Take-Out: When to Tip and How Much

Calling a restaurant on the way home to order take-out is as American as Benihana, Sbarro, and El Chico’s. But these days how do you know when it is appropriate to tip and how much? I think I can clear it up fairly quickly.

When to tip?

With there being so many different forms of take-out it is easy to see where people could get confused. The principal when one should tip is pretty straight forward – who is saving who effort? If the take-out person is saving you from having to walk inside, then they are saving you effort. If you get out of your car and enter a building then you are saving them effort. The effort gets the cash.

If your favorite neighborhood restaurant offers curbside service, where an employee comes to your car and hands you your order, then you should tip. If your favorite neighborhood restaurant has you come in to get your order than no tip is necessary. Many to-go specialists will take issue with that last statement but they are not thinking logically. After all we don’t tip the cashier at McDonald’s for doing the exact same thing. The one place I would amend this, the exception that proves the rule so to speak, is when you have an abnormally large order. A normal order is rarely more than four or five items. If you have just picked up lunch for the office then you might want to throw them a buck or two.

Now to the question of how much to tip. Again to-go specialists will tell you that the standard tip is 20% just like servers but that is not true. The standard of 20% for servers exists because they only make $2.13 an hour. To-go specialists make at least minimum wage. Also servers do considerably more work. If your glass runs empty once you get home the to-go specialists doesn’t bring you a refill. The to-go specialist doesn’t clear your table when you are done. On that note a tip of 10% is quite adequate unless you ask them to go get you something you forgot to ask for when you ordered.

I constantly go into little mom and pop diners or burgers joints and see a tip jar for the staff. This would be a case where tipping is not necessary but I still do it. So there you go.

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Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards
2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
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2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up
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