Tipping: How Much and to Whom?

The holiday season is upon us (does it get earlier every year?), and especially for parents, it comes with a host of new errands and tasks to accompany the usual household upkeep. Between planning holiday meals and get-togethers (or just attending them!), navigating crowded grocery stores and streets, and calming excited children who know that Nana brings presents and Grampy arrives with treats, a parent can use a little extra help. Around this time, I sometimes relent and hire experts in food preparation, dust bunny removal, and even grocery delivery to help keep things running smoothly.  The issue that continues to confound me, however, is whether or not – and how much – to tip for their services.

I have tipping at eating and drinking establishments covered.  I tend to tip well because not only did I work as a waitress for many years, but my husband and I also usually have one or both of our children with us in restaurants. Even well-behaved children need extra attention from a server (extra crackers, please!), so I’m pretty good with in-house tips.  That said, if I feel like a server is being lazy or obnoxious, I’ll tip the minimum, which for me is 15% of the actual bill – not including tax.  That’ll show ’em!

It’s the other areas of tipping that get me flustered.

Holiday tipping has been covered deftly and completely.  But what about delivery of food, “make me look human again” appointments for hair and nails, “big kid bed” delivery, painters, lawn maintenance, chimney and tree repair, dog walkers, and when babysitters or house cleaners have to go the extra mile?  Now, I don’t use all of these services, but once I win lotto, I just might.  And I want to be prepared.

My basic tipping philosophy is this: I am asking someone else to provide a service that I could very well do myself.  I can cook (though some might debate this), I can clean my home, I can paint my own toenails, I could even cut my own hair (Flowbee!), and as for lawn maintenance and clean-up – I could do that too.  Therefore, my payment and tip should reflect being grateful for 1) their services for something I would rather not do and 2) being able to afford to pay someone to do something I’d rather not do.

The amount of tip is what gets me.  And who gets the tip?

The most common example is food delivery, and I waver on this one.  The young man in a beat-up car who delivers pizza has done just as much work as the man in a car-nicer-than-mine who brings us sushi.  But if I go by the 10-15% rule, one person gets a much bigger tip than the other.  Don’t tell my husband, but I tend to really overtip for delivery.  Probably because of the two-pronged guilt: Not cooking and not picking up the food myself.  So the guy who brought a pizza and broccoli rabe?  He sometimes gets $6 even though $3.75 would be 15%.  And the guy who brings sushi for four?  He gets about %20, especially if it’s nice and quick (like Sushi Koshi was last night!).   But confusing matters are places like T.S. Ma and Nauna’s that have built-in delivery fees ($1 to the driver and $1.50 not to the driver, respectively). Do I knock that fee off of the tip?  Perhaps it’s best to go back to the bottom line: Delivery is a luxury.  If we can afford to luxuriate, we can afford to throw a couple of extra dollars into the tipping pot.

Now, I know I’m not alone in tipping anxiety.  There is plenty of advice to console and contribute to tipping nerves. “Do You Tip Enough?” points out that Zagat diners tip around 19% on average.  And then there’s the site that publishes deplorable tipping (and gives some credit to good tipping).

So what do others do around here?  Do you follow the “rule” about not tipping the salon owner? I still tip, but I hope it’s shared amongst the staff. Do you tip at take-out? (I go to Starbucks only when my husband drags me there, but yes, I tip – at Beans and picking up from Brick Lane, too.)  And what about furniture delivery and set-up?  Will the supervisor share equally, even though I’m sure he is paid more than the others despite not doing the heavy-lifting?

Want to feel more confused?  Check out what advice gurus Oprah, The Etiquette Scholar, Emily Post (with special attention to the holidays), and Bon Appetit’s The Foodist have to say.

Help me out with some advice.  How do you handle tipping for services?

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  1. What a great article Kristin! I have this problem as well, especially during the holidays! Here’s my take on it:

    Pizza/Food Delivery: $5 for lunch or Dinner, $10-$20 if im ordering a tray of food for friends
    Barber: $10 (My haircut only costs $16 at Balonze on Valley) and $20 during the Holidays
    Valet: $5 ($2 going in, $3 coming out. Its just as important to tip the guy parking your car so they dont “tip themselves” with your change)
    Independent cafe: $2/$3. Franchise: Hmm
    Door Man/Super: Here’s where it gets tricky. Depending on how much I see him during the year, I usually give between $50-$100. One time in the early 2000s, I got a nice bottle of Johnny Walker Blue as a Holiday present. I re-gifted the bottle to my Door Man at the time thinking it was the best gift he’d get from any tenant. The next few days we had no Door Man, and the following week we had a new Door Man. Turns out my gift knocked him off the wagon and my nice gesture costed him his job and sobriety. So… think before you decide to give anything other than cash

  2. I never know how much to tip, either (and sometimes WHETHER I’m supposed to tip someone or not). I like to think I’m a pretty generous tipper, but truth be told, I don’t really know what the guidelines are for a lot of things, so I might be cheap. For instance, we recently moved and thus had a bunch of new furniture delivered and set up. We gave $20 per person for the delivery and set up. Not sure if that’s really good or not? The guy who delivered our daughter’s furniture got more — he was the manager of the store we bought it from and came out to deliver and set it up with his own truck when the delivery company flaked out. That was way above the top service, so he got a HUGE tip.

    I am curious what people tip their housecleaners for extra service or at the holidays? I never really know what to do about that.

    One of my biggest worries is being unintentionally cheap with the tips, because as you said, I am asking people to do something I have no ability or desire to do myself.

  3. I’m a pretty generous tipper when it comes to eating out, food delivery, salon services, at hotels, etc..

    But I don’t feel like I should tip the person at a counter when I’m getting coffee. Does that make me a bad person?

    It just seems like it is unnecessary in that instance.

  4. It all so confusing! I stopped tipping for coffee when I realized that my kids’ college tuition was going into that tip jar, and that the people at this particular place (in NY) were not very nice. But then I felt so guilty I started to tip again. Oh, it’s all so confusing!

  5. In coffee places it depends on what I get. It’s still personal service, and there is definitely a difference between someone helpful and someone just doing the minimum. If I am getting a basic coffee, I might just put the change no matter how large or small in the dish. If I’m getting a latte or something to eat as well, I put in a dollar, or even more if I’m a regular and the person was especially good about asking which milk I want or whatever.

    I also tip at Mr. Dino’s because they always cut the slices for my kids and bring my salad or sandwich to my table. They also make a mean espresso for after a Grandma slice.

  6. Kristin, you are generous to the sushi guy! I too have been in the “biz” and consider myself a generous tipper. My hubby is way to generous and thinks that the baseline is 20%, even for marginal service. If I have the extra change, or a buck I’ll throw in the tip jar for a coffee. And what about gas? It doesn’t stress me out like Carla. 🙂 I’m new to NJ. Does anyone tip the gas station attendant?

  7. I don’t feel like I should tip the person at a counter when I’m getting coffee. Does that make me a bad person?

    Yes. Vedy, vedy bad.

    What about occasional babysitters?

    Yes. Keep a good babysitter sweet.

    How exactly do you tip the garbage men? Where would you put it??

    Oh, they’ll tell you where to put it. When we first moved into our house we had a particularly large pile of bulky waste, so we ran out and gave them 20 bucks. The next time they came, we weren’t there to give them anything, so they left most of the crap on the sidewalk. So we stopped the tipping altogether, and now they take everything.

  8. delivery – usually 15%. restaurant – 20% (unless it’s really crap service) and bars – a buck per drink. gas guy? are we supposed to tip him? sort of feel like in NJ having my gas pumped by a stranger is forced on me by the state. but im’ told when weather is really bad i should let tip the guy or gal who fills the car up.

  9. This is a good post and a topic that I think a lot of people struggle with. I’ve owned Nauna’s for the past 25 years so I have a good deal of experience with this. I could write a whole post on this so I’ll try to keep my comment as brief as possible:

    Many people actually ask us when they order how much they can tip, so I know people do need a little help with it. I know they are asking for guidance, but I still feel a bit uncomfortable telling them how much to tip. I can tell you the average tip for a delivery person that works for me is about 20% of the check. That is for the people that do tip, because every day each driver probably takes two deliveries that do not tip at all.

    Please understand that unlike a waiter at a restaurant, delivering the food to you costs the driver money in gas(and we know how much that costs today) and maintenance for their car. Plus since they drive a lot, they are frequently getting parking tickets and the occasional moving violation. If they inform their insurance carrier that they are delivering food for a living as they are required to(although most probably don’t) their insurance premiums do go up and they are also exposed to the risk of accidents which unfortunately do occur. Two months ago one of our drivers was hit in the door (T-boned)by someone that ran a red light. He then had a rental car while his car was being fixed and someone hit him from behind while he was stopped at a light three days after his original accident! These thing so happen and delivery people are exposed to it more than the usual person because they are on the roads so much.

    As for the delivery fees, just about everyone charges something. In reference to the above post that specified T.S. Ma’s delivery fee goes to the driver and Nauna’s fee doesn’t, is only partially correct. There are different ways to compensate the delivery people. Nauna’s for example pays our drivers $6.00/hour but keeps the delivery fee-(I’ll get to why later) other restaurants in town pay the driver nothing per hour, but give them all or part of the delivery fee. Some others give their drivers less per hour, like $3.00/hr and give them $1.00 for every delivery they take. Personally, I like to pay them a straight hourly fee as opposed to the delivery fee because I think the delivery fee basis puts too much pressure on them to take as many deliveries as possible and encourages reckless driving. I even put more drivers on every night than any other restaurant in town so they aren’t pressured to drive fast. T.S.MA may just give the driver the delivery fee and no base salary(I don’t know what they do), so on a slow night the driver may only make $30 or $40. Our drivers are guaranteed $30 for a 5 hour shift even if they don’t take one delivery which never happens and I like that approach best.

    Back to the $1.50 delivery fee. Twenty five years ago my delivery insurance was about $1,500/year. Now it’s close to $10,000. The majority of the delivery fee goes towards the insurance costs & maintaining about two dozen delivery bags which cost $75.00 each. We had held the delivery fee at $1.00 for about twenty years and recently raised it to $1.50 when gas prices spiked. The drivers were getting $4.00/ per tips at the time and were complaining about how much it was costing them for gas so we raised the delivery fee to $1.50 and the drivers pay to $6.00/hr. When people call and ask if the driver gets the $1.50 delivery fee they are told no because it’s too difficult and time consuming to explain that part of that fee does go to the driver, but since we don’t directly give them the extra $.50 per delivery the proper answer is no it does not.

    I hope this offered some light on food delivery. Please remember the drivers do work hard, they get soaked when it’s raining, they slip and fall all the time on ice covered sidewalks and front steps, they get tickets and are involved in accidents, they occasionally get bit by a customers dog(yes that has happened) and they do incur costs by bringing you your food(hopefully quickly and hot!)so please be generous when you are deciding how much to tip, especially around the holidays.

    I wish everyone a great Thanksgiving!

    Tom Moloughney
    Owner, Nauna’s

  10. On delivery, why tip a percentage of what you spent? How far did they have to drive, how far did they have to walk up to the house, how much/many bags did they have to carry, was it cold/raining, did they have change ready, etc.?

    On restaurant service–and when did it go from 15% to 20%?? (Doesn’t everything rise, proportionally?)–why not factor in all the variables, also? You brought me a low-priced coffee, and then more coffee, and then more milk, etc. = more service (and then, of course, there is *attitude* to consider!), vs. you simply brought me a high-priced item, etc.

    On other things: did you ask the garbage collectors to do you a favor? Did you ask the postman to buy you some stamps or hold the mail (without you having to go and fill out a form)? Did the gas pumper check your oil or tires?

    Does the barber own the place?

    Shouldn’t the bartender be paid a salary?

  11. That is really helpful, Tom. I think I’ve been under-tipping delivery people and over-tipping bartenders. To hear you spell it out, 20 percent seems about right for deliveries…

  12. Tom, that is a great explanation that a lot of people don’t get a chance to learn. The two restaurants I mentioned (Nauna’s and T.S. Ma) are the only two I’ve seen recently that specifically charge for delivery, and I have shared the information I was given when I called to ask about whether the fee goes to the drivers or not.

    Personally, I think it’s important to give both waitstaff and delivery people a solid base salary to be supplemented with tips. It definitely makes a difference in retention and consistency of service. Thank you for doing that!

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