11 Mistakes People Make When Tipping on Takeout

Are you feeling a bit lost with tipping expectations these days?

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Updated July 18, 2024
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Tipping for takeout can sometimes be confusing, leading to errors that might leave service staff underappreciated or you wasting money. 

Tipping expectations have shifted during the last few years, and understanding the proper tipping etiquette can make a big difference.

If you're going out to eat more, avoid these frequent mistakes people make when tipping for takeout.

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Not tipping at all

jackfrog/Adobe young woman makes a contactless card payment in a store

Even though the staff making your takeout order might not rely on tips as much as the wait staff, they’re still putting effort into your meal, packaging and adding condiments, ensuring you have utensils and napkins, etc. Tips — even small ones — are always appreciated.

Overtipping

Jacob Lund/Adobe customer paying through credit card

Sure, 20% is a common tip when sitting down for a meal at a restaurant, but it’s probably a bit high for your takeout order. Don’t feel obligated to give a large tip, even if the register prompts you. Your tip should reflect the time the person put into your order. A few dollars is probably appropriate unless the order is large or complex.

Forgetting about special requests

fotofabrika/Adobe woman paying credit card

Did you order extra sauce? Half steak and half chicken? Hold the onions? If the restaurant managed to get your special order right, throw a little love their way with a larger gratuity.

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Assuming tips aren’t shared

DanRentea/Adobe cheerful waiters wearing apron

Not all of your tip goes directly to the staff member who hands you your food. Gratuities are often shared, so make sure your tip is enough to cover the other employees at the back of the house too.

Ignoring the quality of service

Dusko/Adobe worker working in a bakery

The purpose of a tip is to incentivize and reward great customer service. There’s no reason to add a full tip if you’re treated terribly or your order is wrong. The reverse is also true — great service deserves a monetary “thank you.”

Not considering the establishment

Alessandro Biascioli/Adobe worker wearing surgical gloves

You probably don’t need to tip at the fast food drive-thru, but if you’re getting takeout from a restaurant with tablecloths and multiple forks, a tip is a good idea. If you’d tip at a sit-down restaurant, a pickup order from the same place probably warrants a tip too.

Failure to factor in the delivery distance

Sundry Photography/Adobe doordash logo and symbol

If someone is bringing you a meal, whether it’s the pizza guy or a Door Dasher, a tip is expected. A full 20% isn’t necessary, but a few dollars is a good place to start. And if the driver has to cover substantial ground to get to you or the weather is bad, your tip should reflect that. They have to pay for gas somehow.

Not acknowledging rush orders

Chaay_tee/Adobe home to-go lunch meal

Express orders are bumped to the front of the line, and those should come at a premium. Rush orders are more stressful, and they can cause backups for service and kitchen workers. If the staff took extra care to get your meal to you quicker than usual, reward them for their efforts.

Using a card instead of cash for a tip

fizkes/Adobe cashless method pay bills

A credit card tip is certainly better than no tip at all, but cash is king when it comes to tipping. It provides immediate gratification to the staff member of knowing they’ve done a good job and how much they’ll get.

Also, it’s legal for the restaurant to deduct the credit card company’s merchant fees from your tip, so the staff member will keep more of a cash tip than one from a credit card.

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Thinking that tipping is the same as it’s always been

glebcallfives/Adobe paying with a credit card

COVID-19 shook up a lot of cultural norms — tipping being one of them. The pandemic has raised our collective awareness of the efforts made by those in service industries. As a result, it’s become more acceptable (and even expected) to tip workers in the food and other service industries.

Trusting the register screen prompts

EdNurg/Adobe A woman orders food in the touch screen terminal with electronic menu in fast food restaurant

Restaurants can program suggested tip amounts to whatever they want. Don’t feel like you have to leave a tip just because the register screen asks for one. You can select “No tip” or choose a custom amount if the selections don’t jive with what you want to give.

Bottom line

thanakorn/Adobe woman order some food

The 20% tip for a sit-down restaurant has been fairly ingrained into American society, but pinning down exactly how much to tip when it’s more ambiguous, such as a takeout order or food delivery, is more challenging.

While the tipping rules for takeout aren’t as hard and fast for fast casual or other less fancy establishments, a few dollars on top of a basic takeout order (or more for a beyond-basic takeout order) is a good idea. Plenty of other ways exist to save money at restaurants rather than skipping a tip.

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Author Details

Jenni Sisson

Jenni Sisson is a freelance writer and editor who focuses on personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship. She has been published in Business Insider and The Ways to Wealth. In addition to writing, Jenni hosts the Mama's Money Map podcast to help fellow stay-at-home moms on their journey to financial freedom.