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.