photo credit: allie™

Dear Foodinista,

Here's the thing. I consider myself a pretty respectable tipper — 20% is my go-to when I'm eating out, sometimes more if I've had a particularly great experience. But when it comes to non dine-in options, I'm at a little bit of a loss. Am I supposed to tip that much, or at all, for counter service? What about takeout? Where does my tip money even go in those situations? I don't want to be a dick in these situations, but also don't feel inclined to throw around money when it's not totally necessary. What's the deal here?

Just The Tip

Dear Just The Tip,

Man, I feel your pain. Tipping these days has become an increasingly confusing prospect as some restaurants shut down due to staffing shortages, others institute included tip in all bills, and debates circulate on whether or not tipping should exist at all. And that's just talking about table service.

Your question is a great one, and one that I'm not entirely sure I know the best answer to. As such, I've consulted with the other brilliant staffers her at SFist for their takes on tipping (or at least non-traditional tipping). Their thoughts (and my commentary):

"I'm totally inconsistent on this," says editor Jay Barmann. "On the one hand, I feel resentful when I'm presented with the tip option at all when I'm getting takeout, because I feel like tips should be reserved for when you’re sitting down in a restaurant and being served by people who are working for tips. Presumably, people working behind a counter are earning more per hour than your average server; although with the upcoming minimum wage hikes, that will change. But, when I’m feeling flush, I do usually tack a dollar or two onto a takeout order, or put a dollar in the jar next to the register, just because all service-industry people need tips, and handing me my food is no more or less labor-intensive than pouring me a bourbon and ginger ale."

This echoes my past approach pretty well — I historically have not been consistent in my non-table-service tipping. I will say that for delivery, I usually hover around 15% (something a parent told me back in the day? No clue.), and that with the increasing presence of POS systems like Square and the like, I'm much more likely to add a tip when paying at a counter... in part because I feel like an asshole selecting "No Tip."

"Regarding tipping on takeout, I assume that POS systems most restaurants use don't differentiate between takeout and dine in, which is why you get the tip option regardless," says Eve Batey. "If I'm just running in, grabbing a bag, and running out I don't typically tip, but I've often wondered if I was supposed to and no one told me (like that old relative everyone is afraid to correct when she refers to people of Asian ethnicity as "Oriental"). If I place my order there and sit down to wait, I'm taking up space, eating any "free" snacks they have sitting around, and sometimes someone takes pity on me and pours me a drink. Therefore, in that situation, I tip."

I wonder this, too. In most tip systems, the total amount is pooled and shared amongst staff members who have directly "interacted" with customers (an interesting, if contentious legal requirement that leaves cooks out of the equation, save some serious creativity). Order-takers/handers certainly qualify as interacting with customers; if that tip money is all going towards the greater staff pool, I'd lean much more heavily towards the default tip side of this argument.

And, over time — and getting to know more and more people involved in restaurants, at all levels — I feel like I've become increasingly inclined to tip, and tip well. Since we DON'T live in a tip-inclusive culture (though more SF restaurants seem to be jumping on this bandwagon, including Daniel Patterson's upcoming Mission spot Aster, at he announced today), tip money tends to contribute significantly to restaurant workers' wages. Since that's not changing anytime soon, I'd say plan on tipping... maybe not as generously as you would for full table service, but with the knowledge that it's going towards the restaurant as a whole.

As for delivery... those dudes brave rain and fog and hills to bring you your pad see ew. That's worth at least 15%.

Still, this is just one Foodinista's opinion on the matter. SFist community — I outsource to you! What's your take on non sit-down tipping?

The Foodinista