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

Which to-go orders should we tip, and how much should we give? Let’s talk tipping!

By: Maralee McKee

A Special Note About Tipping During the Pandemic:

Far too many local restaurants will not be able to stay in business during the pandemic or reopen after we receive the “all clear” signal and life begins to return to a new normal. For many restaurant owners, business is down 95 percent. It’s almost unfathomable. 

If you do order take-out, consider tipping as much as you can. Tip at least 20 percent. However, if you can afford it, tip a lot. A whole lot! Say… even 50 or 100 percent.


Because most non-chain restaurants are small businesses. The money you give is helping them get through today and maybe even keeping them afloat for tomorrow. Do you really want to lose one of your favorite restaurants?

If not, consider the money a donation of goodwill in hoping they can see it through this physical and economic pandemic. That way, when we’re given the all-clear signal, we can come out of our homes, gather together, and celebrate with our friends and family at our favorite restaurant — the one we helped keep open for just such a day!  

Grace Note: If the restaurant sells gift certificates, and you can afford it, buy some now to use after the pandemic. The restaurant gets to use your money now to help stay afloat, and you get a delicious meal to look forward to once they’re allowed to welcome dine-in guests again.

The Regular Post Begins Here.

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.

A Reader’s Question

Dear Maralee,

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 Restaurant To-Go Orders Should We Tip?

The  Answer: All of them

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 service from the person who boxed your meal, made sure all the condiments and utensils were included, bagged everything, and then either had it ready at the counter for you or brought it to your car.

Sometimes, all of this is done by one person, and sometimes it’s a team effort. In either case, at national chain restaurants, protocols are almost always in place so that the tips for to-go orders are given to the person or persons who got your meal ready for you to enjoy at home or the office. 

How Much Should You Tip on To-Go Orders?

For take-out, tipping ten to fifteen percent is the norm. For orders under $10, round-up to $1.

Why Tip for Takeout?

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, you tip for the same reason you tip for room service at a hotel — because of the convenience factor of the service provided for you. 





Secondly, the person handing you the order is often a server earning the main portion of wages on tips. Servers are usually paid $2-$5 an hour (well below minimum wage), with the rest of their 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.


More Information About How Much We Should Tip for Takeout Orders

If people other than the serving staff (waiter/waitress) prepared your order, the tip is rather minimal — 10 percent of the bill.

The standard tip when dining in restaurants is now 20 percent, and increasing to 25 percent. 15 percent for dining-in is gone.

If waitstaff prepared your order, tip slightly higher due to the dip in their income from handling fewer tables. Tip 15 percent of the bill. The reason it’s not 20 percent is that they prepared your items, but they didn’t have to continually check back in on you since you took the food to go.

This article from ezCater offers excellent information on how much to tip on large and small orders when you’re ordering food for your office or an event at home.  Everything You Must Know About Tipping Delivery Drivers the Right Way.

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, Coffee 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 15 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.

How Much Should We Tip for Room Service at a Hotel?

For room service, tip 20 percent on the cost of the food.

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.

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?

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


takeout, take-out, take out, to-go, to go, pickup, pick-up, curbside (common alternates)


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! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

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