I sent my son to pick up a take-out order from Carrabba’s in Huntersville. The order total before discounts was $56 and he added a $10 tip. When I questioned him about it (in a very loud voice), he said it was customary to tip the take-out person 20%. Sure, I thought, customary when it’s my money that’s doing the tipping. But I began to wonder if he was right; maybe there was some standard for tipping that I didn’t know about, and maybe I had inadvertently cheated dozens of restaurant workers out of their wages. Maybe.


I asked a local Facebook group about tipping policies and received more than 200 responses, some of which were very heated and devolved into accusations of being cheap or whether it’s our responsibility to close the wage gap. All valid concerns, but I really just wanted to know what to do when faced with a check that had a line for a tip.

Almost 50% responded that they don’t tip for take-out, and the others tipped anywhere from $2-3 to $20% of the bill; the most popular tip amount was $5. One restaurant worker said that take-out specialists are usually paid $2.89-$5 an hour; another person responded that when she worked at Outback she made $2.13 at the takeaway window. Clearly, many of these workers depend on tips to round out their income.

However, some restaurants rely on hosts for this service, and they usually make at least minimum wage and often $10 or more per hour.

Now I was getting lost in what my obligation was and how to figure out if these workers needed tips to supplement their hourly wage. But I was focused on the wrong issue. Was it really my responsibility to figure out other people’s wages and then decide if they needed my tip? Maybe my responsibility was to simply figure out if I felt the service being provided deserved a tip. Did the person check the bag? Ask if I needed utensils?

I consulted The Emily Post Institute, which said, “No obligation; 10% for extra service (curb delivery) or a large, complicated order.” While meeting my obligation was part of my concern, the larger issue for me was one of generosity.

Then I got to thinking about that awkward moment at coffee shops when they flip the screen around and ask me to “finish the transaction,” which means I pick one of the three tip choices or “no tip” and then sign my name and guiltily slink away. I’m sure there’s a software designer somewhere who engineered that screen to illicit just that emotion.

Then I got to thinking about the actual transaction. Did the barista suggest something? Seem extra-friendly? Normally, we tip after we’ve received something, but here I’m being asked to tip before I even taste the coffee. But I don’t care. I’m going to do it anyway because I keep circling back to generosity and the fact that it’s a personal choice and not an obligation. So, I’m in. What do you think?

Adapted from a blog post that originally appeared in Charlotte to Lake Norman.