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tipping for take-out food

Original post made by Yam Yam, Downtown North, on Jul 9, 2008

I just read many posts about tipping for take-out food, but since the thread was very old, I decided to start a new one. I never knew that some people tip and some workers expect a tip when you pick up a preordered food at the restaurant. I tip for a sit down meal and even if a service is very basic but not excessively rude, I tip well. I value what happens after I am done with the meal a lot more than the actual serving of the food. When I am done and the check is paid, I get up and there are no crumbs to wipe, dished to wash, carpet to vacuum or pots to scrub, I hate those tasks. On the other hand, I have never tipped for a take-out food, since I physically drive to the place, look for parking, pick up my food in a bag and then mess-up my kitchen eating it, and other than scrubbing the pots, still do all the clean up. I equate picking up food at the restaurant the same as picking up prepped food at Whole Foods or Safeway. Of course, I tip for food delivery.

Comments (13)

Posted by Mom w/kids
a resident of Duveneck School
on Jul 9, 2008 at 3:17 am

This was written by Stuart Reb Donald, award-winning freelance food writer on July 1, 2008:

If your favorite neighborhood restaurant offers curbside service, where an employee comes to your car and hands you your order, then you should tip. If your favorite neighborhood restaurant has you come in to get your order than no tip is necessary. Many to-go specialists will take issue with that last statement but they are not thinking logically. After all we don’t tip the cashier at McDonald’s for doing the exact same thing. The one place I would amend this, the exception that proves the rule so to speak, is when you have an abnormally large order. A normal order is rarely more than four or five items. If you have just picked up lunch for the office then you might want to throw them a buck or two.

Now to the question of how much to tip. Again to-go specialists will tell you that the standard tip is 20% just like servers but that is not true. The standard of 20% for servers exists because they only make $2.13 an hour. To-go specialists make at least minimum wage. Also servers do considerably more work. If your glass runs empty once you get home the to-go specialists doesn’t bring you a refill. The to-go specialist doesn’t clear your table when you are done. On that note a tip of 10% is quite adequate unless you ask them to go get you something you forgot to ask for when you ordered.

For more, you can search the internet under Tipping Take Out Food.

I didn't realize that standard tip is now 20%. I usually tip 15% unless service is totally excellent, for which I tip 20% or more. Is it true that people are now tipping at least 20%?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2008 at 9:27 am

Tipping is a peculiarly American thing and in Europe particularly tipping is only done as a reward for truly good service. I read recently that in LA one of the best tippers is Ryan Seacrest and the worst, David and Victoria Beckham. The reason being is that Americans like to tip and Europeans don't see the need unless it is deserved.

If I tip for rotten service, which I have done, I do it as a duty. It is just like an unwritten charge which makes the meals more expensive.

Nothing else.

Posted by expat
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 9, 2008 at 9:46 am

Resident, tips are taxed in the US. Employers generally are required to report 8% of all food and beverage receipts as tip income. The standard minimum tip rate of 8% is in practice adjusted by the IRS in accordance with local demographics and statistics. Web Link

If you don't tip, you are actually taking money away from the waiter, ie: the waiter, probably on less than minimum wage, is subsidizing your meal!

It is only because Europeans don't understand how tipping works that they apply what happens at home to what happens overseas and see it as a "peculiarly American thing". Interesting, since this is the attitude that Europeans often accuse Americans of.

Posted by Ex-expat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:19 am


Actually, tipping is not uniquely American, though it is true that it is not expected in most European restaurants. Some places have the custom of a mandatory tip, which may or may not be included in the prices on the menu (so they'll add a set percentage to your bill in some cases). Also, you have to tip in different countries for movie ticket takers and other stuff.

You do best to learn the local custom and follow it.

I find you get what you pay for. Service in most European restaurants is generally mediocre and sometimes appalling. Sometimes good, rarely excellent. They don't get paid to do a good job, so they don't. Of course, they are no doubt making better wages than American waiters.

It galls my European friends when we go out to a restaurant in Europe because I usually get extremely good service after the waiters learn I am American--they know a good tip is coming. By the same token, these friends get crappy service here in the states because Europeans frequently fail to follow local custom, and the waiters know it from bitter experience.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2008 at 12:30 pm

It does seem like a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

It is interesting how different cultures are and how even the most experienced travellers make mistakes without realising it. I know that the atypical American tourist exists all over Europe, but you don't seem them here. Something happens when they get on the 'plane.
Conversely, the Europeans are beginning to travel here much more and they think they know what to do but often get it wrong because what they think they know they have got from movies and tv rather than personal experience.

The art of tipping in both America and Europe is very different and also very difficult to learn. Guide books often try but the trouble with guide books written in English is that if you buy them in Europe they are usually written for English tourists and if you buy them in America they are usually written for American tourists. The problem comes when an American buys a guide book in England and doesn't understand what is written because of culture rather than language and the same when the English buy guide books here because they don't understand the culture.

So tipping comes back to an acquired knowledge of local customs and has to be rethought depending on where you are. This obviously means different parts of the same country as well as different countries. There are obviously differences between types of food and types of restaurants eg Fresh Choice as opposed to McDonalds as opposed to Marie Callenders, as examples.

Maybe someone could do a study on it.

Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 9, 2008 at 3:05 pm

I give a reduced tip when I have extremely poor service. I disagree that one "must" tip.

Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 10, 2008 at 1:10 pm

Tipping in most of the rest of the world is reserved for those delivering special services well. Not for food to go or fast food or a cup of coffee. If you want to give money for those things, call it by the proper name: a "hand out"

This collective guilt seems to be based on the idea that everyone in the services industry is deserving of much more money, and that we are obliged to be the suppliers. That may be OK for individuals who are socialists at heart, but not as a rule for the rest of the population.

Are you tipping your car salesman, city employee in the permit department, ticket taker (or seller) at the Stanford Theater, or cashier at Trader Joes?

Posted by just thinkin'
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2008 at 4:44 pm

In some European establishments tips are included in the bill - not an option. Far tooo often the industries were tipping is common place, the employer makes that part of the "living" wage.

Posted by trying to be courteous
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 12, 2008 at 1:01 pm

I tip 20 percent for table service, and 25 percent if the wait person is really good or goes out of their way. When I pick up takeout orders, I tip 15 percent, because it goes to the people who prepared the food (I assume). I should probably tip 20 percent for takeout too, but that's just how I do it. I have had people so surprised and pleased at the takeout tip that they actually insist on adding extra food or a free dessert at the last minute. I think it's just the acknowledgement that somebody had to prepare and package up the food, and you can bet that person is not rolling in personal revenue, so they are grateful for the thank-you.

Posted by Stuart Reb Donald
a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2008 at 5:38 pm

The minimum wage for servers has not gone up since 1991. However, the minimum wage for every other profession has gone up seven times since then with a eigth schedule for next year. The only way servers get a raise is when you increase your standard tip. Quite honestly the "percent" basis may need to be replaced with the "gallon" formula. For each degree of service you receive you tip them the cost of one gallon of gas. The minimum tip should be whatever one gallon of gas costs that day.

To the person who wrote this:
"I disagree that one "must" tip."

Wrong. It is actually against the law to not tip. The US government says that a server will be taxed on a 10% tip therefore 10% is the legal minimum. Unfortunately, the law penalyzes the victim rather than the culrpit.

Furthermore, I have spoken with many police officers who say that if they are present at the restaurant when someone leaves without tipping and the server wants to press charges that you can be arrested for "Theft of services." That is the same charge that is brought against people who illegally tap into cable or electricity without paying for them. It is a class "A" misdemeanor in some places and a felony in others.

Posted by ??
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2008 at 6:32 pm

If this is the law, then shouldn't it be stated somewhere on the menu? Otherwise, how can visitors to this country know that they are breaking the law by not tipping when the service is not what they expect as they would in their own country?

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2008 at 9:04 pm

Stuart Reb Donald:
"Furthermore, I have spoken with many police officers who say that if they are present at the restaurant when someone leaves without tipping and the server wants to press charges that you can be arrested for "Theft of services."

So, which restaurant do you waiter at, Stu?

(And for those of you who don't get the joke: His statement is total BS - he's trying to scare you into always tipping.)

Posted by tipping logic
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 10, 2008 at 9:56 pm

The logic seems to be, "the IRS taxes 10% on tips, so it is legally required to tip 10%." Does that mean a customer is abetting an IRS cheat if s/he tips more than 10%?

Perhaps we should limit our tips to 10% of the bill (before taxes, of course, because sales taxes aren't included as part of the server's income). That seems to be the logical conclusion of this reasoning.

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