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Do you tip or skip on takeout? Experts weigh in | Doreen's Deals

Do you tip or skip on takeout? Experts weigh in | Doreen's Deals
Customers and hospitality experts are divided on tipping for takeout at restaurants. (JGI/Jamie Grill / HANDOUT)

We frequently get takeout from our favorite Chinese restaurant. For more than 30 years, I’ve been calling in our order and my husband Dan climbs in the car to pick it up.

We’ve never left a tip.

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There is no tip jar on the counter, and the owner has never even hinted that we should add a gratuity to the check.

Is that wrong? Are we being cheap? I don’t think so, but there is a robust debate about tipping for takeout at restaurants that employ tipped servers. For the record, we tip well when dining in.

If there is a tip jar on the counter, do you shove a few bucks in or ignore it? How big of a tip is appropriate anyway? To many, the proper etiquette is a mystery.

The Sun Sentinel’s popular NFL columnist, Omar Kelly, was recently shamed for not tipping on a to-go order at a Miami restaurant, so he asked Twitter: “Do you tip when ordering takeout?” Of 4,769 votes, 51 percent said no. It was a close call, so Kelly then asked me to weigh in.

I don't tip for takeout — unless I ask for something special.

Tipping’s a choice. I believe there is no right or wrong. But the idea that whenever I buy something I have to tip, when no real service is provided, is ridiculous. Do you tip the cashier at CVS? No, you do not. A person ringing up my takeout order is the same in my book.

I ran my own Twitter poll, and more than 600 people voted: Only 31 percent always tip, 35 percent occasionally tip and 34 percent never tip.

Since there was no overwhelming consensus, I asked John Masi, a professor at Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management in Miami, to help clear things up.

Masi, 51, is a Boca Raton chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has been teaching at FIU for four years. He says tipping is very personal, and that tipping on takeout is something he struggles with, too.

Masi points out that restaurants with a robust takeout business don’t need to hire as many servers, and a cashier can pack up to-go orders. “Personalized service is in essence reduced by takeout. There is no bussing, cleaning, presenting a check. There are a dozen different steps in a full table service versus a limited number of steps for takeout.” That impacts a customer’s decision to tip.

Many restaurants are moving toward pooled tips, he says. “Tipping pools are split between servers, greeters and bussers. The kitchen help usually doesn’t get any tips,” Masi says. “Often, they are the ones packaging the order. A counter person will add the cutlery and ring up the order. They are making minimum wage, generally.”

Minimum wage is $8.46 an hour in Florida. On the other hand, the minimum hourly wage for tipped employees in Florida is $5.44. The federal government requires tipped employees make at least $2.13 an hour.

Even though Masi doesn’t always tip for takeout, “being in the business, we err on the side of being generous. More often than not, I find myself tipping somewhat for takeout. I split it down the middle with 10 percent for pickup. I leave 18 to 20 percent for servers.”

Then there is the problem of what to do when confronted with tipping on an electronic tablet-based payment systems. It can be an awkward moment when the device is swiveled to face you and you must decided to add a tip before paying with a credit card. Buy a danish and then add a tip? No thanks.

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That simple act of declining the tip makes you feel guilty, which, in my opinion, is what it is designed to do.

Michael Lynn, a professor and behavioral scientist at Cornell University’s hotel school in New York, has been studying tipping for 33 years. He has published more than 50 research publications at TippingResearch.com.

He says there are five major motivations for tipping.

“One is to reward good service; another is to buy good future service. The third is to buy social esteem: I want the server and any observers to think well of me. The fourth is to help the server by being generous. Last, to do what you think is socially right.”

Does he tip on takeout?

“I don’t. There is a difference between takeout and other restaurant services,” Lynn says. “I make my living studying tipping and I don’t see a reason to do so. The restaurant is not providing any customized service. Only about a third of people tip in that context.”

He says the cooks who are usually filling the orders don’t get the tips.

“The person is just bagging the meal and handing it to me. This is no different than any retail clerk ringing my order.

“There are a lot of psychological benefits to tipping: A sense of equity and fairness. Showing off, getting people to think well of me. Feeling good by helping someone. Doing what is right, doing my duty.”

I turned to Doreen’s Deals Facebook fans to see if they tip on takeout and how much.

Judy Otto wrote: “I don't tip in takeout establishments unless I'm eating in. On deliveries, yes - I tip 15% at least.”

“I work in a restaurant. If you order takeout PLEASE TIP!!,” wrote Janine Costa Hurt. “You’re like another table. I have to take your order, ring it in, collect for the sale and my payroll is taxed on that sale. I also have to tip out the food runner/expeditor. If you don’t tip, you’re costing me money for your takeout!”

Lynn says that’s bunk.

“She should take that up with her employer. If she is doing untipped work, then she should get regular minimum wage.”

“Whether you tip or not the server or hostess has to claim the sales and the IRS has the person claim an 8% of the check for a tip,” wrote Barbara Evans Hochstetler. “Also has to pay kitchen runner for boxing your food. Just food for thought...”

Masi says servers should not claim sales, but instead claim only “tip income.” “There is no law or set practice with tipping out a runner, host or busser. That is at the discretion of the server and/or the individual policy of the restaurant.”

Restaurateurs should educate servers to personalize service.

“There are different things they can do, from smiling to introducing themselves by name to writing a personal note on the bill that can increase their tips,” Masi says. “If you make the person feel special, then they tend to tip more.”

Join in the discussion and share your thoughts about tipping at Facebook.com/DoreensDeals or email dchristensen@sunsentinel.com.

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