Should You Tip For Takeout?

I was browsing through my news feeds recently when I ran across this topic in an advice column. The questions was, in a nutshell, whether diners were obliged to tip for takeout food. Not delivery, but takeout. Here’s part of the response:

You should tip for takeout, because filling your order takes work. Someone has to take your order over the phone, and that order could be an extra-crispy, extra-sauce, half-anchovy sausage pizza–in other words, complicated. Or worse, it could be vague: “Yeah, I don’t have your menu in front of me, but do you have, like, a tofu in peanut sauce type dish?”

Assembling the order is more trouble than many people realize, says Patrick Maguire, who has worked in the restaurant industry for 10 years: “You have to accommodate any special requests, like ensure any dressings are on the side, package the whole thing up properly so nothing spills, and keep items separate so the bread doesn’t get soggy.” Some dishes, like curry, can just be shoveled into a container, but some need to be nicely arranged. As Dublanica says, “You don’t want your vegetables and potatoes and steak mashed together in a lump.”

When the person taking your order is a server and the restaurant is busy, there’s an opportunity cost for him in taking your order. While he’s wrapping up your Peking duck or burger and curly fries, he could be serving customers at a table and earning a real tip. […] As when tipping for a latte, you should also reward the person with a smile and friendly remark.

In all of the examples provided above, the servers are merely performing the tasks they were hired to do. It’s their job. That’s why it’s called work. The restaurant exists to serve me, the consumer. Not the other way around. They should want to answer my questions and indulge my whims to win my favor and, most importantly, my repeat business.

This argument would only make sense if there was no wage beyond tips for people in the service industry. That’s not the case. Restaurant staff get paid to take my call. They get paid to cook my food. They get paid to box it up and bag it. They get paid to ring up my bill. They get paid to hand me my order. They even get paid to reward me with “a smile and friendly remark.” Their pay comes from a portion of the money I give them in exchange for their products and services. We consumers tip for impressive service for which we’re grateful. That’s why it’s called gratuity. Taking my money and handing me my order doesn’t exactly leave an impression. I get the same impression from every gas station and grocery store cashier I run across. Are we supposed to tip them?

I’m grateful that a guy picks up my trash on Tuesdays, but I’m not expected to tip him just because his job stinks. I already contribute to his salary with my hefty tax bill, and he’s not entitled to more of my money just because he didn’t screw anything up. I’m sure you’re grateful you haven’t been poisoned by improperly filled prescriptions, but does that mean you’re obliged to tip your pharmacist? Do you feel compelled to butter her up with extra money because she has to sometimes “accommodate special requests?” If you walk into your dry cleaners and the clerk takes your ticket, swipes your card, and hands you your clothes, is he entitled to extra money merely because “assembling the order is more trouble than many people realize?” I don’t think so.

This growing entitlement mentality has less to do with fairness and more to do with pretentious people wanting to appear empathetic. Empathy is the currency of emoted narcissists, so much so that it was parodied on the satirical blog, Stuff White People Like. By publicly chiding others for not caring as much as they do for the less-fortunate, they solidify their credentials as passionate protectors of the pitiful. I have news for them; this isn’t colonial India. Busboys, cooks, bartenders and waiters aren’t born into a food service caste. If they don’t like their jobs and their abnormal wage system, they can seek employment elsewhere. Hard-working people like me shouldn’t be shamed into subsidizing them.

If other people want to run around handing ones and fives to everyone they meet, then that’s fine by me. But the ‘holier-than-thou’ routine is wearing a little thin, especially in an economy that has most consumers living on razor-thin budgets. I tip a minimum of 20% for good service. I even go so far as to tip 15% for poor service, but I’m not going to tip for no service. A simple “thank you” should suffice.

Should You Tip For Takeout?
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