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

By: Maralee McKee

We mentioned this topic months ago; it’s still one of the most often asked questions I receive, so I thought we’d mention it again. (See, you’re going to find the article archive on the blog very helpful!)

The answer everyone wants to know is, do you
need to tip the associate at a sit-down restaurant
when you’re ordering your meal to go?

You know that I don’t usually print your actual letters in the E-zine; instead, I write the column from the essence of the letter. Yet, this was another case in which “we’ve all been there,” so I knew you’d want to read it!

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 it up and leave. They gave me my bill and I paid by credit/debit card. There was a place to leave a tip on the receipt, so I did.

My question, in a situation where you are not being served, should you 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!

The Etiquette Answer:

You were correct to tip.

Anytime 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 service provided by the person who hands you your order.

Why tip for something that just took a few minutes to bag up, when 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 about the same reason you tip the person who delivers room service when you’re staying at a hotel.

Second, the person handing you the order is a server earning the main portion of his or her wages on tips. When a server is on “to-go duty” it takes their time away from providing service at his or her in-house tables and limits the number of diners the hostess can sit in the server’s section because of the demands of filling to-go orders.

How much to tip?

Ten to twelve percent of the bill or $3.00, whichever is more.

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

Answer: Those associates are working dilegently to serve you but are considered in restaurant terms as filling an order, or completing a task, not providing a special service since to-go windows are a standard part of each restaurant. Plus, none of the income of the associates is tip-based.

(Speaking of Chick-fil-A (R) it is the most delicious, well-staffed, and provides the best experience of any quick service restaurant! I’m a big fan of thier chicken, sweetned iced tea, and brownies. Honestly, when I was expecting Corbett, I ate one of those brownies almost every day. It was gracious on their part, but pitiful on mine, that the staff was able to greet me by name just five months into my pregnancy!)


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  • DeDi

    I don’t agree with tipping when I’m picking up to go food – I’m a great tipper when I’m being waited on – refilling tea glasses, removing dishes from the table, providing extra napkins, etc. but to go food – I just don’t see it. I enjoy your tips though – you’re providing a great service!

  • Ava Kinsey

    50 years old and I didn’t know this!! From now on, I will be tipping for to go orders!

  • Su

    Hi Maralee
    This is really helpful to me because I’m never quite sure if I’m being correct in how I tip when I’m in the US because we don’t tip here. I always get anxious that I didn’t tip someone that I was supposed to!