Tipping on a takeout order was always the generous thing to do. But during the pandemic, it pretty much became the standard.
How much we should tip, however, remains the subject of considerable confusion.
“There are times when takeout doesn’t require the same amount of effort but then there are other times when it does,” says Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert, author, and the founder of The Protocol School of Texas.
Generally, Gottsman says, customers should plunk down at least a few dollars into the tip jar for smaller orders, but up to 20% for especially large or complicated orders. It’s not necessary, she acknowledges, but customers these days should take into account the extra responsibilities of a server or delivery driver during the pandemic.
“We should keep in mind the convenience to us to pick up curbside or have it delivered, or pick it up from the counter… most people are very appreciative of the effort the delivery person is making to keep us out of a crowd or home and comfortable rather than getting out,” Gottsman says.
Throughout the pandemic, not all customers have been as generous. While some surveys — like this survey of consumers commissioned by Bank of America — suggest that more than half of Americans began tipping more as a result of the pandemic, others have found just the opposite. In November 2020, for instance, the nonprofit group One Fair Wage, together with UC Berkeley, released the results of a survey of workers that indicated tips were declining for most service employees, partially as a result of having to enforce COVID safety protocol to sometimes “hostile” guests. A follow-up report published in Sept. 2021 suggested the problem had only gotten worse.
A separate survey, from CreditCards.com, came to roughly the same conclusion in June 2021.
Sonia Riggs, the president and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association, says she’s heard reports from Colorado restaurants can attest to those findings.
“Tipping and customer behavior overall has seen a recent decline in generosity, unfortunately, due to possibly longer wait times at restaurants and with takeout service, but that’s due to the severe labor shortage the industry is facing right now,” she tells Nexstar.
According to Riggs, this “decline in generosity” isn’t reserved solely for takeout orders, either. In-person diners, too, have been leaving smaller gratuities in recent months, which Riggs attributes to diners “sometimes [forgetting] that restaurants are facing sky-high costs and lack of labor, which can lead to smaller menus and slower service.”
Colorado’s problems appear to be national problems, too. The restaurant industry in general is still reeling from losses sustained amid the pandemic, with a majority of full-service and limited-service restaurateurs claiming they’re worse off today than just three months ago, according to the results of a recent survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association.
“Now is not the time to be more demanding when dining out or ordering takeout; it’s a time to be patient, empathetic, and kind as restaurant workers face increased demand with fewer colleagues,” Riggs says.
However, even the Emily Post Institute has always suggested that patrons should tip no more than their budgets allow — a sentiment Gottsman agrees with.
“If you can give more and are inclined to do so, by all means do it,” the etiquette expert says. “However, it’s not a standard rule to tip more than 20%.