Here you are stuck with yet another money dilemma. It's Sunday night and you've decided as a family to do the takeout food from a local restaurant. Everyone has a smile on their face and now it's just a ride to the Chinese food joint, pick up your delicious dishes, and catch your favorite TV show.
You arrive at the restaurant and give them your phone number so they can call up your order. The hostess rings up your check, takes your credit/debit card, and then slides across the receipt for you to sign with the gnarled up Bic pen that has been sitting in a container of rice. The hostess glances down as you fill out your signature and you are hit with that line which reads TIP (or ADDITIONAL TIP). You don't want to feel like you've done something improper, so what is the right thing to do when you are faced with the decision to leave a tip at the take out join?
I've got to be honest with you. I'm really sick and tired of tip jars in general as takeout places. Why should I be stuck with some decision about whether to give to Jerry's kids, the local baseball team, or tipping my coffee barista? Just build it into the price . . . please! I have a very definite opinion that you are under no obligation nor is it improper etiquette to leave nothing for a tip when you do takeout from a local restaurant. The reality is that there's a difference between takeout and delivery, right? Delivery people use their gas, their time, and create service by bringing your food right to your door. When it comes to delivery, you tip them. Usually few bucks will do, but about 10% of the bill should make sense. When it comes to takeout, you use your gas, your time, and are just grabbing your food and going. So, there's no reason to leave an additional tip just because the line item on the credit card says so. Over the course of the year, you could spend $50 to $150 a year just leaving small tips on takeout food. It just doesn't make sense and not improper etiquette from my perspective to just sign the bill and go. Do you tip your oil change guy when you pick up your car? Do you tip your dry cleaning person when you pick up your clothes? You don't need to tip the local takeout place when you are picking up and last I looked they don't refund your gas mileage off the bill.
However, if you dine out at a buffet place like Sweet Tomatoes, Golden Corral, or a local Chinese restaurant, I think it would be very appropriate to leave some sort of tip on the table for the servers that come by to clean up your plates, refresh your drinks, or give you additional silverware. Something in the range of 10% of your overall buffet bill would be in the appropriate range of what to leave. If you don't leave the tip, you don't get the mints! Seriously, these servers do work hard and often not on a high salary so I think leaving those tips would be the right thing to do.
I suppose you could argue that doing takeout at a place like McDonald's versus doing it at a P.F. Changs is a different kind of takeout because it could be harder to assemble the order. It's a much more emotional thing than people like to discuss because of the pit in your stomach feeling of you wanting the people to think you aren't a cheap skate. Perhaps if you don't tip, next time they'll forget a part of your order? Or, what if they mess with your order and crush the Styrofoam boxes in the bag? Maybe, they'll give you and extra special surprise you weren't expecting? Look, every business has to build their reputation so none of that will do them any good, so you can allay your fears about all of that. Take out tips aren't required so you just aren't obligated to give one when you pick up your food. Did I get that order right?
Ted Jenkin, CFP®, AAMS®, AWMA®, CRPC®, CMFC®, CRPS®
Co-CEO and Founder of oXYGen Financial, Inc - The Leaders in Gen X & Y Financial Advice and Services
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