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The New Customer Dilemma: What's the Etiquette on Tipping for Take-Out Orders?

By Dustin Rowles | Miscellaneous | April 19, 2018 |

By Dustin Rowles | Miscellaneous | April 19, 2018 |


If I go to a sit-down restaurant, I expect to tip 20 percent. This typically does not vary based on whether the service is good or bad. People who work in the service industry have their good days and bad days, and the most I’m willing to bend is to round up to the nearest dollar if the service is better than usual or down to the nearest dollar if it is not. I’m a 20 percent tipper, across the board. If I order a pizza, the delivery driver gets 20 percent, and I am thankful for the ability to order pizza online now and add 20 percent to the credit card so I need not have cash on hand, if only because it avoids my occasional need to run to the ATM before the pizza delivery guy arrives so that I have cash to provide a tip (this has happened to me more than once, and totally negates the need for delivery when the ATM machine is across from the pizza joint).

Tipping has always been a fairly straightforward experience for me … except where it concerns take-out orders. There used to be a time where if you went to the sandwich shop or the Vietnamese joint, there might be a jar to drop a dollar or two in, and that was A-OK with me. I’d leave the leftover change plus $1, because there’s nothing worse than the asshole who leaves 19 cents (don’t even bother, bro). More recently, every credit card receipt came with a line to write in a tip, even if tipping was not customary in that situation. I was OK with that, too. I’d write in $2 if it was an order for myself, or maybe $3 or $4 if it was an order for my family (I have also added tips to pizza delivery orders where the tip was already included because there was a tip line and my fear of being thought of as cheap is so pathological that I will double tip).

All of this is fine, but then came this:


I live in a city where almost all of the restaurants, bars, and coffee shops are locally owned, and iPads are an increasingly common form of registers. Most of them are outfitted with what I believe is called Square Register Software, in which each transaction gives the customer an opportunity to tip, and we are typically given four options: No Tip, 15 percent for OK service, 18 percent for good service, and 20 percent for great service.

I am never going to be the person who clicks on No Tip while someone is standing over me and judging me silently, and how can I click on even 15 percent and say to that person that the service was only “OK” when he bagged up my sandwich like a goddamn champ!

In fact, these machines have greatly increased the amount of tips that are left. I read somewhere that in some cases, tips have doubled in places that use this software because of the pressure they put on customers to tip. I am highly susceptible to this pressure. I always click 20 percent. If I am at a bar and order a beer, there’s no issue. Same if I am at a coffee shop and order a latte and a pastry. I will instantly click on the 20 percent tip, leaving around a $2 tip for a cup of coffee and a scone (fun fact: The average cup of coffee costs a coffee shop about $.35 wholesale, which is why the coffee shop you are working in right now can afford to stay open even though you only bought one cup of coffee and stayed for three hours).

Where it gets complicated for me is when I’m picking up a take-out order. For instance, the other day, I ordered sandwiches for the family at a local place with really great BBQ. It came to $40, and after they ran my credit card, they turned the register around and I was confronted with the opportunity to leave No Tip, 15, 18 or 20 for “great service.” I clicked on 20 percent and ended up leaving an $8 tip on three sandwiches and some fries. That seems excessive, but then again, there was a team of people who cooked and assembled those sandwiches, and they were delicious.

It feels a little weird, that’s OK, until you consider that the waiter working in that same restaurant is also getting 20 percent for hustling back and forth between the kitchen and 8 tables all night. The discrepancy seems unfair. In fact, if I order a pizza and decide to pick it up instead of having it delivered, I still end up tipping 20 percent because there’s a guy looking at me when I’m deciding whether to leave a tip on that take-out order and I don’t want him to think I’m an asshole.

And that’s the magic of the Square Register Software.

I do often wonder where that extra tip money goes if there’s no actual waitperson, and my first thought is, “Oh, it probably goes right back into the restaurant and no one who made this sandwich is seeing a penny of it,” and then I think, “Oh, but all of these restaurants are locally owned and their employees are probably better paid than in your typical Chili’s restaurant, so that’s OK, too!”

And so I keep tipping 20 percent, but I worry just how far this software will encroach into the consumer experience. How long before I am offered the opportunity to tip at a grocery store, where someone has been on their feet for the last 8 hours ringing up grocery items and dealing with grumpy customers. Am I going to be able to say no to that?

Probably not. Why? Because tipping norms in this country are being eroded by technology.