Tipping has gotten somewhat…awkward. During peak pandemic, we all got way more tip-sy, you could say, and tipped generously. It had never been more apparent that delivery drivers were performing an important (and not well-compensated) job. And now, despite the lifting of indoor-dining restrictions, it’s still more important than ever to tip your delivery drivers. But what amount is fair? And what about that tiny Starbucks order? Or if you’re just picking up the food yourself?
It’s enough to make your head spin like that math meme. As you might expect, there’s both a long and short answer to the tipping question, but regardless of how you get your food (sit-down, pick-up, delivery, carrier pigeon, etc.), you have to tip. Experts at Grubhub and drivers agree that 20 percent is the absolute bare minimum, with other drivers confirming that 15 to 20 percent is acceptable for a standard order.
Why is that? Well, unfortunately, many delivery workers are a casualty of the Gig Economy. Unlike other countries, where tipping isn’t common, delivery workers in the U.S. are not commonly offered free (or cheap) health insurance through their workplaces, nor do they have common workplace protections like worker’s compensation or short term disability, and seldom have access to bathrooms during their shifts.
These workers often shell out for their own very expensive bikes to make deliveries (which are frequently stolen). Add parking fees, maintenance, gas, and vehicle insurance, and this leaves a very thin margin for delivery workers. Your tips help their raise wages to a livable level. In fact, delivery worker tips often count for half of their total earnings. So along with restaurant workers (who often only earn a low tipped minimum wage), tips are non-negotiable across the board. No exceptions!
How much should I tip food delivery drivers?
So we’ve already established that you have to tip, and ideally you’re giving close to 15 to 20 percent. Scale up if your order is especially large, the delivery distance is far, or you live in the top floor of a fifth floor walk-up.
While percentages are generally sound guides for tips, some experts actually advise that tipping by percentage doesn’t often account for delivery time and effort. For example, tipping $5 on a $20 order is a nice tip generally, but this tip gets spread all the more thin if the delivery distance is far, the restaurant has delays, or there’s considerable traffic (say, it’s a high-traffic holiday like New Year’s Eve or the Super Bowl). In which case, tipping a few extra bucks will make sure the tip truly compensates all the work and effort involved in getting your food safely to your door.
The same is true of smaller and quicker-to-complete orders, like if you’re just getting a coffee and a sandwich delivered from Starbucks or a fast-food restaurant like McDonald’s. Orders under $10 are totally fine to not tip by total percentage, with $2-4 per small order being a perfectly adequate tip.
What if the weather is really bad?
Personally, I have a rule of thumb for ordering delivery. The wisdom came from my roommate at the time, a prolific food-delivery customer. She simply wouldn’t order delivery if the weather outside had conditions that she personally would not drive, walk, or bike in.
That being said, sometimes making a delivery order can be unavoidable (say, if you’re sick, you don’t have a working car, or you have kids that can’t be easily taken out for pick-up). In which case, a tip should be mindful of the conditions of the worker delivering your food and adjusted accordingly (at least 15% to 20% higher than a normal tip, according to delivery drivers).
What if I’m just picking up food?
Yup, you still have to tip. A server is still working to gather and package your food. So when you pick up dinner at a local Thai spot, a 15 percent tip is a nice way to show appreciation for the time and care put into packaging your food safely. That being said, you don’t need to tip at a fast food restaurant (where you’re ordering at the counter and waiting for a burger).
So next time you try and avoid eye contact with waitstaff after knowingly leaving a bad tip, just know this one adage: If you can’t afford the meal with an appropriate tip, then you can’t afford the meal, full stop. It’s as simple as that. Also, bad tipping is, at the end of the day, not cute!
Mackenzie Filson is a food writer and contributing digital food producer at Delish. Her favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate-pine and if wine was an astrological sign she’d be a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. She’s never met a bag of Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos she didn’t eat in one sitting.