to tip or not to tip
July 13, 2005 5:13 PM   Subscribe

Take-out orders: do you tip, and if so, how much?

I was short on cash today at lunch and used my debit card to pay for my lunch-to-go at a nearby sandwich place. The bill was $6.75- since it was just a “to go” order from the counter, I put a dash through the “tip” line on the voucher and wrote in $6.75 on the “total” line. I just happened to check my bank account later, and my account has been debited $8.10. My copy of the voucher clearly reads “6.75” but I can see that it wouldn’t be too hard to make the numbers look like “8.10”.

$1.35 isn’t a large amount of money, but I’m irked on principle. I know I can contact the bank and tell them that the dollar amount was changed, and I have my copy of the voucher to prove it. Part of me is bummed that this would happen at my favorite lunch place. But I’m left wondering- should I have tipped? If so, how much? It’s one of those downtown places where you stand in line, place your order, walk to the end of the counter, pay, get your order, and leave. I am happy to tip for good service, but 20% seems like a bit much in this situation. (To be clear, I’m not asking about tipping at this particular place- they’ve lost my business. I’m asking about lunchtime takeout in general.)

In retrospect, I should have paid more attention to the advice in this thread.
posted by ambrosia to Work & Money (39 answers total)
No tip for takeout.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:17 PM on July 13, 2005

I generally don't, unless I'm ordering an unusally large amount of food, like two large sandwiches for one person, and know that I'll be back to that store semi-regularly, in which case I'll usually put a dollar in the tip jar.
posted by trevyn at 5:18 PM on July 13, 2005

No, there's no need to tip, and you should definitely contact the sandwich place -- it's not a lot of money, but the eatery should know that one of their employees makes a habit of ripping off the clientele. I guess contacting the bank depends on how much you value the principle of the thing; it seems like a lot of work for a buck thirty-five. (Just to emphasize the point: this wasn't about "Whoa, the dude forgot to tip and I know he would have wanted to, so I'll fix it" -- it was about seeing a chance for a little extra cash and taking it.)
posted by languagehat at 5:22 PM on July 13, 2005

Yeah, if you walk up to a counter, order your meal, and wait for it to be handed to you, then there really should be no expectation for a tip from the store; as trevyn said, you can tip for extraordinary requests (like large orders) or for great service at a place you frequent, but again, there's no expectation.

And as for them overcharging you, you definitely should call your bank, and you should print out a copy of the online statement and bring it in to the sandwich place tomorrow to show to the manager. Ask to see if it could have been a misunderstanding (can't see how, but it's worthwhile to ask). And if no explanation can be found, if it were me, that'd be the very last time I walk into that place -- because no matter how good the food, the only way you can effectively vote is with your money.
posted by delfuego at 5:23 PM on July 13, 2005

Hm, I tend to tip a little on take out for the same reasons I tip waitstaff - the $ goes to a lot of folks who worked to prepare my meal. There's the busdude and the dishwasher and the server....I tip rather nominally for takeout, though, i have to say.

I'd definitely call the place and let them know that one of their employees is scamming people.
posted by tristeza at 5:26 PM on July 13, 2005

Best answer: Wait a few days. Restaurants generally overcharge debit cards and then clear the difference at a later date.
posted by mischief at 5:26 PM on July 13, 2005

Best answer: To answer your question: No, I wouldn't think you'd need to tip.

However, a bit of side-chatter: When you checked your bank statement -- assuming you did so online, anyway -- was it listed as "pending" or as an actual charge? Because I've had this happen to me before; once, I paid for some food at a restaurant on my card, but left the tip in actual cash on the table. A day later, I saw my online statement with the restaurant's charge, for the bill plus a couple bucks, listed as pending. I was livid for a day or two about this -- not for the two bucks, but on principle, and vowed never to go back, &c.

(on preview, what mischief said)

However, a couple days later, the charge was actually processed... and it was the correct charge. I sheepishly posted an update to my livejournal (I'd posted there just to warn other people about the "ripoff" place -- posted both as an edit to the original post and a new post) saying that I was wrong and that everything was cool.

So, perhaps that's what happened? I think since restaurants are a tip-based thing, they'll often do, say, 15% off the top as the amount of money that they put a hold on your account, and then when the amount is processed, they'll actually take the correct amount. Since that happened to me, I've noticed this a few times (sometimes they'll actually have less money listed as "pending" than what I actually tipped, even). So, don't necessarily write them off yet.

Unless, of course, this is the Actual Charge To Your Account, in which case, feel justified in writing them off. Since that's not cool. Even if it is just a buck-thirty.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 5:29 PM on July 13, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, mischief and Rev. Syung Myung Me. It is still in the "pending" transactions column- I will wait to see what the final charge is, and take it from there.

I have, from time to time, thrown my change into their tip jar, so it's not that I *never* leave anything, but it's reassuring to learn I'm not being horribly scrooge-like if I don't tip for takeout.
posted by ambrosia at 5:41 PM on July 13, 2005

What the Reverend described is almost certainly the case; this was covered over at Snopes.
posted by Bezbozhnik at 5:52 PM on July 13, 2005

This is an interesting question. I worked at a coffee shop for a couple of years and we had a tip jar. Coffee drinks are clearly made-to-order and are often to go. Does this count as take-out? Tip jars are standard in coffee shops, but not take-out places. Why is this? Similarly, you always tip a bartender regardless of whether s/he waited on you at a table.

As someone who has always been appreciative of tips when on the receiving end, I try to tip whenever possible. So this is generally what I do when purchasing made-to-order food from a clerk at a counter:

If there's a tip jar, I leave a dollar.
If there's no tip jar and I pay credit, I leave a dollar.
If there's no tip jar and I pay cash, then there's not a lot I can do, so no dollar.

Not perfect, but it works well for me.
posted by Crushinator at 5:58 PM on July 13, 2005

Yes, I routinely tip for "to go" orders--approximately 10% or maybe $1 or $2 depending on the size of the order and the service required--the tips often go to all staff--no one gets rich working in a restaurant--besides--it usually seems to be genuinely appreciated and noted when I go back--
posted by rmhsinc at 6:02 PM on July 13, 2005

From what I've read from reasonably trusted sources, if you're ordering take-out from a sit-down place, where you're occupying a waiter to organize the order, pack it up, bring it out to you, and deal with your payment, then a small tip is normal.

If you're ordering from someplace that's just a counter, where you probably wouldn't tip even if you were eating there, then no tip is expected.

In reality, I tend to tip only at places I go regularly. And they tend to give me discounts because I'm a good, tipping customer, so it pretty much all comes out in the wash.
posted by occhiblu at 6:06 PM on July 13, 2005

I tip for takeout -- just a couple bucks. It's a shitty job I don't want to do. I figure it's "thanks" money. As in "thanks for walking down the street so I didn't have to." I tip more when the weather is awful.
posted by papercake at 6:08 PM on July 13, 2005

When paying for take-out orders, I tip if:

a) I'm a regular at the establishment
b) It's a large order
c) It's really busy and they took my order promptly
d) Or, if it's a slow night and it looks like they could really use the tips.

But normally, I don't tip when taking out, despite consistantly tipping (or over tipping) servers and delivery people.
I'm not sure that I have any particularly good justification for that exception, though.
posted by Jon-o at 6:14 PM on July 13, 2005

ambrosia, I just read your most recent post in which you mention that there is a tip jar. I would think the situation would be self-explanatory, then. If there's a tip jar, put some money in it. Just some change or a dollar should be sufficient for take-out, especially if you're in there every day. My view on tipping is that you're unlikely to miss whatever nominal amount of money you put in the jar, but those small sums do add up and make a difference to the tipee. So why not go for it? Are you appreciative of your tasty take-out? Then why not show it!

On preview: What rmhsinc said as well. My boyfriend and I were just reminiscing the other day about the coffee shop where we used to work and we agreed that while we don't remember which of our regular customers never left tips, we could definitely tell you which ones always did. $6 an hour gives you an interesting perspective.

If you're ordering from someplace that's just a counter, where you probably wouldn't tip even if you were eating there, then no tip is expected.

Where do you sit down to eat where no tip is expected?
posted by Crushinator at 6:15 PM on July 13, 2005

papercake: I don't think they're talking about tipping for delivery. That's kind of expected... they're talking about tipping when you pick up your own food.

Frankly, I'm kind of annoyed at the expectation that's arisen over the past few years that you're supposed to tip for carry out. To me, that's kind of like tipping the cashier at Target. That cashier isn't making any money, either, so why not tip them, too?

Pretty soon, we'll all be making $1 an hour and expecting to make up the rest on tips.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:16 PM on July 13, 2005

At every establishment I've worked at the 'to go' order is put together by a waiter taken away from his multitude of tables. They are a pain.

So yes, by all means tip, and if you're a regular and you want to be extra sure you get what you ordered, it's a no brainer.
posted by gtr at 6:35 PM on July 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

To me, that's kind of like tipping the cashier at Target. That cashier isn't making any money, either, so why not tip them, too?

The target cashier is also not being paid 2 bucks an hour. Waiter's depend on tips. Comparing that to other jobs that don't, or some false vision that all jobs will one day depend on tips, doesn't deal with the situation at hand.
posted by gtr at 6:38 PM on July 13, 2005

I agree with mischief - wait to see if the additional charge clears. When you use your debit card, some businesses charge a nominal amount to your account while you are in the store (to see if you are good for the funds), and then they charge the rest later and eventually remove the original charge. Hotels and some gas stations do that too. I asked my bank about what I thought were faulty charges last month, and they explained that this happens pretty frequently. They said that usually the company will run the correct amount before the consumer notices the discrepancy.
posted by intoxicate at 6:41 PM on July 13, 2005

The last place I waited tables did a lot of take out business. The server with one particular station was assigned to take and fill them along with serving 3 or 4 tables; but the suck part was that all to go orders were rung up under their server ID and taxed on an estimated 8% tip.

So even though they were almost never tipped on takeout orders the system tallied those sales, estimated 8% of each ticket and pulled the appropriate income taxes on that out of each paycheck.

In fact, most places I've worked (in Texas) have had the same policy.
posted by Mamapotomus at 6:50 PM on July 13, 2005

Response by poster: I tend to tip on the generous side for table service- I know that those folks are making $2.01 per hour, and they are working for the tips, and they have to share them with the busdudes and the bartenders and so forth. But in places that don't have table service or waitstaff, (the same setup as, say, McDonald's) aren't they earning more than $2.01 per hour? This is the scenario I'm asking about.

and thanks for the feedback. This is interesting!
posted by ambrosia at 7:23 PM on July 13, 2005

This whole overcharging-a-debit-card-then-refunding-the-overcharge business is really interesting to me, and thanks for that info! I'll definitely keep a better eye on my online statement from now on.

But to answer the question at hand- when getting takeout food, if there's a tip jar, I usually throw in whatever change I end up getting. Especially if it's an independent establishment.

At coffee places (again, especially the independent ones) I always ALWAYS throw a couple quarters in the tip jar, even if I'm just getting a 50-cent refill.
posted by elisabeth r at 7:35 PM on July 13, 2005

Is this the case for curbside takeout tipping, too?
posted by rolypolyman at 8:03 PM on July 13, 2005

Also check to see if there is a charge for using debit. Lots of small places have a charge ranging from .25 to 1.50
posted by mystyk at 8:10 PM on July 13, 2005

Best answer: I was just reading a long comment about this type of "overcharge" on Waiter Rant.

Re: tipping at a sandwich or coffee shop. I usually leave a little, depends on how flush I am at the moment. Counter people aren't making much but they are paid normal wages and not reliant on tips like waiters and delivery people are.
posted by cali at 8:34 PM on July 13, 2005

The last place I waited tables did a lot of take out business. The server with one particular station was assigned to take and fill them along with serving 3 or 4 tables

This sounds like it's strictly a take-out place, which would mean that there are no waiters and that the workers would have to be paid at least minimum wage. I worked in a place like this in college, and while I totally appreciated tips, I didn't expect them. And as someone who worked in other such places in high school, in a time before tip jars were ubiquitous, I kind of resent being asked to tip every time someone hands me a bagel from behind a counter, or whatever.
posted by Airhen at 8:39 PM on July 13, 2005

If it was easy to make the numbers look like $8.10, then perhaps the server actually mistook it for $8.10? Give them the benefit of the doubt.

There's another (more likely) possibility, though. When a restaurant runs a credit/debit card transaction, the credit card system puts a "hold" on the estimated amount of the bill in your account (when the transaction is approved, before you sign) and then corrects it to the actual amount you signed for when the charge is formally posted to your account. With a credit card, you never see the initial hold amount on your statement (even online, at most banks) just the posted amount. But with a debit card, the preliminary amount shows up until the correct amount is posted (because they can't let you spend that money).

The same thing happens when you use "pay at the pump" gas stations. They do an initial approval for something like $50 and then adjust it when the actual amount is known. The transaction might take a few days to actually "post" to your account.

$1.35 is exactly 20% of $6.75. I'd guess that the restaurant's point of sale system automatically gets approval for the bill plus 20% and then adjusts when the actual amount is known.

In any case, give it a while before complaining to anyone.
posted by winston at 9:04 PM on July 13, 2005

Also, on the tipping question. I am a cheapskate and notorious bargain-hunter. But I say that anyplace whose services you plan to use regularly, you should always tip more than expected. I have found this always pays off.
posted by winston at 9:08 PM on July 13, 2005

$8.10 is exactly 120% of your total. It sounds like the restaurant automatically factors in a 20% tip when they put an authorization hold through on your card. From the Snopes link mentioned above:
It is a common practice in the merchant trade that when a customer initiates a transaction for goods or services that will be paid for later (such as a hotel room reservation), the merchant submits an authorization hold against the customer's card. This authorization verifies that the customer's card is valid, checks that the cardholder has a sufficient credit limit to complete the transaction, and "reserves" a block of that credit line.
I imagine that when the charge actually goes through on your card in one to three days, it will be simply for the $6.75 amount.
posted by WCityMike at 9:09 PM on July 13, 2005

This whole overcharging-a-debit-card-then-refunding-the-overcharge business is really interesting to me, and thanks for that info! I'll definitely keep a better eye on my online statement from now on.

Along these lines, gas stations do something similar when paying by credit or debit cards. I remember reading a write up on it, but I can't recall the url. Such practices are something to keep in mind when using a debit card, especially if you're cutting it close w/r/t insufficient funds.
(on preview, ditto winston and WC Mike)
posted by MikeKD at 9:12 PM on July 13, 2005

Where do you sit down to eat where no tip is expected?

At a deli-type place, or cafeteria, where I order at the counter, pick up my own sandwich, and then sit down at a table to eat it (and probably clear my own place when I leave).

So, exactly the type of place mentioned in the original question, where the staff probably isn't working for tips.

But, as Mamapotomus pointed out, regular table-service restaurants, where a working-for-tips waiter is probably the one handling take-out, work on different assumptions.
posted by occhiblu at 9:34 PM on July 13, 2005

I almost never tip for takeout. Strangely, I left a tip when I was at Everett & Jones yesterday, but I suspect this is because the takeout counter was closed so I had to place the order at the bar. And it's entirely possible that I also tipped because the bartender was to-die-for cute.
posted by majick at 9:55 PM on July 13, 2005

I always tip for takeout, and as a result, people remember me and take care of me well. It pays to tip anywhere you're a regular. As for anywhere you're not -- well, it's a little shine on your karma, which always comes in handy.
posted by melissa may at 11:02 PM on July 13, 2005

Visa's Card Acceptance and Chargeback Management Guide has this to say:
Zero-Percent Tip. For restaurant transactions with a Visa credit or debit card, authorize only for the known amount, not the transaction amount plus estimated tip. Cardholders now have the ability to check their credit or checking accounts almost instantaneously via phone, the Internet, or an ATM. Consequently, an authorization that includes an estimated tip can reduce a cardholder’s available funds or credit by an unrecognizable or unexpected amount. This kind of transaction may occur if a cardholder leaves a cash tip or adds a tip that is less than the estimated amount used for authorization; for example, if the restaurant authorizes for an estimated 20 percent tip, but the customer adds on only 15 percent.
The extra money will almost not be debited from your account, but Visa discourages this. If this really hacks you off you can complain to your bank. I think life is too short though.

The target cashier is also not being paid 2 bucks an hour. Waiter's depend on tips. Comparing that to other jobs that don't, or some false vision that all jobs will one day depend on tips, doesn't deal with the situation at hand.

But we are getting closer and closer to this vision. All sorts of non-waiter employees like counter service people are starting to "depend on tips." This is currently limited to foodservice, but who knows where it will stop?

posted by grouse at 11:57 PM on July 13, 2005

I wish people would read the thread before commenting. "There's another (more likely) possibility, though..."—yup, one that's already been thoroughly discussed.
posted by languagehat at 6:24 AM on July 14, 2005

I do not tip unless a service has been rendered. Server, delivery, bussing... if the place has that, I'll tip, if not why would I? I don't tip at McDonalds, what's the difference (though I see more and more tip jars at fast food places). A cashier and a sandwich maker are not service staff and they wouldn't get tips at a sit down place.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:54 AM on July 14, 2005


It's primarily a buffet, but a server brings drinks & the main course (if any). I usually tip, but nowhere as much as a full-service restaurant. Must be a suck place to work.
posted by catkins at 8:32 AM on July 14, 2005

Freaking every place you go now has a tip jar! I'm sick of it!

I once paid for parking somewhere, and THERE WAS A TIP JAR!!

Sub shops have tip jars. Everyone has tip jars.

posted by eas98 at 9:18 AM on July 14, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! As predicted early on, the final charge to my account was only $6.75, so that's all cleared up.

And it's been interesting to see the range of answers as to whether tip jar = obligation to tip.
posted by ambrosia at 9:11 AM on July 16, 2005

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