his favorite dishes. He engaged me. And because rewarding good service is important to me, I threw him a few bucks in the tip jar. He saw that I tipped him, looked up, and said, "thanks" while looking me in the eye. And when it happened, I noticed.
Probably because it hadn't happened in so long.
Sure, the food was great (and I can't stop talking about it), but service is equally important. When you go into a restaurant or a coffee shop, you're going for an experience. It's about how the food, the people, and the atmosphere make you feel. And it's nice to feel appreciated.
Nodding is also fine
I realize that if a barista is super busy, there's no time to openly acknowledge every single person who tips. It takes forever to say the word, "thanks!" That's one entire syllable! But since that seems too difficult for so many in the service industry, I'm also willing to accept a nod. Just lift your chin a little bit in my general direction.