Tuesday, January 25, 2011

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.

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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.  

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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.

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So, for what it's worth:

Tip on take-out.  Anywhere from a couple dollars to 10% is appropriate.

Do you need that sauce on the side?
Proper Paige


Cristy said...

I also try to tip well. If you can't afford to tip, you can't afford whatever it is. I tip a $1 going through the Starbucks window, because they are handing me coffee which I appreciate...and I am grateful to not be working that very window.

la petite coquine said...

I couldn't agree more. John and I have both worked in the restaurant industry, and feel mortified when someone stiffs the waiter! As for take-out tips, I completely agree. No, your relationship with the delivery guy isn't as long as with a server, but they still work hard to get you what you wanted!

Anna said...

I'm curious how this pertains to take out pizza from a place where the only option is take out or delivery- no table service. Does the same tipping apply?

Proper Paige said...

@ Anna -- great question. I'll tackle that on Taking Question Tuesday!

Anonymous said...

Oh my god, thank you for this blessed answer. I just had this debate on a friends Facebook haha. I had asked WHY these people felt the need to not tip in response to their "not necessary" "shouldnt have to" "not like the did anything" "they only bring out the bag". No one of course could justify their comments as to why they think its ok to not tip. My point is, take out or what have you, if someone does a service for you, (service industry, cabs, people doing your laundry, maids, hair dessers, the list can go on) you show a little gratitude and throw a couple bucks. Not saying dump your wallet but every lil bit counts especially today. That's not to say there aren't things you don't have to tip for. Picking up a pizza or driving through a take out window? I'm leaning toward no on that one as I'm almost certain they do pretty well with their paychecks.

Anonymous said...

Just stumbled across this. As a bartender who frequently has to stop waiting on real live humans in front of me (with cash out) to take a togo order and see it through all stages of the process (ring in correctly, see that the kitchen made it correctly, see that they have all the sauce they need complete with those fiddly lids, see that it's "ready in 10-15 minutes", and that the bag does not lack togo silverware and napkins etc.), while continuing to do everything else I normally do. I very much appreciate your blog post! :)

I never expect a full 20% tip on togo orders (though that would be delightful) but at the very least $2.00 as a 'thanks' is nice!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps proprietors should pay better and let the customer off the hook for an expected 20% increase in the price of a product/service. In what other situation would such a surcharge be acceptable.

BTW, is a 20% tip really something to be expected on all occasions? Depending on the establishment, a similar meal, drink, etc., can range widely in price, but service can be similar. You pay for effort on the part of the server; percentages are only guidelines.