Which To-Go Orders You Tip and Which You Don’t

Which To-Go Orders You Tip and Which You Don't

By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

When it comes to food, we now have more take-out options than ever. That leads a lot of folks to ask which to-go orders you tip and which you don’t. Not only that, but for the orders we tip, how much should we give? Is it the standard 20 percent we leave when dining in the restaurant? Or is it less since the staff just bagged our food and didn’t actually serve us?

Because of the rise in eating restaurant food at home, I get asked a lot about when a tip is necessary and about how much of a gratuity to leave.

(If you happen not to be eating in the restaurant because bringing your young children out seems like more than you can handle at the moment, check out this post I wrote about why there is a boom in restaurants banning children. Yikes! Should Unruly Children Be Banned from Restaurants?)

Also, there seem to be tip jars sprouting up everywhere from butcher shops to bakeries. Five years ago, you never would have seen tip jars there.


A Reader’s Question

Here’s a question a reader emailed me. (BTW, if you have an etiquette question, you can send it to me at: Maralee@MannersMentor.com. I’ll do my best to get it answered!) In order to shield the identity of the writer, I don’t usually include the actual text of the letter. Instead, I write the essence of it. But in this writer’s “we’ve all been there” situation, I knew you’d want to read the full original.

Dear Maralee,

Thank you for putting your time into teaching something that really matters!

Last week I went to Red Lobster®. I was in a hurry and ordered ahead for takeout so that when I got there, I could pick-up the food and leave. They gave me my bill, and I paid by credit card. There was a place to leave a tip on the receipt, so I did.

My question is this: In a situation where I’m not being served, should I still leave a tip?

I talked it over with several people at the office when I got back, but no one seemed to have a solid answer. Thanks for your help on this one!


Which To-Go Orders Do You Tip?

The  Answer:

You were correct to tip!

Any time you’re picking up a to-go order from anything other than a drive-through window, it’s standard practice to leave a gratuity (a monetary thank you) for the special service from the person who prepared your order. (And it was a special service for you in that you got to eat the food you were craving, and eat it away from the restaurant to save you the extra time you needed that day.)

But still, why tip for something that just took a few minutes to bag up? If you were eating in the restaurant, that same person would be serving you for maybe an hour or so.

There are a couple of reasons:

First, even if a sit-down restaurant advertises to-go service, it’s a special offering, and not the norm. You tip for this service for the same reason you tip for room service when you stay at a hotel.

Tip 20 percent on the cost of the food for room service. You might (with a 99 percent likelihood!) see a service fee of anywhere from 15 to 22 percent of the room-service total that the hotel added to your bill. That’s a fee charged by the hotel and kept by the hotel.

None of that goes to the hard-working person who wheeled your meal from the kitchen, up to the tenth floor where you’re staying, and down a labyrinth of hallways to deliver it so you could eat comfy-cozy in your room! There are several special tipping circumstances when it comes to traveling and vacation tipping. You’ll find them here.



Tips May Be Someone’s Main Income.

Now, back again to why we need to tip….

Secondly, the person handing you the order is often a waiter earning the main portion of his wages on tips. He’s usually paid $2-$5 an hour (well below minimum wage), with the rest of his income earned through tips.

Even if the person who actually hands you your meal is the hostess, more than likely it was a server who boxed it in the kitchen, brought it to the hostess stand, and set it down next to her. When servers are on “to-go duty,” that takes time away from providing service at their in-house tables. And that limits the number of diners they can seat in their section because of the demands of filling to-go orders. On a busy evening, restaurants can have 15 or 20 to-go orders. That leaves the server no time to wait regular tables.

Please note: This isn’t always the case. Sometimes, the hostess or kitchen staff handle to-go orders, and they earn minimum wage or above. To be sure, just ask when placing your order: “I was wondering about curb-side orders. Who is preparing them tonight — the serving staff, the hostess, or the kitchen staff?” They’ll be glad to answer your question, and you’ll know how best to tip that evening.


How Much Should We Tip?

If people other than the serving staff (waiter/waitress) prepared your order, the tip is rather minimal — ten percent of the bill or $3.00, whichever is more. (Due to the slowdown in the economy with fewer people eating out, the standard tip when dining in restaurants is now 20 percent, and increasing to 25 percent. 15 percent is gone.)

If waitstaff prepared your order, tip slightly higher due to the dip in their income from handling fewer tables. Tip 15 percent or $3.00, whichever is more.

Which To-Go Orders You Tip and Which You Don't


Why Don’t We Tip at Fast Food Restaurants, and What About All the Tip Jars at Bakeries, Butcher Shops and Anywhere Else?

One last question you might have: If this is all correct, then why don’t we tip at the drive-through window of quick-service restaurants like Chick-fil-A® ?

Here’s the answer. Those associates are working diligently to serve you, but in restaurant terms they are filling orders, or completing tasks. They’re not providing a special service, since to-go windows are a standard part of each restaurant.

Plus — and this is the most important part — those associates earn minimum wage or more.

Keep in mind that none of the income is tip-based for workers at fast food restaurants, associates at Starbucks or other coffeehouses, or your butcher, baker or candlestick maker. So the lack of a tip isn’t causing them to earn less than minimum wage while serving you.

A tip for your morning coffee run isn’t necessary unless your order is something off the standard menu or you make more than one special request. Ordering your latte “extra-hot” shouldn’t be a problem. Ordering an “extra hot, extra foam, two shots of espresso, vanilla soy latte” is a lot to ask.  Go ahead and say thank you not only verbally but also with a 20 percent tip (round up), too!

Holidays may be extra-tipping days. If you frequent a restaurant or coffeehouse, tip your favorite server or barista a little extra. Here’s how much extra.


What If You Receive Bad Service?

If you receive bad service, speak to the manager and still leave the minimum tip. You could drop your tip from 20 percent to 15 percent, but still talk to the manager. Why? Because waiter Walter isn’t going to learn a thing from the experience if neither you nor the manager says anything to him. He simply will think you’re cheap and wanted to get out of tipping by making up an excuse to rate his service bad (he doesn’t recognize it was bad). Tip, and let the manager, someone who has earned the right to speak into Walter’s life, talk to him and give him the extra training he needs.


You Tend to Get in Life What You Give in Life

When it comes to tipping, a lot of people want to get super technical. It’s as if paying an extra dollar would cause their personal economy to collapse. But if you have the money to eat restaurant food, you have the money to tip.

Being frugal is important, but being frugal is when you deny yourself. Being stingy is when you deny someone else. It’s a thin wire that’s easy to trip over.

So tip generously!

You have no idea what a blessing your extra few dollars will be in their lives. When they add up all their tips, they might see a difference in the healthcare they can provide for themselves or their children. Your tips might keep the electricity on in their home. You might make their child’s Christmas wish come true. If they don’t want to work in the restaurant industry as a career, you might be contributing to their education fund so that if their dream is to be a programmer, an accountant, a PR expert, or a first-chair violinist, your dollars might be the ones that give them the ability to keep attending college or even put them over the finish line.


What’s Next?

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Until next week, keep doing what you were born to do. Bless the world by being you at your authentic best!


Which To-Go Orders You Tip and Which You Don't

Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! Maralee is a native and life-long resident of Orlando. Before entering the etiquette arena, she worked in management and ministry. She's proud to be Kent's wife and Marc and Corbet's mom. She hates laundry, and loves quality tea, London, and Savannah, Southern cooking, dressing up and dressing down, and Miss Lilly the Wonder Sheltie. You can find her picture if you scroll to the footer of this page. Isn't she the cutest dog ever?!!! PS: Because everyone always asks her, "What's your etiquette pet peeve?" It's people who talk on their phones in public restrooms. The person on the other end of the phone must wonder, "What's that noise. It sounds like....no, it couldn't be." Plus, everyone else in the bathroom is held hostage to a one-sided conversation usually shouted to try and cover up the noises. It would be comical if it weren't so...so....just plain wrong on many levels. ;)


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