a couple of plastic bags on a counter
Photograph ©2024 by Brian Cohen.

A 25% Gratuity? For Take Out Food? Seriously?!?

Tipping is out of control in the United States.

I was ordering food from my portable electronic device to pick up an order of food from a local restaurant whose main business is take-out orders. Towards the end of the order, I saw options to pay as much as a 25% gratuity for take out food.


A 25% Gratuity? For Take Out Food? Seriously?!?

The food was not inexpensive, which did not bother me. However, a “convenience fee” of one dollar was automatically added to the order. I have no idea what purpose that convenience fee served.

a screenshot of a registration form

The “add tip” functionality that has been added to point-of-sale systems and other evolving technology — as shown in the screen shot above — is purportedly designed to guilt the customer into leaving more money or tipping more often to members of the staff at a dining establishment. It apparently works, according to this survey by LendingTree, in which 32 percent of dining customers reportedly leave a gratuity of at least 26 percent to servers at restaurants.

Even worse is that those prompts for gratuities — while convenient — also lead customers to tip servers more than they should because they also include government taxes, according to this article written by Medora Lee for USA TODAY. You are better off leaving a custom amount as a gratuity so that you do not pay too much…

…but why would I pay a gratuity of as much as 25 percent, which in this case translates to $12.04? Because the food was cooked for me? Because an employee of the restaurant took a moment to package my order? Is that not why a “convenience fee” was added to my order? I was not served at a table. No dishes needed to be cleared from the table or washed.

In fact, why would I pay a gratuity at all simply to pick up my food order? A number of readers at The Gate With Brian Cohen commented in this article that they do not tip anyone when taking out food.

Final Boarding Call

Gratuities are out of control in the United States — and this sickening culture is slowly spreading to infect other parts of the world. Customers are not only expected to pay usurious tips simply for the privilege of picking up food at a take-out dining establishment; but we are also expected to pay gratuities to breakfast attendants at hotel properties, to members of the housekeeping staff even though services may have been significantly reduced, and even possibly to flight attendants — all of this in addition to ridiculous mandatory fees and taxes that are automatically added to our bills. The hamburger that costs ten dollars on a menu costs significantly more by the time a diner is ready to pay for the meal.

I am neither an endless fountain of cash nor am I an employer of any of these people. How is the fact that they do not earn a decent wage my fault? I do not operate a restaurant or other dining establishment. I am not the person who purposely sets the prices on the menu artificially low to give the illusion of what is the actual cost of the meal. Why am I required to cover what business owners cannot — or will not — pay?!?

a food in a styrofoam container
Photograph ©2024 by Brian Cohen.

The main purpose of tips and gratuities is to voluntarily reward extraordinary service — not to force customers to close the wage gap of the servers…

…and with the suggested default for tipping slowly creeping towards 30 percent, does the “service” offered — or, more importantly, the lack of service thereof — warrant paying almost a third of the total bill to package an order and have it waiting?

Even worse is that the percentage left for servers at dining establishments is a percentage of the cost of a meal — and because the cost of food has been increasing, so has the amount for the gratuity, which automatically increases without any change in the percentage for a tip. Dining patrons also mistakenly include government taxes as part of the calculation of which to tip a server.

One can argue that because a customer is not served at a table by an actual person — including having the plates, cutlery, and cloth napkins washed and prepared; taking the order manually; pouring drinking water when needed; bringing bread and the courses of the meal in more than one trip; clearing the used dirty plates once the meal is finished; and ensuring that the diner is having a good experience — one is not required to leave a tip or gratuity for simply picking up the food in containers, plastic utensils and paper napkins, and taking it out for consumption elsewhere…

…but then again, someone had to ensure that the order was prepared properly and collected together in a conveyance which is easy to carry — such as a bag with handles — and collect what is owed on the bill if it was not already paid in advance when the food was ordered, which is becoming less common with the advent of improved technology. Perhaps the person handling your order took special care or did something beyond what was expected to ensure that your dining experience elsewhere would be better.

Regardless, the latter should be covered by the employer in terms of salary — not by the customer — as that person is not doing anything extraordinary to improve the experience enough to warrant a tip or a gratuity, in my opinion.

A tip or gratuity should be earned — not expected. A tip or gratuity should be voluntary — not mandatory.

All photographs ©2024 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Tips automatically increase with inflation. Standard 15% tip on a burger costing say $5 in, say, the 70’s would be 75 cents. Supposed the burger has now increased in price over time to $20. The 15% tip would have automatically quadrupled to $3. So there is zero rationale that the tip percentage should increase to 18%, then 20%, and now to 22% or 25% or more. Ridiculous, and I refuse to play. I tip 15% on the pre-tax amount, and I don’t tip anywhere I have to order standing at a counter or for takeout.

  2. Yes, you bring up a very good point. Tipping is out of control.

    It would be far better for restaurants to increase their prices by 20% so that they can make sure they pay their employees a decent wage. That way prices are transparent and people make what they’re worth so they can survive and pay their bills pay the rents and buy food.

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention

  3. Folks, this is simply because the economics of some dining/take out (to include beverages) places doesn’t work. Since 2021 inflation has risen by about 19% while average weekly wages only 4%. Restaurants have not increased wages enough and those folks working behind the counter are usually not as well off as you and me. It’s like any other business, it’s a proven business model to keep your base price low and then add fees (which in some industries like airlines and hotels are not subject to taxation in some places) and surcharges to bring the true cost up. It’s because what @John Montgomery advocates for would put a take out that raises their prices 20% at a competitive disadvantage with those that don’t but program their POS terminals to aggressively solicit tips (some make it impossible or hard to select zero). Just google how restaurants who have gone to tip free models (either by increasing prices or imposing a mandatory service charge) have done? Most have had to go back to tipping. In my area, more and more sit down restaurants (especially ethnic ones) have moved to a service charge model, and you know I’m fine with that. I tip, but I know some don’t and it’s fairer to the employees. BUT, there are long reddit threads about service charges in restaurants filled people who prefer to tip well and hate service charges. They either aren’t frequenting places with service charges or aren’t tipping above the service charge if that is what they used to do. Folks, the best way out of this conundrum is regulation because the existing culture will be hard to change. If you read the Reddit threads, some restaurants take on a service charge of 15% or above and then note it doesn’t all go to employees and tipping is still always on the credit card slip/wireless terminal. I’m all for the law in California which bans service charges, but I see the restaurants are suing to stop it being implemented on July 1, because they would rather not have transparency in pricing, much like the airlines suing to stop airline fees transparency.

  4. I hate when the tip choices start at 20%, rising from there for a cup of coffee in a paper cup, handed to me at the counter. [“Lids, cream, and sleeves are over there on the table.”] But that’s just me. There’s no limit to the amount you can leave as a custom tip. Enjoy!

  5. While I don’t like all the requests for tipping on “non-standard” tipping activities, what’s the big deal? Just don’t do it. I don’t care if some machine is asking me for a tip. I tap zero and I’m on my way.
    Take Nancy Reagan’s advice and “Just say No”

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