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Should we have to tip when we pick up takeout food? Tipping is a divisive topic, but recent studies show that it may be good for your dining experience. A tip on avoiding tips: Take out instead of eating out. (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto) In a recent column on ways to save money at restaurants, I mentioned that one strategy would be to order takeout to forgo the expense of drinks and tipping. The way I figured it, if I was going to call in an order, drive to the restaurant, park my car, walk in and pick it up, drive home and serve the food myself, I was off the hook as far as a tip. But apparently, I was wrong, at least in some knowing eyes. On the day my column appeared, I received a diplomatic note from a friend saying: "Great article this morning except: When getting 'to go' (food) from a 'real' restaurant, you do need to tip. Maybe not the 20 percent as for table service, but at least roughly the equivalent of 10 percent. "Having worked at a restaurant where part of my job doing counter service was preparing to go orders, I can tell you we did not make minimum wage and appreciated any and all tips. There’s almost as much involved putting together take out as bringing food to the table.
Plus it really brightens the server’s day when you acknowledge this." Good points all around. I wanted to know what other diners thought about tipping on takeout orders, and so I quizzed my Facebook friends — and got a lot of feedback, on both sides. Let us know your thoughts on tipping for takeout below. Vicki Wilbanks' comment was along the lines of my initial reaction: "If I walk in or call in, pick up my order from a counter, no tip." On the other hand, Anthony Belcher said, "If you don’t want to tip, don’t eat at, or take-out from, establishments where tipping is expected. Try feeding and housing your family on $2.13 an hour. If you don’t like the law that allows that, change the law, don’t punish your server." I did not realize that this was the way it worked, and checked with veteran restaurateur Randy Rayburn, owner of Midtown Cafe, who said that although tipping is "the prerogative of the customer," there is a case to be made for customers adding a tip on to-go orders. He explained that taking the order and packaging the food in to-go containers take up the server and/or bartender's time, and more importantly that they are often taxed on the amount of the to-go sale. "It is presumed by the government that they have made that amount (the assumed tip), along with the sale," he said. Rayburn explained that most restaurant servers earn $2.13 an hour and that is supplemented with tips. If there are not enough tips to put them over into the minimum wage range, the restaurant is required to make up the difference. Robert Wallace, in his Facebook comment, recalled "the good old days when a tip was a gratuity provided for good service and not just an expectation. If I get good service from a to go order I'll give 10-15 percent. I understand servers don't get paid the way they should but the burden should be on the employer not the customers." Terry Day underscored what Rayburn said about the taxes that servers get hit with even when they don't actually receive the assumed tips. "It’s tricky because some bartenders and servers that handle to-go orders ring those sales under their employee number, therefore it is counted toward their total sales and that is what determines the amount of tips you claim. Most people think you count tips at the end of a shift and claim that, but that isn’t the case. For auditing purposes, claimed tips are based on a sales percentage and if you get stiffed on the tip, then you have actually paid to wait on that customer." Rayburn said that most of his customers do tip on their takeout orders, but not at the average 20 percent level of the dine-in customers. After hearing all of this, I admit that I was uninformed and that I stand corrected. The prevailing wisdom is just what my friend wrote in response to my column — you should tip on a to-go order, but probably not the full 15-20 percent you would likely tip on a full service meal. Going forward, I will either calculate my to-go order total to include a tip, or just cook at home. You’re getting your food ‘to go.’ How much do you tip? Are you the type of person who grumbles about the tip jar next to the cash register in the best of times? Do you anguish over how much to give to the pizza delivery guy? How about now, during the coronavirus outbreak that has forced restaurants to move entirely to pick-up or delivery?
It turns out, Central New Yorkers seem to be in a generous mood these days -- even when they’re the ones venturing out to pick up their own food. “When I look at our tip jar at the end of the day, I’m just so thankful for our customers and their support,” said Daryl McGrew, a partner at the Darwin on Clinton sandwich shop in downtown Syracuse.
The breakfast and lunch place, which relies heavily on takeout business even in normal times, has seen a significant dip in the number of customers since so many downtown offices are closed. But some of those who are stopping in are reaching deep into their pockets, McGrew said.