But It’s Only Carryout

You didn’t sit down. You weren’t served, in the traditional restaurant sense. Your food, however, was delivered to you from a human. True, the food might have been wrapped in a plastic bag. It might have been encased in styrofoam. With luck, it came hot and steaming and seemed almost fresh from an insulated carrier.

That’s right, you called in, and received, carryout food. Food to go from nameless, faceless folks who would never dream to call themselves “servers,” even though they just served up your next meal on your doorstep or your desk.

Asks Ishmael, perplexed about the rules of tipping for carryout food:

Just have to say love your blog. I have a restaurant type question though that no one I know can answer. When ordering take out say from a standard restaurant like Chili’s or whatever. Is it customary to leave a tip? I’ve never been sure…. I thought that since you weren’t actually being served or something there was no need, but I’ve never been sure and I always get different answers. Can you fill me in?


You really don’t have to ask, right?

You know how easy it is not to tip the maids in a hotel? You never see them, yet your room is just magically made up. But how would they know if you didn’t tip them after a day or two of swabbing your sink and toilet? They might figure it figures when you don’t tip, but they truly appreciate the gesture when you do.

So, you wonder, can I tip the guy who delivers my pizza a buck or two? You could. But how about you try tipping 20 percent? He/she just drove like a maniac to get your pie delivered in record time. Thank him as you would any server.

Yeah, you point out, but I just ordered take-out from the bartender, and he barely spoke to me while I waited. I still have to tip? Okay, here’s what I do: order take out, then order a glass of wine, a beer, a soda–something–while waiting for the order at the bar. And I tip on the whole bill because the bartender has now taken time to deal with me, deal with the kitchen, and deal with me again.

Is it customary to leave a tip to your carryout server/delivery person? Of course it is. How much more than a dollar, maybe three? I have no idea. I just know what I do. And I have a healthy respect for tipping karma, especially for tipping those who don’t have the glamourous “inside” restaurant job.






22 responses to “But It’s Only Carryout”

  1. Artful Dodger Avatar

    Awesome. Thanks for setting me straight. I do tip my pizza guy or anyone that delivers to the house the normal amount. I just was never sure about walk-in take out you phone in. But now I know. Gracias Restaraunt Gal. ^_^

  2. Jeremy Tscharke Avatar

    Lovely Shading effect! the Sepia works well!

  3. Alex Avatar

    I just know about my family restaurant but we actually ask customers to keep their tips on take-out. Our bartenders even think it a little strange when people do tip on take-out. I don’t know. . . it just doesn’t seem expected. Unless of course, people are drinking at the bar waiting, then a tip just on drinks is expected. I’ve been in the restaurant “biz” for 25 years and I tip well on everything. But I don’t tip on take out. Hmmm.. I’m going to have to think about this.

  4. 6th floor Blogger Avatar

    Delivery tips seem obvious, but take out seems more of a gray area.

    If you sit down, you’ve got the constant back and forth, and checking on drinks, timing when the food comes out, packing up leftovers, offering dessert..etc. It almost seems unfair to then tip that same amount on an order that was just cooked and boxed. Of course, effort did go into it. The food still had to be cooked, and packaged and someone had to ring you up and presumably take time out of their normal routine or tables or drink making to exchange the food for your money, so don’t all those people involved deserve a couple of bucks? Especially when in places like Applebees it almost seems like they have a server designated to deal with the take outs and is definitely not getting the same tips they would waiting the tables..

    It’s hard to quantify a tip sometimes in situations like that, but and a society that even has a tip jar at Dunkin Donuts, I think erring on the side of tipping is usually the best bet. Besides, if you’re take-out meal comes to $42, is 42 really much different than 44 or 45 in your finances?

  5. restaurant Gal Avatar

    Alex–As I said, my take on tipping for carryout is just that–my own. What your family’s restaurant and other establishments suggest is certainly as correct and valid.

    I also tend to tip–likely over tip–most service personnel. Sometimes this is crazy–like pretty much doubling cab fare home because I know how unlikely it is for the driver to get a return fare late at night. (Thankfully, I don’t take too many cabs!)

    If I phone in and pick up the order, and it’s clear that the bartender or another server has had to deal with my order, I tip a few dollars. If I go to the bar and place an order for carryout, I try to order something while waiting, and I tip a few dollars more. I tip delivery folks as close to 20% or more, depending on the weather (snow and rain means a higher tip) and traffic (rush hour and gridlock is everywhere and the food is hot–you get the idea).

    Artful Dodger–good question, by the way!

  6. Julie Avatar

    My husband and I generally tip at least 20% when we dine in or get delivery. When I call in an order, I usually tip 10%. I wonder who actually gets that tip, though — the person who handed me the food and took my money or the person/people who prepared it and packaged it up for me. Hmm…

  7. cj Avatar

    Yes! At my restaurant, people will often approach a server asking for takeout, not the hostess or a manager. The server then orders it through the computer, and if you ordered $30 worth of food, guess what? It goes in the tally of my total sales and I have to tip out AND pay taxes on that added amount at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter that you took it out, it’s still added.

    We must go to the kitchen and package up things that aren’t already to-go, fight with the line cooks (“he wanted NO onions!” “extra tomatoes, please!”) , wrap it all up for you, make sure you have knives/forks/napkins, and take your payment. Plus attend to the tables we already have. If it’s a busy night, your server must ignore seven tables in order to serve you.

    While I never really expect to be tipped on to-go orders, it’s probably just because nobody ever does. That’s why it’s really hard to flag down a server if he/she knows you “just” want takeout. Sorry, buddy, we’d honestly rather pay attention to the tables that will pay our rent and feed our kids, that’s just the way it is. But if someone becomes known for dropping a couple dollars on to-go orders, even 20 percent (craaaazy! I know!), servers will stop what they’re doing to take that order. People just have no idea what a big difference a couple of dollars makes. We still are providing you with a “service”, even though you are not eating at a table. Would you say “thanks” to your mom if she made you a sandwich, even if you didn’t eat in her dining room? Say “thanks” to your server in the language he/she best understands. Cash.

  8. Lisa Avatar

    I can understand what you’re saying but, then why don’t we tip at McDonald’s, Subway etc. They’re packaging the food (heck at subway they make it right in front of you!)
    I’m a waitress and I work in a small restauant and we get to go orders. Now I’m the only waitress for 21 tables, so it does throw me off when I get a to-go order, but I never expect a tip from it. The regular “to-go” people will give me a dollar or two and I split it with the cook.
    I guess the part that really got me was tipping 20% on a pizza delivery. They’re not checking back to see if I need more drinks or anything like that, so why would I tip the same amount as a waitress – KWIM?

  9. Jessica Avatar

    Hi RG! I’ve been reading your blog for several months now…it’s wonderful!

    Anyway…have you ever seen the movie “My Blue Heaven” with Steve Martin? My favorite line, and I use it myself regularly, is, “I don’t believe in tipping, I believe in over-tipping!”


  10. cj Avatar

    Lisa, to answer your question, “why don’t we tip at McDonald’s, Subway, etc”. That’s because you’re supposed to remove your own tray to the trash bin, acquire your own napkins and condiments, nobody checks to see if you need a drink refill, and nobody really cares if your food is good. You know before you enter the McEstablishment that it’s a streamlined, self-guided process with a minimum of human interaction. The company trains their staff and pays them (arguably) “working” wage. You know you don’t have to tip those employees, and they do not declare their taxes as tipped employees, nor do they follow “tip out” guidelines.

    In a restaurant/dining setting, the system is different. By entering a “better” (meaning more service-oriented and/or more expensive) restaurant, most people know that they’re “expected” to tip– whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is another matter entirely– the issue is that people know the general procedure before they choose to dine there. We are paid under $3 an hour, to sink or swim as our service merits. There is no safety net for laziness or indifference, such as a standard “livable” hourly wage.

    Should a person be forced to drop an extra $5 on takeout just because of the IRS? No! But it goes a long way toward *my* motivation to drop what I’m doing (making money!) to fetch takeout! If they don’t tip, I lose money in the form of taxes– required to declare/pay on 10 percent of total sales, no matter where the food was consumed. In an ideal world, maybe I should do it out of “the goodness of my heart,” but in the real world, I am at work to pay my bills, no more, no less.

    If they’d order from the hostess or manager, it would be entirely different as they’re considered non-tipped employees, so earn a “living” wage.

    21 tables? Are you serious? Are they all 1-tops? ๐Ÿ™‚ Or is it a buffet-style restaurant? I’m sure you do just fine, but I can’t imagine giving good service to that many at once!

  11. Cheryl Avatar

    I’m not arguing, everyone’s opinion is their own, but felt the need to comment for the first time. I’ve got to be honest and say that I’ve never been one to tip on absolute takeout (meaning no delivery, no drinks ordered at the bar, no interaction other than to take the money and say thank you). My feeling was always that they are more like McDonald’s or picking up pizza at the local Pizza Hut, they provide no ongoing “service” to speak of. I do tip baristas at Starbucks a buck or so for making a drink, but literally just taking the food from the kitchen and taking the money, seems a lot less involved.

    Although I’m not all together convinced that its my responsibility, the argument that it gets put on the servers regular sales amount, and thus on their taxes for tip responsibility gives me pause. I do think the restaurant should just have the policy that takeout orders are treated differently, but I guess that’s wishing on stars. The thought that it will cause the server to “lose” money well, I may have to reconsider. Hmmm, I’ll think about it some more…thanks for the thought provoking blog RG and comments everyone.

  12. Amy Avatar

    I work primarily ToGo at Chili’s, and here’s our deal: Yes, the kitchen cooks the food. But if you order dessert, soup, chips, extra dressings for your salad, etc, we are the ones who prepare that, then bag it all up, add any condiments or plasticware you may need, get your ToGo drinks, etc. All the while answering the phone that won’t stop ringing with new orders, paying out customers, ringing in orders. If someone orders a drink with their ToGo food and then sits to wait for their order, I’ll generally give them the drink, then when their food is ready, offer to refill it. I don’t expect anyone to tip the same percentage they’d tip a server– those of us who do ToGo all tend to agree that a dollar or two would be fine. But we definitely don’t just hand you your food and take your cash, and thus we like to be appreciated via the tip jar.

  13. restaurant Gal Avatar

    Jessica–Yes, a great line about tipping!

  14. cathleen Avatar

    what about other delivered items, .
    i can see not tipping the ups guy or the fed ex, but what about
    the nice bouquet of flowers.

  15. Lisa Avatar

    cj – I guess it’s different for me – I work/live in Canada. Here the waitresses are paid min wage (8$/hr) and it’s up to us to declare our own tips to the gov for tax purposes.
    So I understand correctly, in the States, if I order to go from a hostess I don’t need to tip, but from a waitress she’s getting ‘dinged’ on it so I should?
    What about pizza delivery? Are they taxed as well? I know when DH and I order Pizza we’ll usually tip 2$ (Unless it’s horrible snowy weather – then it’s more), but I just can’t imagine tipping the same amount on a take out order as I do for sit down (and I’m a good tipper lol)
    At my restaurant we have 20 tables (i forgot we got rid of one) and there are 6 two-tops, 10 four-tops, 1 six-top, 1 eight-top and 2 twelve tops. We’re a casual kind of restauarant (Think I-Hop) and only have more than one waitress on Sat and Sun mornings, other than that, it’s just me! The most tables I’ve had in at one time by myself was 8 or 10. 80% of the customers are regulars so they’re very understanding! (I even have some that offer to pour coffee for me!)

  16. John Avatar

    Gal, you never cease to amaze me. As I mentioned on my blog about you (when you came to comment, something that I am still very moved about), you bring an insight into the food service industry that I cannot get enough of. While no longer in the “service biz,” I am very mindful of those who work to make others happy. I spent several years as a valet parking attendant (but that’s a story for another day), so I appreciate the tipping.

    Tipping on takeout is something that I go either way on. However, your example of interacting with the bartender is well taken and I have done so on many occasions and then tipped appropriately. But I will also admit to just running in, getting the food and leaving.

    As to “in-house” service, I am almost always a 20% guy. My wife has an internal clock when we eat out that will prompt her to ask our server (when we haven’t seen anything or anyone in some time), “How we doing?” It registers in my brain as something to remember when signing for the check, after ensuring there are no circumstances beyond our server’s control. But I will always tip well for good service, which I have been lucky to get more than the bad service that can be so prevalent.

    Here is something that I would love to hear you address (which I am sure that you have done before, but missed): The big party and check splitting. I am going off to a conference next week (in lovely Scranton, PA) and I will likely head out to dinner with a large group of colleagues as I do when at conferences. I am always going to lean on the side of splitting the check by however many diners there are (and luckily the people that I dine with have come to understand this). It makes my head fly off my shoulders when people start nickel and diming the check apart. “Well, I just had a salad and he had four drinks . . .” There has never been a time when I haven’t come up short when the check has been divided by people figuring out there own amounts.

    Keep up the great work. I love coming here to your virtual restaurant. Someday I will surely come into your real place, and I’ll know it’s you, really I will.

  17. Jess Avatar

    I work at an On The Border in California, so bear in mind – we do make the state minimum wage. The people who do the to-go shifts at my OTB are paid a slightly higher hourly wage to compensate for what we know are going to be a lack in tips.

    I worked to-gos for five months, and I’ve waitressed for almost seven years at this point. I still pick up the occasional to-go shift when they need me to. Lemme tell you, I actually have more to do with the food when I’m working to-gos than I do when I’m waiting on tables. On an average Saturday night, not only do I frequently end up taking seven or eight orders in the space of five to ten minutes, with flashing lights letting me know about people waiting on hold, mind you, I have to expo my orders (put the finishing touches on them – toppings on tacos, for instance, and getting all the dressings and toppings for salads and soups) I have to make sure that all the orders are correct – there’s no sending things back to the kitchen if they forget and give me onions on that order! I prep, box, bag and run the food out to the bar. I always offer drinks to the guests waiting for their food, and usually chips and salsas as well.

    At the end of my shift, I have to call back every single guest who I dealt with, to check and make sure that their order was up to expectations. If anyone is upset, or if I somehow let them down, I have to work with my manager to get coupons or whatever it takes out to make the guest happy. Call backs can take up to an hour to do.

    So no. I don’t make your food. I don’t chat with you while you’re sitting at your table, I don’t get your daughter a balloon and I don’t get to tease you into drinking that third margarita. But I certainly DO work hard to get your food out to you, exactly how you want it. I DO check back with you, to make sure that you’re happy with how everything turned out. I DO go the extra mile for you, throwing in extra chips, extra salsa, extra tortillas. I DO have just as much to do with you and more to do with your food than I would if you were sitting at one of my tables, on one of my serving shifts.

    Now tell me. How, exactly, is that like a McDonalds? If I spend upwards of fifteen to twenty minutes on your food and visit and check back, all told, how exactly did I not earn that couple of bucks that you could so easily throw onto your total?

    It’s funny, but this whole subject kind of feeds my pet theory – I generally make between 18 and 25% tips on an average night, and I’m far from the most technically adept server at my restaurant. It’s my belief that people tip me that much because they *like* me, enjoy interacting with me. When you have minimal contact with the person bringing you your food, well, you don’t have that chance to get to know the person you’re giving money to, now do you?

    Then again, everyone knows, some people are just plain cheap. ๐Ÿ˜€

  18. Julie Anne Avatar
    Julie Anne

    The Washington Post foodie wrote that 10% is a good tipout for “takeout” at a sit-down restaurant. That to me seems fair. It does take time away from our sit-down customers, but not as much as another table…

  19. Annie Avatar

    You tip 20% over there? Jesus, why on Earth do you tip so highly? I don’t really get this crap that waiters and waitresses come out with about how they’re on minimum wage. Plenty of people I know make minimum wage without ANY tips at all. Perhaps it’s different in America, but I’ve never seen a server do anything which deserved a fifth of the total cost of the meal. I leave tips, but I hate this entitlement that servers seem to have about how anyone who doesn’t leave a large proportion is a cheapskate. It doesn’t encourage people to tip more, it steers them away.

  20. Paul Avatar

    RG, When I’m ordering a to-go order at McDonalds, the person is handing me a bag of food the same way a person is handing me a bag of food at a restaurant. How hard it is it to throw in 2 napkins and some condiment wrappers. Please, don’t act like that’s truly an additional service. It takes her all of 5 seconds to go to the condiment area and throw in napkins, plasticware and condiments in the sack. Does that really warrant a 10% tip. The Subway employee takes your order, makes your food, packages your food and rings you out, but somehow he does not deserve 10%? McDonals is no more streamlined and lacking “human interaction” than what occurs in the back of a kitchen. Most kitchens include several Hispanic cooks “directed” by a master chef. Many of the same items are reheated and perish the thought…..microwaved! And let’s not get carried away with the idea that waiters are not paid minimum wage. Sure, a waitress might earn less than 3.00 per hour but she earns 10-20% per customer in tips and likely serves a minimum of 2-3 customers per hour which amounts to far more than 6-10 dollars per hour the guy at Subway earns. After all, there is a reason why they are waiting tables and not working at McDonalds for above minimum wage….it’s because they make more money…a lot more money. In addition, restaurants base their price on the cost of dining in, however, when you order carryout, you are not receiving those benefits of dining in despite paying for it. Therefore, there is no need to tip on carryout.

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