How Much To Tip: From Dine-In to Take-Out

In this piece, I’m going to try and clear up some inconsistencies, some “gray areas” in the world of restaurant tipping. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough space or knowledge to go into other realms of tipped employees (such as hotel staff, coffee shops, etc.), but there are certainly a lot of questions just within the spheres of restaurants.

The first area that I’d like to address is take-out, including delivery drivers. First of all, I’d like to clear up that these are two separate issues. It isn’t always acceptable to tip for carry-out, but you should always tip delivery drivers. I’m going to use a personal example here. My favorite pizza place is Dominos. I’m nuts about their stuffed cheesy bread and herby crust. Yum. Anyway, last year I didn’t drive and lived pretty far away from Dominos. So I ordered delivery a lot. When you order online, during the loading screen, it always reminds you to tip your delivery drivers, as the “convenience fee” that is automatically tacked on is not the tip. Now I didn’t like ordering delivery because they tacked that fee on, but whenever I did, I’d always throw in a few extra bucks for a tip, because I don’t know where that convenience fee goes, and I don’t know whether the poor driver gets reimbursed for gas, so I made sure to tip. Plus, lord only knows the kind of stuff they see when delivering pizza. I’m sure they’ve been chased by dogs, yelled at for taking so long, and so on. I always imagine those poor souls going through Hell to bring me my pizza, and the tip is the least I can do for their trouble. So, overall, I would say the appropriate amount to tip a delivery driver would be about ten percent.

Now carry-out is a different beast entirely. This year, for example, I live right behind the Dominos (score!), so I can just walk the half a block whenever a craving hits. Whenever I order online then walk down the hill to pick it up, I always tip a dollar for my take out. That’s typically about ten percent or a little bit over. I have to admit to a little bit of ignorance here, because I don’t know where that tip money goes (I’ll have to remember to ask next time I’m down there).

For example, at my very own Zen Sushi and Bar, I always have to hold my tongue whenever someone tips on a take-out order (and I’m the one who has to ring them up all the time). As the hostess, I answer the phone ninety percent of the time, which means I take most of the take-out orders. The chefs make them, I package them up and get them ready to go, and when the customer arrives, I ring them up as well. So I think that most people assume, when they tip for take-out, that we get the tips, either me or the servers or the chefs or something. This is an incorrect assumption. My boss, the owner of the restaurant, pockets one hundred percent of the tips that the customers leave for take-out. I know, pretty messed up, right? Like I told you in the intro, I don’t get tips, I have no stake in the game. I just sort of hate to have to keep silent when someone tells me to keep the change with a smile as they walk out. They don’t see me frown a little as I put the money in the bottom of the register for my boss to collect later. This is not a pity party, or an attack on my boss, I just want to be able to tell it how it is. My recommendation is to ask when you pay whether the employees get to keep the carry-out tips. If they say yes, tip a few dollars, maybe around ten percent. If they don’t, then don’t tip at all. My boss doesn’t need to be collecting those tips, he owns four restaurants in this town.

Speaking of Zen, I suspect that many people see it as a “gray area” as well. Zen is conveyor belt sushi which, like buffets, don’t always require as much service as you might get at a place such as Red Robin or Olive Garden, to name a few. I suspect that many people believe that since they do some of the work themselves, they can get away with tipping less, or dare I say, not at all. I’m here to tell you that they are sorely mistaken. For service at any of these places, it is expected that you tip fifteen to twenty percent. If you truly feel that the server was inattentive or slow and your service was unsatisfactory, I’d recommend talking to your server or a manager about your experience. Don’t ever take it out on the server, because unless they are a truly distasteful person, than any issues with service are more than likely outside of the servers control and they should not be punished for something that wasn’t their fault.

On that note, I’ve got a little bonus info segment for you. All of this information is fine and dandy if you live in the States or in Canada, but if you are a world traveler, I should let you know that things work a little bit different in Europe in particular. According to Rick Steves’ European travel website, tipping is far less of a big deal in Europe than it is around here. He states that European servers are typically well paid, and tips are more of a bonus for excellent service than a supplementary income desperately needed. In many countries, right on the menu it will say “Service included”. If it does, that means the extra tip amount is included in the price of the food and it is not necessary to tip. If it doesn’t say anything, or it says “Service Not Included”, a tip of five to ten percent is normal. It works a little bit differently in each country, so I’d do your research before you travel, but overall, American tourists are very common all over, and you are very unlikely to offend anyone if you don’t know the correct way to do it.