Tipping point

Uncomfortable questions about gratuities for takeout food

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Wikimedia Commons/CCo

Do you tip when you are just picking up takeout food from a restaurant?”

It seemed like just a simple question from a friend as we drove to pick up a pizza for a family gathering. The answer turned out to be yes but with a series of asterisks and exceptions. I started asking friends in the food industry about takeout tipping. They raised some tougher questions about how we value service.

How do you decide how much to tip for takeout?

Everybody seems to understand about tipping the pizza delivery person, but not takeout. Generally, I do tip when I get takeout, even if it’s just a few coins. Long ago I worked in restaurants in Boulder and appreciate the work involved. The amount depends on a lot of things, like whether I’m a regular. That seems to be true for many diners who always get takeout from the same places and “especially if people are informative, enthusiastic or helpful,” one of my friend’s said.

I asked Laura Bloom, a friend who has dined far and wide, how she dealt with it. “In principal, I don’t believe in tipping for takeout food because I’m not getting service throughout my meal. That said, if someone is just really nice to me or the restaurant is good at guilting me into it without going overboard and making me feel pushed into it, I’ll usually tip a bit,” she said.

Q: Do you tip more for carryout from a full service restaurant and less for the same purchase at a fast casual eatery? Do you tip a higher percentage for your latte or a sandwich at Panera? Do you tip more for sushi than for tacos?

A: I tip depending on how I’m treated when I walk in and while I’m waiting for my food. I do tip more when I order my barbecue to-go through a bartender at the bar – somehow it seems natural. One common response: “I tip whatever coins I receive in change unless it’s just a few cents, in which case I feel compelled to add a dollar to it.”

Q: Who tips for takeout pizza? They aren’t doing the dishes or refilling your water. Why would anyone tip when they aren’t getting service?

A: My unscientific opinion is that most people tip a little most of the time, even if they aren’t sure why. According to a CNBC online poll of almost 40,000 Americans, only 14 percent said that they tip for takeout. That percentage seems way too low to me. Maybe it’s a question of definition: What constitutes “takeout?”  I don’t tip for food I get at drive-through windows unless a barista is involved. You have to draw the line somewhere. One (male) friend told me, “I tip more if I am physically attracted to the person handing me my food.

“I wish prices would just reflect what it costs to pay a living wage for all employees rather than me continually have to make an arbitrary decision about how much to tip.”

I agree, but the U.S. is a long way from being tip-free. According to the etiquette experts, emilypost.com, you are under “no obligation” to tip for takeout, unless it is curb-side delivery or it is a large, complicated order. I believe that if you want your takeout tofu jungle curry then you have to pay your fair share for the human infrastructure required to produce the dish. As one friend put it: “Cashiers need to make a living, too.”

Q: Who actually gets your tip when a customer picks up takeout food?

A: You can always ask if the eatery pools its tips and splits them. One person told me that they do tip for espresso but don’t when they were picking up Chinese food (at their favorite eatery) because “I know the owner is pocketing the money.”

I asked chef James Van Dyk of Mojo Taqueria in Lyons why customers should tip for takeout food. “There is always labor involved in serving food. All of those paper goods cost restaurants a small fortune. At Mojo, a lot of real estate in the restaurant goes toward housing all that stuff for takeout and keeping track of it,” he said.

Finally, the question about takeout food led to a query about a hazy new area of hospitality:

It’s always good to tip the budtender. Susan France

Q: How much does one tip their budtender at a cannabis store? Is it just another take-out situation and therefore handled the same?

A: I think the same rules apply for budtenders that apply to anyone providing a service. If you are a regular and the budtender treats you well, then you tip a buck or two depending on the purchase. It is interesting that we don’t feel similarly obliged to tip at a wine or liquor store.

Comments: nibbles@boulderweekly.com.

Local Food News

The Boulder County Farmers Market opens for the season at 8 a.m. Saturday in Boulder and Longmont. New veggie vendors in Boulder include asparagus experts, Kiowa Valley Organic. Food court additions range from Wholly Bao (sandwich-like filled steamed buns) and Yayi’s Empanadas to Chaos & Cream (Thai-style rolled ice cream) and On Tap Kitchen (soft and crunchy pretzels). Other new vendors include Louisville’s artisan Moxie Bread Company, Vapor Distillery (spirits) Fabulous Fruits (honey-sweetened fruit butter), and Sunshine Foods with organic, pourable Swedish pancake batter in refillable glass bottles. … Bravo’s Top Chef series will be filming its 15th season in Boulder, Denver and Telluride in the coming months. No word yet on which local chefs will be trying to impress the judges including Padma Lakshmi.

Taste of the Week

Singular units of tastiness are available (but hidden) in the parking lot behind Union Jack Liquor at the southwest corner of 95th Street and South Boulder Road in Louisville. Pupusas is the small, red trailer semi-permanently parked there. Pupusas are all that the family-run shop sells. The griddled soft cornmeal pancakes are filled in the middle with cheese and a choice of fillings such as beans, loroco (a mild green flower bud), mushrooms, pepperoni and rajas (summer squash). A sign on the side of the trailer notes with some urgency and exclamation points that these pupusas are an authentic, made-to-order food that takes a solid 15 minutes to cook. They are not microwaved and well worth the wait. There are a couple of tables in the back and some logs to sit on, or you can go buy some beer although you can’t drink it. Regulars know to call ahead. I went with one pork and one chicken pupusa. Combining bites of molten pupusa with crispy curtido cabbage and jalapeño slaw and tomato salsa is a little piece of street food heaven.

Words to Chew On

“Thy breath is like the steame of apple-pyes.” — Robert Greene.

John Lehndorff is a former line cook at Pearl’s Restaurant in Boulder. He hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, streaming at kgnu.org).

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