Should You Tip When Getting Takeout?

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It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday. Dining out holds little appeal, and eating from plastic containers in front of the television sounds like the right move. You order food, pick it up, and pay the bill. There’s a line on the bill to leave a tip. What do you do?

That depends on who you ask. According to the etiquette experts at the Emily Post Institute, tipping for a takeout order is filed under “no obligation,” with a 10 percent surcharge for large orders or curbside service. That advice fell in-line with a 2014 story about a man who purchased one of the now-infamous Olive Garden Never Ending Pasta Passes, ate roughly $800 worth of takeout food, and left less than $20 in tips. Many restaurants have acknowledged only a small minority of customers leave something for the staff for a takeout order. The belief is that a lack of a rapport, or "face time," with a server justifies leaving out a gratuity.

But Steve Dublanica, a former waiter in New York City and author of Keep the Change, a look at our culture’s tipping habits, argues that stiffing takeout servers is the wrong move. “To get $100 worth of food, it takes more time to pack up an order like that than it does to plate it and serve it,” he says. “You need to put sauces in separate containers, arrange it so things stay warm. There’s labor involved.”

Fast-food outlets, Dublanica argues, are “designed for efficiency,” while sit-down restaurants are not. Even if you’re getting one to-go meal with minimal effort involved, he believes it's still wise to leave a 10 to 15 percent tip. Why? “Tipping is about relationships. If you get takeout in the same place all the time, isn’t it in your best interest to foster a relationship there, to make sure your food is hot and the way you want it?”