Tipping On To Go Orders

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This probably warrants a couple extra bucks

Part of writing a blog about the restaurant industry and serving is fielding questions from friends.  Every couple of weeks I will field a question from a facebook friend regarding tipping.  I consider this fair since I do link to this blog fairly often on my facebook.  Most of these are pretty easy.  I have no problem letting a friend know that they $30 bottle of wine they ordered does not meet the standard for not tipping the full amount or that they will not go to hell for not dropping a dollar in the tip jar at Chipotle.  The question of tipping on carryout orders is much more difficult.

I have been asking friends about this for weeks.  It is a fun conversation starter.  Everyone feels confident that they leave “enough,” but their definitions vary greatly.  I even consulted one of the best etiquette columnists on the web.  Helena Echlin writes a great restaurant etiquette column in CHOW Magazine.  I think her column on the topic provides a great justification for tipping.  It stops just short of creating the formula for determining your tip.

I have had a couple of friends who told me they do not tip on carryout.  This is obviously a bold stance to take with me.  Their argument is that all the server does is hand them a bag.  They compare it to a fast food situation where you are not expected to tip.  Neither of them ever worked in a restaurant.

The difficulty with carryout is that when placing the order the guest does not have a menu in front of them.  This leads to the person taking the order having to spend significant time explaining each item on the menu.  In a drive thru, or even a dining situation, the options are all listed.  The customer simply has to pick an option.  In carryout, the conversation generally begins, “last time I was in I had that really good chicken dish.  Do you still have that?”  The person taking the order follows this by describing half a dozen chicken dishes before the guest often determines that the meal they were thinking of took place at the restaurant down the street.

One of the friends who declines to tip said to me, “How hard is it to put boxes in a bag?”   He probably says this with a much different tone when his order gets screwed up.  We have decided certain jobs in our society merit extra pay to people whom do them well.  Lawyers bill hours at hundreds of dollars.  Others receive performance bonuses.  People in the service industry get tips for doing their job well.  When a to go order is done with extra care you are reaping the benefits of the others who tip.  When they are done poorly it is generally a result of someone making less than the person in a drive thru window not seeing the possibility of being rewarded for their extra effort.  In this way tipping is part of the social contract.  You pay it forward for the next person and hope that the person before you did as well.

After all of my discussions on the topic, I have determined a formula to propose.  It is not exact, but I do feel it covers the basics.  Leave a dollar per entrée, appetizer, and dessert.  Sides and drinks are included in that dollar.  An extra dollar if they provide you a non-alcoholic beverage (including water) while you wait.  An extra dollar for each trip outside if they bring it to you in your car.  Two dollars per trip outside if the reason you had them bring it out is because of nasty weather.  This total should also not be less than two dollars.  It is the 21st century folks.  The lone dollar is almost an insult.

This is just my formula based on discussions with those I have spoken with.  What are your thoughts?  Is this too high or too low?  The comment sections are open for your discussion.  No tipping to the author is required.

If anyone would like some tips on how to receive better tips for preparing to go orders, please revisit the post I made on the topic months ago.

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About David Hayden

David Hayden is the creator of The Hospitality Formula Network, a series of websites dedicated to all aspects of the restaurant industry. He is also the author of the book Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips and Building Your Brand With Facebook.

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13 comments on “Tipping On To Go Orders

  1. Zachary on said:

    The difference in the process between my order if I sit down at a place or if I get it carry out isn’t enough to not tip. Especially if you are getting a lot for a family. Packaging all that stuff in their separate containers can be a hassle and making sure all the little condiments and utensils people need. It can add to be a chore. If it is something pretty straight forward I am laying down a buck or two. It ends up being more of it is a big order.

    At the end of the day there are a lot worse things in the world than over tipping people.

  2. teleburst on said:

    Here’s my take on the subject:

    http://teleburst.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/why-should-i-tip-for-to-go-food-pt-1/
    http://teleburst.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/why-should-i-tip-for-to-go-food-pt-2/

    My bottom line? Make it easy – 10%. seems fair and that seems to be the most common tip when someone tips. People talk about not getting “the same service” as you get with tableside but then they act like it’s not a service at all. They forget that it’s a service that the restaurant provides, and imagine the howling if this service was withdrawn. The service aspect is just different. It doesn’t merit the same level of tip as when you have a personal slave waiting on you hand and foot for an hour and a half, but much of the same service is there (the order is taken, it’s delivered to the guest, payment is taken.) It’s a different skill set required to deal with 5 – 10 full orders at a time and there’s a lot more “behind the scenes” work involved. In some ways, tableside is easier, especially in a busy restaurant.

  3. how about tips for the cooks?
    I have worked both the back and front of house, and servers by far take home more money than the lowly cook who gave the server a perfectly cooked medium rare Ribeye.. to put in front of “their” guest..
    granted the cooks make more per hour than servers, or hostesses (who are largely responsible for to-go orders), but the cooks are always overlooked..
    you are tipping for performance of a job well done, or in this case medium rare :)
    I would much rather serve than cook, the stress level (on average) is worse in the kitchen..
    when I was a server I was aware of this, and always left a cut for the kitchen crew..
    these guys made about 6-7 bucks an hour and I took home over a hundred every night.. (1980’s)
    no disrespect for the people who put to go orders together.. everyone’s job is tough, but usually the cooks do at least half of the packaging as well as make the stuff..
    one other thing as far as tipping goes.. if you want to make the most by doing the least, get off the floor and behind a bar.. I almost felt guilty about the amount of money I took home standing pretty much in one spot, opening beers and mixing simple drinks, verses serving and how much I ran my tail off to get 15%..
    one other thing as well, most places that require servers to take to-go orders, have a special key to ring up the sale so it doesn’t add in with their normal tickets, thus no taxes.. and isn’t that what really upsets servers the most about to-go’s?
    getting taxed on something that they have no control over..

    ps. I do empathize.. I still give a buck for a three dollar sandwich I get at subway,
    and I always drop some in the tip jar at the pizza place too..

    • tipsfortips on said:

      Having spent my share of hours working on a line, I can attest to the difficulties of both. I would never lessen the work that goes on in the BOH, but I think you might oversimplify the plight of the carryout person. Before you make an equal comparison you would have to drop the cooks wage to $2.13, require them to come in a dry cleaned uniform, remain spotless, smile and respond positively to every request made of them, run out in the snow to deliver the food, and then hope to get tipped for their efforts. Like i said, I don’t belittle what they do. The opportunity is almost always available to a cook willing to do all of those to come to the front of the house if they choose. Attitude more than skill is usually the barrier.

  4. teleburst on said:

    If a line cook wants to make more money, they can easily move to FoH. But in my years of working in the industry, I’ve never seen a line cook become a server, or even express the desire to do it. To be fair, I’ve only seen one server move to BoH. But there’s a reason why a line cook works where they do – they like the work. They take pride in their job, plus, there’s upward mobility. Many line cooks entertain the idea of being the boss. They have also gotten used to the constant paycheck and the occasional rasie, neither of which is really available to the server. They thrive on the “craziness – the heat, the pressure, the profane nature of the job. I think they also like being insulated from having to deal with the dining public.

    There’s a reason why they are paid an hourly wage – theirs is a production position. It’s their job to deliver a “perfectly cooked medium rare ribeye” and to do it on a schedule. And they don’t have to worry about whether the ribeye has had a bad day or is a borderline sociopath.

    Finally, most restaurants that do any sort of *real* to-go business now have dedicated servers just to do to-go food and they tipout and declare their tips just like floor servers. They usually make about the same as a floor server but they rely on volume. They usually ring in a lot more sales and process more orders (especially in a shorter time) than a floor server (I’m talking about restaurants like PF Chang’s, Outback, Chili’s, Applebee’s, etc.) Things have changed a lot since the 80s, when most to-go orders were handled by bartenders (I’ve never worked in a restaurant that had floor servers routinely process to-go orders – doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen but I’m sure it’s very rare).

    • But there’s a reason why a line cook works where they do – they like the work. They take pride in their job, plus, there’s upward mobility.

      I haven’t found this to be the case.. most cooks are there because they can’t find anything better.. at least that was my case.. I wasn’t allowed in the front until I agreed to cut my hair and dress a little better.. but I made the move because of the disparity in wages..

      I think they also like being insulated from having to deal with the dining public.

      to be sure this is sometimes the case, but more often than not (in my experience) they simply don’t portray the “look” that many eateries desire of their serving staff..
      or, they lack the communication skills to effectively perform the job.

      I guess what I’m trying to convey is that the front was always the better paid, more prestigious job.
      I’m also not saying that cooks should get tipped, just that to-go orders are a pain in the a** to the cooks as well as the person putting it together..

      disclaimer: its been a while since I worked either side, and I don’t ever remember an actual to-go person being on staff.. it was always the bar, hostess, or server who wasn’t already busy at the time..

  5. teleburst on said:

    ” I wasn’t allowed in the front until I agreed to cut my hair and dress a little better”.

    I think that’s part of “liking the job”. They get to be pirates. It’s less of a “button-down” job.

    “to be sure this is sometimes the case, but more often than not (in my experience) they simply don’t portray the “look” that many eateries desire of their serving staff..
    or, they lack the communication skills to effectively perform the job”.

    That may be true. But that’s as much a part of the job as it is for a cook to be able to cook a medium-rare ribeye. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a cook say something like, “Boy, I wish I could be a server”, but I *have* heard them say, “Damn, I’d hate to deal with those assholes that you’re always talking about and are asking for the moon with their crazy orders. I’d never want to be a server”. But that’s just been my experience.

    “I guess what I’m trying to convey is that the front was always the better paid, more prestigious job”.

    I don’t deny that. But the server is the “face” of the restaurant (which is unfortunate when you have a face like mine ). The actor makes more money than the cinematographer or set designer, but they are very critical in the delivery of the product.

    “disclaimer: its been a while since I worked either side, and I don’t ever remember an actual to-go person being on staff.. it was always the bar, hostess, or server who wasn’t already busy at the time”.

    Yep, things have changed since restaurants gave in and decided to aggressively market their whole menu to the increasingly busy public. Now it’s a HUGE part of the business. I discuss the development of this in the listed posts on my blog (see my first comment). Just for an example, on an average night at my last restaurant, the average single server would ring about $800 – 1000 in sales in an evening. The two person to-go “section” would ring in between $2100 – 2500 and do it all between 5pm and 8:30pm. That’s a lot of food in a short period of time (especially since it was like the floor – most of it was in the middle of the shift) at a PPA of around $20. It’s not like that in every restauant. In my current $75 per person restaurant, we might only ring 10 – 10 orders a week. And it’s still only done by the bartender. We servers never see a to-go order.

    To put it in perspective, the difference between to-go and floor is almost like the difference between the floor and the line – it’s very stressful and fast-paced in a restaurant that does its share of to-go business.

    • I really appreciate your comments, I had not realized that there was so much take out business now..
      I currently live and work in a small resort town on Lake Superior, small, quaint, touristy.. no chain restaurants.. I haven’t been to an Olive Garden or Chili’s since I left Houston in ’92, so I’m a little out of touch I guess..
      but I do remember the days.. and I’ll have to admit that my heart will always be in the kitchen..
      thanks~James

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  9. John T. on said:

    I was always uncomfortable tipping, especially for pseudo-restaurants like Chipotle or Moe’s SW grill where you have to fill your own beverage and clean after yourself. Or even takeouts – how different is it from preparing a nice presentation on a plate vs. placing it in a box? I think it’s the same level of difficulty. I’d like to think that I’m tipping the *waiter* to service me beverage refills and any order I have. When I order the phone, I already know what I want by pulling up the menu online (but it seems that I’m in the minority, based on this article).

    Anyways, I used to go to restaurants about 4x a week for the past 5 years or so…this whole tipping business has gone out of hand that I don’t eat out unless I intend to actually sit down, be served (meaning beverages), and not having to clean after myself. I go out maybe once a month now….unless I’m out of the country, where they would laugh at the notion of tipping.

    I’ve been reading at blogs like this for some kind of understanding, and the conclusion always seems to be, “if you don’t plan to tip, don’t eat out!”

    I won’t anymore.

    Sincerely,
    A Foodie who cooks at home more often.

    P.S. I’m glad I live right next to a Farmer’s market. No more food poisoning once a quarter.

    • David Hayden on said:

      Thank you for your comment and I apologize for the delay in posting it. My spam blocking software on this blog is less than precise.

      I understand and share your frustration with the “If you don’t plan to tip, don’t eat out” mantra. It is unbecoming to those in the service industry and you will never catch me saying it.

      I think the fundamental difference between a Quick Service Restaurant like the ones you mentioned and tipping a bartender on a carry out order is how they are viewed by the law. A bartender is considered a “tipped employee” by the Dept of Labor definintion. This means in 44 states they are paid less than the minimum wage because they recieve tips. When they complete a to go order they perform a service higher than what you recieve at a drive through restaurant or QSR, but are paid significantly less. They are also asked to divert energy and attention from more commonly tipped duties (ie serving bar customers) to complete your order. This is why I contend they do deserve to be tipped. I will not speak on the topic of tipping at QSR type restaurants. I feel that is a more personal decision. My goal is simply to clarify the fact that bartenders are not compensated in any way for performing this duty. They recieve in most states as little as $2.13/ hour (the federal minimum wage for tipped employees) for providing you with this service because of the way the law treats tipped employees. In turn this leads to lower menu prices for you as a consumer because they are in essence subsidizing your meal by agreeing to work for tips.

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