3 Rules for Tipping on Take-Out

When you see that tip line on a receipt for your take-out, what do you do? Modern Manners Guy tackles a thorny issue.

Richie Frieman
5-minute read
Episode #321

Here on the Modern Manners Guy channel, questions about table settings are popular this time of year. As are queries about proper ways to order food and about simple table manners. When it comes to dining etiquette, I've covered them all.  

However, hands down the biggest dining etiquette question of all is how to properly tip..

When we think of tipping, we assume that we are talking about the gratuity you add on top of the bill at a sit-down establishment. However, there is a grey area of tipping that makes people equally nervous: tipping for take-out.

I touched on this topic briefly before (check out Should You Tip for Take-Out?) and boy did you folks have some thoughts about it! The response to that article made it clear that we need to dig deeper into the issue.  So let’s take a closer look at the 3 rules for tipping on take-out:

Rule #1: Tip for Service, Not Obligation

Everyone has had both terrible dining experiences and fantastic ones.  In an earlier article called Tipping Conundrums: Should You Tip More at an Upscale Restaurant? we talked about the number one determinant for tipping: service.  Usually, the quality of the food and service is what determines the tip.

However, even when the food is lacking but the service is over-the-top accommodating, you’re still likely to tip well.  I mean, it’s not the server’s fault if the food was bad. It's their ability to make you feel comfortable that is valued.  Anyone who has worked in the food service industry knows that being a server is a tough job. But if that's your job, you know what you're getting into. For example, if I was called a “driver” but crashed the car every week, no one would want to employ me. So when a server takes on that role, they have to deliver, or else frankly, why do they deserve a tip? And this goes for take-out as well.

When you tip someone, it is not an obligation. It’s a gesture and a business transaction based solely on service and not just because they are standing in front of you with a pen and paper. When you go to grab take-out and all someone does is hand you a bag and take your money, why do they deserve a tip? What “service” was provided that was above the necessary norm?  

I had no choice but to wait for the take-out cashier to grab my bag and for me to pay. That’s it. So why do I owe them more? There was no hustle. There were no excessive accommodations offered. And placing napkins in the bag doesn’t count. In the end, you have to ask yourself if the server went above and beyond. Most often with take-out you feel guilted into tipping simply because the receipt gives you a line to write in a tip. It’s perfectly proper to pay only what is owed and nothing more.

Rule #2: Tip Once, No Matter How Many Cooks in the Kitchen

There is a fantastic restaurant in my town that I often visit, with an amazing service crew. The manager greets everyone, the cashiers ask about your day, and the kitchen team waves at you sincerely. It’s a well-oiled machine, filled with happy people to make you feel welcomed.

This is how a restaurant should be.  When I go to pay for my take-out, I can easily see there is a full-scale process to get my order correct.  The chef makes sure it’s perfect before it lands into the take-out box, the cashier packs it neatly, the manager asks me if I need a drink, and is eager to fetch it quickly. I can see clearly that a lot of effort and care has been put into my meal.

But with so many hands in the operation, how do I properly tip? If my meal is $15 but 3 people were invested in its creation, do I walk around handing out money?