How much do you tip the coffee barista? What about at a takeout spot? We asked the experts to dish on best practices for tipping in every food-related situation, and here's what they had to say.

By Dan Nosowitz
June 18, 2019

Despite some recent signs that tipping in America may not be the norm forever, it remains the standard for dining and salon services. We all pretty much know how to tip in a normal, sit-down restaurant: 20 percent is typical, a little more for exceptional service or if you’re feeling generous. But we all eat, most of us multiple times a day, and not all of those meals are at home. Are we supposed to tip at takeout spots, fast-casual locations, coffee shops, and all the other ways we get our meals?

Listen to this story on your smart speaker!

We asked a variety of food service professionals to weigh in on the question. Here’s what they said.

How Much to Tip at a Sit-Down Restaurant

Those in the food service industry know how low the pay is for servers, and how much they depend on tips. Most agreed that the standard is 20 percent, with higher or lower tips based on service. But there are some important things to know. “I am not in favor of undertipping or not tipping at all even if the experience misses the mark. You have to keep in mind that servers don’t have control over kitchen issues or food taste,” says Andrew Freeman, of hospitality consultancy AF&Co.

Those kitchen issues can include how fast your food comes out, how it tastes, if it’s cold, if an order is screwed up—all kinds of things. Your server may be doing a great job, but problems in the kitchen could affect your meal. If the server is really going out on a limb for you, don't punish them for things they can’t control.

For larger parties, sometimes restaurants will have an automatic gratuity to make things easier. But are you expected to tip on top of that, or is the automatic gratuity enough? “There is not an expectation that guests will tip additional on top of that, but if you receive outstanding service and felt the team went above and beyond the gesture of an additional tip, whether 5 percent or an extra $50, is greatly appreciated and goes a long way,” says Tara Gallina, general manager and co-founder of Vicia in St. Louis.

How Much to Tip at Coffee Shops

Many of us don’t think to tip at a coffee shop, or maybe we’ll just toss our change coins into a tip jar after ordering a favorite seasonal iced drink. That might not be enough. “For coffee shops, I always tip a dollar per drink, no matter the percentage,” says Holly Fox, COO of Last Word Hospitality.

Freeman says if there’s a tip jar, he’ll usually do 10 percent or a few dollars. “Keep in mind—these places are places where you may become a regular, so tipping and getting to know the staff is great for future visits.”

How Much to Tip for Takeout

Takeout might seem like a tip-free situation. After all, you’re the one delivering the food to yourself. But this is still food service, and you should still tip. “For to-go orders, I usually tip $2-$5 depending on the size of the order because the staff had to make it ready for me,” Fox says.

“For a to-go or pickup order, 10 percent plus tip,” says Cameron Mealey, events and catering manager at Bayside Restaurant in Newport Beach.

How Much to Tip for Delivery

“With Uber Eats, GrubHub, etc., they have the option for the tip added in on the app, but I always give them cash when they deliver my food, similar to if I picked it up myself,” Mealey says. Tipping in cash is a surefire way to make sure that the person who brought you your food gets your gratuity.

But what about delivery fees? Those probably go to the delivery person, right? “I think it’s important to know that delivery fees are collected by the restaurant to help cover the cost of the to-go packaging and similar administrative costs, not always passed on to the staff as a tip,” Gallina says. The delivery fee isn’t the same as a tip, so you’ll want to be sure to add a tip on top.

You should also take distance, weather, and time of day into consideration. A delivery at 2 p.m., on a sunny September day from a restaurant two blocks away? That’s a totally different situation from someone who’s bringing you a sandwich from three neighborhoods over at 2 a.m. during a blizzard. The experts we talked to said to never tip below $2 for delivery, no matter what.

How Much to Tip for Fast-Casual Food

Fast-casual restaurants are one step up from fast food. The quality is usually better and the average meal price is likely somewhere between $8 and $15, but you’re still probably looking at counter service. Some notable fast-casual restaurants include Chipotle, Shake Shack, and Panera.

“Some places now include suggested percentages on the checks. I typically go for 15 percent, if so,” Freeman says. On the other hand, Shake Shack is within the Danny Meyer restaurant empire, and Meyer eliminated tipping at his restaurants. The suggested percentages might seem aggressive, but they might also just be letting you know: this is a place where servers depend on your tips.

Tipping is a strange and specific thing; in much of the world, it simply isn’t done. But in the United States, our food service employees are paid with the expectation that much of their salary will come from tips, whether that’s a besuited waiter in a Michelin-starred restaurant or the delivery guy for your local Chinese place. So be sure to tip!


Be the first to comment!