Restaurant Guru

In Eat, June 2020 by Max TrujilloLeave a Comment

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Dear Restaurant Guru,

We get takeout from restaurants all the time, even before this dreadful quarantine started, but my boyfriend and I always debate how much to tip on takeout orders. Right now, we are over-tipping to help out the restaurants, but in normal times, what’s the right amount to tip? The boyfriend says 10 percent because there’s no real serving happening. I say 20 percent because it is the right thing to do. Can you please settle this debate for us?

Sincerely, Tip Confused

Dear Tip Confused,

Thankfully, I have an opportunity to redeem myself from April when I told everyone not to tip on bad service. Immediately after, the entire restaurant industry fell on the hardest times ever imagined. I, of course, wrote the piece before the quarantine started, and was trying to put into perspective the importance of proper communication and writing down table-side service.

But to answer your question, what should we tip on takeout? It’s a good question, currently without an official answer. I’m here to lay it down, in black and white.

Regardless of a government-mandated quarantine, getting takeout food from a restaurant is a service. For years, we have mutually agreed to leave a tip for table-side and bar service. That tip has become essential income, whether for a server, or a tip-pool shared by the entire service staff.

Restaurants rely on tips to supplement a server’s salary. If we changed the current structure, either the cost of dining out would need to increase so incredibly high that the restaurant owners could afford to wholly pay their staff or working as a server would mean servers would have to live well below the poverty line. The federal tipped minimum wage is $2.13/hour (16 states, including North Carolina, follow that guideline).

Until we figure out a better structure for the restaurant industry, we need to follow the money to understand how to tip. If you’re buying food at a QSR (quick service restaurant), such as a fast food joint or a sandwich shop, their employees follow the standard federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour. That’s not a lot of money, but it’s much more than $2.13/hour at a full-service restaurant. I still leave a 10 percent tip at QSR places.

I suggest leaving 20 percent gratuity for all purchases made at a full-service restaurant, not because of what you’re getting in return, but because that’s the cost of doing business at a restaurant. That is how they are structured. How is it different than ordering at a table, receiving your food, and paying the check? Heck, most good servers offer you a drink while you wait for your takeout order anyway.

To my restaurant owners though, please be conscious of how you disperse takeout tips. I suggest pooling takeout tips for $2.13/hour servers, because the entire team should participate in taking the order, packing it up and guaranteeing it’s correct for the guest.

Doesn’t that make sense? It should.

— Max Trujillo
Host of the NC F&B Podcast

If you have a question about Raleigh’s restaurant/bar scene, email

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