Taking Questions Tuesday: Do You Tip for Take-Out?
Ah, take-out. The mixed blessing of having to leave your home for food, but avoiding a full-on restaurant experience. Take-out doesn't require make-up, and can usually be accomplished with modified couch wear and a ponytail, or for the guys, a well-placed baseball hat.
When we leave our bunkers for food, we're only dipping our toes in the water of the restaurant world. Heck, we're not staying long. We might not even sit down. We just take the food, pay for it, and go. Does that require a tip?
Yup, today's question is:
Is it required to add gratuity on take-out?
Full disclosure: As a former server (I waited tables, here and there, for years), I am generally a good tipper. A friend in DC put it best years ago when he said, "Every server I have starts with a baseline of 20%. They can go up or down from there; it's up to them." The notion of starting with 20% and (gasp) leaving room to go up shows an intrisic value placed on good service that makes me happy. After that, it's up to the server to (ahem) dazzle me.
But that's not the question. Today's question is the thornier issue of what to tip, if at all, when there is no server, per se, and no real time to "dazzle." Some people frame it this way:
Do I really have to tip someone for putting my food into a bag?
And I'll start there with my answer. Fulfilling a take-out order is not just "putting food into a bag." First, someone has to stop what they're doing (ostensibly waiting on live, in person, tipping customers) to take the order over the phone. If your order is complicated, or you don't have their menu in front of you (I don't have your menu in front of me, but do you have a veggie burger with like, avocado, on it?) When the order is ready, they have to neatly assemble the food into a take-out container. This process also involves putting various sauces and dressings into separate little containers, often with infuriating lids. Include take-out silverware and napkins, all placed into aforementioned bag, and it's ready to go.
The devil's advocate will now correctly point out that doing that, while more work than they might have envisioned, is nowhere near as much work as "actually" waiting on a table. This is true. And this is precisely why I don't tip 20% on take-out. Instead, I leave anywhere from a few dollars to 10%. It's an acknowledgement of the work that was done, which is less work than a full-service dining experience.
And, for what it's worth, if there is a cleverly labelled tip jar for something like "good karma fund" or "kung fu lessons," I definitely put a dollar or two there, as well.