Do you tip at food trucks, the coffee place, counter service?

six dollars a five and a one

There are a bunch of different conversations that could spin out of this post over at the Awl about a guy who was fired from a food truck after he complained on Twitter about not getting tipped on a complicated order. But we're most interested in this question:

Do you -- yes, you, the person reading this -- tip on orders at food trucks, the morning swing through the line at the coffee place, a pick-up pizza or takeout order, counter service at a fast-casual restaurant, and other similar situations? If so, how much? And if not, why not?

In most situations, tipping is a social custom/expectation in this country. Which means it's one of those things that "everyone knows how it works" except that, you know, not everyone knows how it works. And like any social custom/expectation it's subject to an evolution of views on it, based on shifting attitudes and context.

Food service is currently in one of those shifts. Tipping on sit-down service is a well-established practice -- "everyone" knows you should tip 15-20 percent. But a lot of restaurant business is now headed in the direction of the "fast casual" model, or the super casual like food trucks.

We get the sense that's causing confusion. Just recently we were in a Chipotle (a prime example of fast casual) and the group ahead of us had ordered a long, complicated series of stuff. After it all came together, the woman who ordered it tried to tip the Chipotle cashier to thank her for getting the whole thing straight, but the cashier politely declined.

So what's the new social norm?

More about tipping: A recent Freakonomics podcast focused on tipping -- and featured a Cornell professor who's studied the topic extensively. He argued that tipping might be illegal because it could be considered discriminatory.

That observation -- and many others -- have prompted arguments that a better, fairer way to compensate restaurant employees would be to eliminate tipping and raise the prices on food (say, 15-20 percent) in order to pay employees higher wages not dependent on tips.

Earlier on AOA: New York's highest court on who can share tips at Starbucks


If there's a tip jar, I almost always use it. I try to drop at least dollar in, but at the very minimum I put in whatever coins I get in my change. I never do any math in terms of figuring out a tip, but, depending on how big or complex my order is, I'll throw in another dollar or all the change in my purse for their effort.

I tip whenever possible (i.e. tipping is allowed, it's clear where/how I can tip, and I have the right change to do so.) The last one gets messy at cash-only places if I'm low on cash, or at Starbucks if I'm using my phone to buy and don't have any change or singles on me. Bars are where I sometimes get tripped up. Should I tip a dollar per drink (even on $2 beers)? 10%, 15%, 20%?

I don't generally tip in those scenarios. Sometimes I'll throw in my change, but that's about it. Tipping servers is reasonable because their pay scale assumes tips. The same can't be said for folks at coffee shops and places like Chipotle. Personally, I would prefer we did away with tipping altogether and just paid all workers in the service industry a decent wage.

Food trucks, no. Beer stands, yes.

The guy who got fired complained about a HUGE order ($170) by a company that can very well pay a tip. The fact that they did not tip on such a big order shows how tacky and cheap they are and the boss that fired him? Also an a$$.

Tips are for service. If I get good service, I tip - WHEREVER I am getting that service. Crappy service gets no tip. Though it probably needs to be noted that I don't eat at fast food restaurants.

I generally don't tip if the person is the owner of the business. This would apply to food trucks as well. I rarely tip in tip jars unless I feel the service was especially stellar.

When there is a tip jar out, I tip, especially with "Fast Casual", and when there isn't, or the situation is odd, I do not.

However, I have a weird time when I buy a cup of coffee and it comes to $2.17 and I feel that the $0.83 that I throw in the jar is not enough. This is on me.

I am all in favor of the living wage idea, by the way, but I know that this is a point of contention.

But can we have a dialogue about what "I am going to start freelancing" guy was doing?

If there is a tip jar, I use it. Usually about a dollar; more if it's a big or complicated order. I used to think these tip jars were terrible until my grown daughter had to make her living working in a Brooklyn coffee shop. Now I think: "That could be my kid."

I typically try to tip if there is a tip jar, but a lot of places frown upon tipping if there isn't a tip jar (and it isn't sit down). So generally if there isn't a tip jar, I don't tip. I never do math for it, but say I order a coffee at a DD. I will tip a buck or so in the cup. Usually I think of it the same way as at a bar. If I order a drink at a bar, I would tip about a buck per drink. And I always put more in for more exemplary service, because that can happen even at places like these and going above and beyond deserves to be recognized.

Sometimes...ususally the change im given back depending on the services. Its the same deal if its takeout from a restaurant. heck most now charge you for the containers.

i always do $1 tip for a beer no matter where you are. if its a huge beer at wolfs...expecially if its during the 1/2 price do $2. ( thanks Mark!)

When I stopped drinking I decided the baristas who now get my business instead of bartenders would get the same for tips as I used to hand out. So basically $1 a drink (so if I refill, they get another buck) and then the occasional "I love you man" $20-50 buck tip just because my regular baristas rock and make my world better and why should the bartenders be the only ones who benefit from my crazy, alcoholic mind?

I tip a buck on pick-up orders across the board.

I didn't always tip at place like that, where there's essentially no service, unless it was one I patronized a lot . . . but my daughter's spent the summer working the counter at one of Albany's counter establishments, and now I feel the need to tip at all these places just to make up for the drunks, the idiots, the indecisive, the moochers and scam artists, and all the other people she has to face on the front lines. It also makes me more grateful than ever that I never had to work in retail food service. So I tip.

@Rob I do the $1/drink with bartenders/beer carts. It just makes everything easier.

@Xina Employee makes statement online about a customer that could negatively impact his business and the owner calls him on it makes the owner an "a$$"? How so? Soon-to-be-freelance guy is an employee and could have materially impacted his employer's reputation.

Tipping at fast food, fast casual, whatever places should be reserved for those that do exemplary work. Not just because someone that had the bad idea to put a “tip jar” there.

If you feel guilty about giving a complicated order, stop being such a jerk and order what’s on the menu and get on with your day, if not tip the people behind you in line for being inconvenienced by having to wait for your indecisive a**!

I love that you mentioned the Freakonomics podcast because that was such a good episode and because I like knowing the AOA writers are as nerdy as I am. :)

Funny you should write about this today. Our office ordered lunch from a small Thai restaurant today. The place doesn't deliver so two of the people in the office had to go pick it up. Parking here is not easy, so it's a major pain to move your car mid-day. There are only 10 of us, so the bill wasn't too much. Probably $90 or so. When they paid the check, the person paying said "keep the change." Before they even got back to the office, the restaurant called the office to say "thanks so much for the 24 cent tip!" Everyone was pretty shocked that a restaurant would have the nerve to do that for something that isn't customary anyway.

Always tip in 10% range if staying in at coffee shops, etc (places with no table service, but where dishes have to be cleaned). If carrying out, it depends. Will usually throw change in tip jar or tip $1 if I order something that has to be made (latte v. regular coffee or sandwich v. pizza slice).

If there's a tip jar, I'll usually tip a dollar or two depending on the cost of the meal/drink. Always a dollar per drink at a bar too (I don't order complicated drinks).

If I'm ordering coffee at Starbucks or an independent place, it's almost always a plain black coffee... I don't tip on this because it literally takes five seconds to prepare and then my $2.12 coffee becomes $3 or $3.12... hopefully the baristas don't hate me for this.

There is an implicit contract between diners and servers at sit-down restaurants. A server's paid wage, and your food price, assumes you (the diner) will provide a gratuity of 15-20% of the total check to supplement the server's wages.

At a counter service eatery, coffee shop, food truck, etc., the employees are not paid a server's wage, and the price of the product and the employee wage assumes no gratuities. Therefore, I'm not clear on why a gratuity would be necessary.

If the idea is to supplement a sub-par (non-living) wage, I get that. But then why aren't you tipping your checkout guy at Target or the guy that gets carts at Walmart?

I think instead people are conflating two different parts of the service industry, and creating an irrational practice in so doing.

My thinking has always been this:
At a restaurant, your tip goes to the waiter and they are supposed to share that with the bus person. There wages are based on the fact that they should be receiving tips. Your tip does not go to the cook/chef etc. and they are not paid a wage that assumes it will. You are basically paying the base cost of the food and the cook's wage in your bill with your tip covering the cost of the delivery service (to your table) and cleanup. At a counter service/casual take-out place the delivery and clean-up portion is removed and I think the workers wages should be structured like a cook's. So I don't feel a tip is necessary. That's not to say I won't throw a few bucks in a tip jar, especially when it is decorated and says something about it paying for school.
Bartenders are a different story cause we all know there wages are based on receiving tips. But if you can discriminate on how long it takes you to come down and take my order cause I am not throwing my breasts on your bar like the girl who just walked up, I can discriminate on how much of a tip I give you.

Slightly off topic, but I get flustered by the tips jars that offer a question with two comical choices, like a vote with your tip sort of thing.

I usually don't believe a tip is warranted at places like that (Starbucks, etc.), but then feel tremendously guilty if I laugh or comment on the comical choices.

I only tip at a couple of pick-up places where I am a regular, and they ask if I want my usual order, etc. However, I do not normally tip at counter service places, especially when I call ahead.

If people want to tip counter service, that is their right, but there should not be an expectation. Think of it this way, when you tip at a table service restaurant, your tip may be influenced by the quality of service, or the special treatment by a waiter, etc. At counter service, the tip jar is implicitly asking you to tip at the moment you order and pay for your food, i.e. often before you even receive your meal, and thus before you can check whether the order was correct, or if the food was prepared to your order. You are truly just paying more for the same food. I think that difference allows the customers of food service counters the license to tip differently or not at all.

I'm on board with C. If I'm picking up pizza or some other "counter-style" food, 9 out of 10 times, I'm not tipping.
Are there exceptions? Yes. But they're few and far between and, as other have mentioned, for those sort of employees tips are a nice to have, not a need to have.

If you are given table service, actually have things brought to you and are taken care of while you eat, you should tip. But if you're ordering food at a counter, paying for it and walking away with it, there should be no tipping involved.

Not usually. Only if they have gone above and beyond to help.

"When they paid the check, the person paying said "keep the change." Before they even got back to the office, the restaurant called the office to say "thanks so much for the 24 cent tip!" Everyone was pretty shocked that a restaurant would have the nerve to do that for something that isn't customary anyway."

To me, saying "keep the change" is implying that you are, in fact, intending to tip someone. So yes, tipping 24 cents on a large order is pretty craptacular, and much worse than not tipping at all. I don't blame them for rubbing it in.

I think it's still good policy to tip on counter service. They're still pulling together your order for you. Plus they deal with all kinds of bullsh*t you can't even begin to imagine. Just seems like common courtesy.

Have you ever popped into En Lai and waited for your order? Watch what that woman at the counter does in 10 minutes time on a busy night, she not only preps all the take-out orders but juggles all of the delivery calls and packages up all of the delivery orders. I am in awe watching her. She should be everyone's inspiration for counter tipping.

I never tip at a counter, the employee receives a wage based on no tips, unlike a sit down server. I find tip jars obnoxious, like saying you should give me extra money for showing up at work today. Those of you who do tip at counters, good for you, and remember that next time you're at my pharmacy counter. Tip your Rx Tech!

I've written and deleted over 10 paragraphs trying to comment on this subject, but just going to leave it at this:

Tipping is so ass-backwards in current culture. The spirit of a tip is to return the favor and thank someone for going above and beyond their job for you. In reality, we (customers) are *expected* to tip (see food service wages) for simply doing the job. 15% minimum for dining, $1 drink service (even for simply fetching & opening an already marked-up bottle) and so forth.

Obviously, larger tips can still be given for truly going above and beyond, but why not get rid of the subjective part, eliminate the awkwardness and questions of when and how much. Bring the fun part of it back, it's a great feeling to be rewarded and it's a great feeling to give someone that feeling. Making it standard kills the joy.

How much I tip at food trucks depends on the strength of the ethnic slurs in their names.

If you tip the bartender for a beer, you better be tipping for your skinny, mocha, cap with extra foam.

In all other situations, typically yes if just for the change.

and apropos of this post, here's an story about a takeout tip controversy involving New Orleans Saints star QB Drew Brees:

Note the comment of the restaurant owner: "If this is an authentic receipt, it would indicate that Mr. Brees is a very generous individual, as it would be a takeout receipt (indicated by the fact that there is no table number in the top left of the check, but rather a guest's name) and takeout orders do not usually garner a tip at our restaurant."

Do you tip on orders:
--food trucks, NO
--coffee place, NO
--a pick-up pizza or takeout order, NO
--counter service at a fast-casual restaurant, NO
--other similar situations, NO
--large orders from above locations (think, 6+ burritos), YES
--buffets, YES, about half a regular waitress.

Here's something annoying that's more common - you pay with a credit/debit card at a place with counter service (coffee shop, take out restaurant, etc) and there's a "tip" line on the receipt. And the cashier always stares at you to see what you're writing in, like a nosy boss looking over your shoulder while you type an email. If I tip anyone, it's the barista who made a fancy drink with many steps. For the same reason, I often tip more than $1 for a well-made cocktail. Tipping a little extra on your first round at a bar never hurts either. You're more likely to get a freebie or a better pour the next time.

I'm a barista and also make food at a coffee shop -- I don't hold a grudge when people don't tip, especially on easy orders, like just a cup of coffee. When I see someone ordering a huge order and an employee really nailing it and making an effort to be extra helpful -- doing more than they are expected to -- then I hope they tip.

But we make above minimum wage, and get to eat for free while we work. Retail employees don't get usually tips and make about the same as us. Some food service places (usually corporate chains) don't allow tipping either, and pay less.

If you ask me, let's raise the minimum wage and do away with tipping -- I don't see why I should get an extra $20 for every shift when people working just as hard as I do don't.

I generally tip fairly generously around here - of course, the norms are different in, say, Europe, where tipping is really not a tradition. Each place has its own standards. I usually try to tip around 15-20% here, and of course if the service sucked I tip less. If I think there was terrific service, I tip more... I gave the Mr. Pio Pio guy $10 the other night because they took the trouble to make some unusual dishes just before closing, and brought them over. Tip jars... if I'm at a Dunkin' or some such place, I usually just throw in the change, unless it's about 12 cents, in which case I put in a dollar bill.

Speaking of a nice tip story... Taylor Swift appears to be an excellent tipper. ;)

Oh, and as for food trucks... of course I tip. They're providing the same service that a restaurant does, and the workers are probably making minimum wage. Hell, I tip at a shave ice truck or a Mr. Softee if they have a tip jar. People in service industries survive on tips... that's essentially part of their wage. Take that away, and pretty soon you'll see them downtown applying for food stamps.

I contribute to the tip jar when I'm pleased with the interaction and service. It's about quality, it's not based on the amount I spend or what my order consists of. Being in a local establishment can increase my generosity as well.

If you send a Tweet like that, then you deserve to lose your job. Of course they SHOULD have left a tip. But you cannot shame someone into it.

And now the boss has to fire the employee. Otherwise he risks losing all of his other customers who don't want to be subjected to being embarrassed on social media over a tip.

We call this a lose-lose-lose situation.

The way the boss wins? Easy. Pay your employees a living wage and put up a sign letting the customers know that any tips will be donated to the local food pantry.

As someone who works behind the counter of a pizzeria, I would say that it really depends on the situation. If you are ordering a couple slices or something like a large pizza and wings, then I don't think it is necessary. I understand people are trying to save money and I think that's completely reasonable.

HOWEVER, if you are ordering eight pizzas and 100 wings, then yes, it's polite to throw a couple extra bucks. I think many people don't realize that in that situation, the counter people usually have to help make the food on top of cleaning/restocking/working the cash register/taking orders/etc. Also, I would like to add that in my pizzeria, the cooks/chefs, managers, and "counter people" all get a share of the tips.

Another person commented that it's assumed that counter people don't have to bring customers food and clean/remove dishes after a customer has eaten. I agree that's how these places are meant to run, but I can't tell you how many times I've had to bring people their food, and clean/clear tables from people who decide to leave their mess and not throw their food away. I'm not a server or a bus boy, and if you are going to treat me like one and leave a huge mess, it would be nice to get a dollar or two.

This brings me back to my fast food days, where I was not allowed to except tips. It didn't happen often, but when they were offered, folks were shocked, if not pissed when I refused them. I remember one guy got so heated that he chewed my manager out on the policy (aka Wendy's). He railed about how fast food employees were typically paid rotten wages, usually just at minimum wage, and he had every right to help remedy that if the service was great. In the end, he ended up throwing the few dollars he wanted to tip me at the manager and told him to "F'in take it!" I wish there were more compassionate folks like that out there.

Having worked in such an environment, I go out of my way to tip my food service workers, when allowed, no matter how little or how much an individual is getting paid, for the average wage does little to support a family (or in my case, barely earned me enough to pay for a year's worth of college classes).

If you don't tip at McDonald's or the deli counter at your grocery store, I fail to understand why you tip at Starbucks or a food truck?

What pray tell is the distinction?

I tip very well for Good SERVICE, typically 20% or a bit more. The cashier at a casual food service place, or coffee shop, or similar is not serving me and therefore does not warrant a tip. I don't tip cashiers at groceries stores or department stores so I don't tip cashiers at food service places either.

Waitstaff at a sit down restaurant rely on tips to make a reasonable wage. Cashiers and "food assemblers" are paid a regular wage not based on the presumption of tips. That's a key distinction in my mind.

Generally limit tips to sit down places (almost always 20% or slightly higher), and bars (the standard $1). However, every so often I will add a dollar at a truck if it's really busy and the server is successfully having to put up with a lot. Did this yesterday as the truck I went to was swarmed with bar exam kids on their lunch break.

This was all covered within the first five minutes of Reservoir Dogs.

I'm sure someone else above already pointed that out but I don't have time to read 45 other comments

Like many others here, I do not generally tip for counter service. I don't tip the line cook, clerk as the clothing store, or checkout person at the supermarket (whose skill or service impacts me more than a food counter worker), so i don't see any reason to tip for counter food service just because it is food related. I think people are confused that because it is food service that tipping is appropriate or expected somehow. Those jobs do not have a pay rate that factors in tipping as sit down food service and alcohol service do.
Like others there are occasional situations like large orders, great service, or a personal relationship where I do tip.

What about buffet restaurants? Should you tip the full 15 or 20 percent?
I feel the trend toward tipping for counter service is leading toward tipping ALL people who help, such as a previous commenter said. Do we tip the check out person, or the bagger, at the store? When do we stop tipping? It's getting confusing.

Recently it does seem that tips are expected at casual, order-at-the-counter restaurants. Also, there are lines for tips on receipts at all local coffee shops and bakeries. I think it's getting out of hand. I understand tipping at full service restaurants, where you are seated and waited on, but why tip someone for counter service where you interact with them for less than a minute? And I know how hard it is to make near minimum wage, as the counter service employees do. I worked in child care for three years, changing diapers and wiping noses. We were never tipped. Now I'm expected to tip someone a dollar every time I order a coffee at the counter? Ridiculous.

If I go into a coffee shop where I have to MAKE MY OWN COFFEE...then walk up to the counter where they simply ring it up. NO WAY am I putting money in a tip jar. They didn't prepare, cook or serve/wait me ANYTHING. And that is specifically what tips are for. They should not expect it under those circumstances. And, I don't make them responsible for MY professional choices. If they aren't "waiting" on you, then they simply shouldn't expect money in a tip jar over and above the price of a simple coffee.

Europe/ UK has it right on this one. Pay the staff a decent wage and get rid of this exhorbitant tipping culture.

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