Ask The Salty Waitress: Should I Tip On Takeout Orders?

Dear Salty,

I'm an adult with a big, adult, grown-up job, and I love to grab carry-out from the local diners on my lunch break. When I pick up my order, I am presented with the same receipt to sign that I'd get if I sat down and dined, and that receipt asks for a tip. I usually feel guilty leaving the tip blank, so I throw in a dollar.

Am I wasting my dollar? Is someone expecting a tip when I go to pick up a carry-out order? Is a dollar too chintzy?



Dear Grab-and-Go,

Congrats on your big, adult, grown-up job at the petting zoo. I know your parents are proud.

But as to your question: Tipping on to-go orders is a question as old as time, or as old as restaurants, or at least as old as this Cutlass Ciera I've been clanking around in since 1986.

It sticks around as a thorny issue because there's not one answer. Most people—in my experience—don't tip on takeout, the kind that's just wham-bam-thanks-for-the-chow-mein-ma'am. This CNBC poll isn't scientific but shows that only 13 percent of people responded with "Of course!" to tipping on takeout orders.

But it really all depends on how much work the person handling your order had to do. If they had to assemble the order and bring it out to your car, like curbside delivery, then that probably deserves some kind of tip. Or if they had to leave a busy dining room to pick up the takeout in the kitchen, put it in boxes, assemble forks and drinks and all that, maybe throw in a gratuity.

Don't feel compelled to leave more than a few bucks, though. Takeout orders—lunches, quick dinners, etc.—are pretty cheap, right? So even leaving a few bucks on a $20 order is more than fine. You probably won't get a dirty look for not doing it, but that's not what it's about. It's about paying it forward, enjoying some good karma, and making a busy server's day a little brighter. Brighting days, that's what I'm here for.

So how much should you leave? A dollar isn't wrong, though $2 would probably absolve you of that guilt. If you're only ordering takeout a couple times a week, what's an extra $2 to make sure those diner servers really like you? Being a regular creates a relationship, no matter how casual. Hey, you might even get some extra fries out of it.

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