Do You Really Need To Tip For That?

The other day I popped into one of my favorite burger places to pick up a cheeseburger and fries to carry out and enjoy at home. As I was paying, the check-out guy turned the tablet around for me to sign and I was offered the opportunity to tip. No one was going to be serving me, but I added an extra $1 to my tab just because I was asked.

This got me thinking – why did I do that? If I were picking up the same meal at a fast food joint, they wouldn’t ask for a tip. And if I’d paid with cash, he’d just give me back my change rather than ask me if I wanted him to keep any of it.

Is it because if I’d ordered my food to eat there that someone would deliver it to my table, in which case I might offer them a tip? Was I worried that somehow the burger chef would know and do something gross to my food? Or is it simply that companies have figured out that they can easily get you to part with a few more dollars at the point of sale, so they do?

Before I go any further, I should state that when it comes to more “traditional” tipping practices such as tipping your server at a restaurant, unless the establishment specifically states NOT to tip, I’m a strong advocate for 20% or more of the entire bill. The point of this post is to discuss some of the more nuanced tipping practices that have popped up in recent years, but nothing has changed when it comes to taking care of your bartenders and servers.

When does it really matter?

My colleague Cassie offered up a similar dilemma, asking: “Am I supposed to tip on a $4 latte? Uber/Lyft? Or take out food when I pick it up? What about Postmates (some of my friends give cash to the delivery person but aren’t you supposed to tip in the app?) Or in every beauty treatment available? For instance, my hairdresser is an independent stylist, so she charges whatever she wants – am I supposed to add 20% on top? How do tips affect those who receive them? Do they need tips? Or are they getting paid adequately? I wonder how many dollars I just throw into jars vs. add 15%-20% by the push of a button…..am I a bad person if I don’t tip? I need direction!”

How to decide when and how much to tip

Cassie puts it perfectly – it seems like everywhere we turn these days we are being asked to tip, but whether or not it’s appropriate really depends a lot on how the person you’re tipping is paid along with your own personal preference. The best way to answer this is to go through each circumstance:

Coffee shop:

Should you tip? Up to you.

My logic: In order to earn loyalty points at Starbucks, you have to pay through the app, which doesn’t ask you if you want to tip. Message there: tipping is not expected, although if you’re paying cash, it’s a nice touch to throw your change into the tip jar. Caveat if you go every day – it never hurts to throw a couple bucks in the tip jar every once in awhile, even if you are paying with the app/your card.

Rideshare:

Should you tip? If the driver was courteous and got you to your destination without drama, yes.

My logic: Tipping is a way to reward your driver for making the effort to provide you with a safe comfortable ride, and I know that most of these people are either doing this for a living or to supplement inadequate earnings from their “real” job – I’m more apt to be generous. Most of my rides are in the $10 range, so I’ll add $2 or $3, depending on my experience – $2 for a clean, decent ride, $3 if the driver and I had a great chat. Longer rides, like to the airport, I’ll add 20% unless the driver made me fear for my life.

Takeout food:

Should you tip? If you’re picking up the food, I’d say no, unless it’s sushi, in which case I will leave a tip in the jar for the sushi chef, same as I would when dining in.

My logic: If I’m doing everything but cooking the food, there’s nothing for me to tip for unless the restaurant employee goes above and beyond in some way to ensure a good pick-up experience (although I can’t think of an example, tbh). This same philosophy goes for food trucks – tips are appreciated, but not required.

Food delivery:

Should you tip? Definitely.

My logic: How much depends on a few things: whether the delivery was on time, did the driver come to my door versus call me from the street, and how far they had to drive to get the food to me. Bonus $$ if the weather is nasty. Rather than tip as a percentage of spend, I tip in full dollars based on distance, timeliness and effort required of the driver.

THING TO KNOW: I recently saw a news story on a few food delivery services that make tips part of the total compensation of the driver. In other words, they promise drivers a certain amount per hour, but tips can be a part of that. As a result of this knowledge, I tip in cash when I can for food deliveries that are through an app like Postmates, Uber Eats, GrubHub, Instacart, etc.

Beauty services when they are offered by the owner of the business:

Should you tip? This is a tricky one – I always heard that you didn’t need to tip the salon owner since they get to keep all the money, but when I asked about it at my salon, where I see the owner for my haircuts, the answer was, “Most people still tip him.”

My logic: I decided to tip him as I would any other employee, considering that while he gets to keep all the proceeds, he also has to pay the rent and all the other bills. However, when I go to a colorist who does hair out of her home, I don’t tip her as she doesn’t have employees or other business expenses. My clue that she didn’t expect a tip? She sent me a Venmo request, which doesn’t have an option to add a tip.

Baby-sitter, pet-sitter or dog walker:

Should you tip? It depends on how you booked them and how often you use them.

My logic: I used to baby-sit and pet sit and when the parents contacted me directly, I never expected more than the hourly rate we agreed to. However, when families booked me through a service where the rate was set by the booking company, it was nice to receive a little more than the rate when it was someone I regularly helped out.

When in doubt, ask yourself this question

Would you leave a tip if you paid cash? One reason that a lot of businesses are asking if you want to tip is simply because they can – it’s easy and they figure why not? But if the person you’d be tipping is simply running a cash register or some other transactional work, chances are that tips are just nice-to-haves, but not a key part of their compensation.

On the other hand, if someone is serving you by bringing goods to you or providing a service like doing your nails, there’s a strong chance that they rely on tips as part of their income. When in doubt, feel free to ask!

When to be generous versus keep it for yourself

In the big picture, it’s helpful to understand that there are some instances when you should always tip, such as when you’re waited on at a restaurant or a valet parks your car – how much will depend on the level of service and how much you spent. In some of the grayer areas, such as your daily latte or a restaurant that isn’t quite full-service, I think it’s ok to forgo the tip unless you’re a regular, in which case you might want to add a tip every once in awhile as an expression of gratitude for the workers remembering your order or greeting you with the news of the day.

And when it comes to some of those areas where you could tip but decide not to, consider using that as an opportunity to boost your own savings – if you were about to add $2 on to your sandwich order at the deli, but decided that it was not necessary, click over to your banking app and transfer that $2 to your savings instead. It may not seem like a lot, but it can really add up.

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