- We spoke to three hospitality experts to find out how people should approach tipping during the pandemic.
- Experts said that customers should be aware of the health risks that restaurant workers are taking to serve them and to tip accordingly.
- While experts agreed that tipping is largely a personal choice, they encouraged higher tips for delivery workers, carhops, and cashiers as well as servers, whose jobs have all changed due to the pandemic.
- One expert emphasized that tipped workers are often paid the federal minimum tipped wage of $2.13 and rely on tips to survive, and said that customers' tipping choices should be informed by that fact.
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The pandemic has changed a lot of social norms, from the proper way to greet others (don't shake hands) to the proper way to dress when going out (do wear a face covering).
One question on many Americans' minds now is, how much should I tip when eating out? Or when getting delivery? Or when I'm simply picking up food from a restaurant?
The entire restaurant industry has changed dramatically due to the pandemic. So why shouldn't tipping? Business Insider spoke to three hospitality industry experts on how tipping practices have changed because of the pandemic and how much Americans should tip when they patronize a restaurant during the pandemic.
Richard Ghiselli, the head of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Purdue University, told Business Insider that the way people tip has changed because the way people buy food from restaurants has changed.
"The tipping paradigm has changed in the sense that we're not necessarily eating sit-down inside the restaurant right now, we're eating takeaway to a great extent and we're tipping those folks," Ghiselli said.
Ghiselli said that customers need to be aware of the challenges that the restaurant industry and restaurant workers specifically are facing right now. "All of us want to save the restaurant industry," Ghiselli said. "And we need to reward the employees for their efforts."
Amit Sharma, a professor of hospitality management at Pennsylvania State University's College of Health and Human Development, says that while tipping is a deeply personal choice, customers should take into account the risk that restaurant workers are taking to serve them, often due to financial need. "Food workers are on the front line," Sharma said. "And that risk is often not a personal choice."
Amit Mehrotra, an assistant professor at the City University of New York's Department of Hospitality Management, said that people are increasingly aware that restaurant workers are putting their health on the line to serve customers. "When a person goes and patronizes a restaurant, they should be mindful and tip to a point beyond the typical norm," Mehrotra said. "Whatever extra the person can give, I think they should be willing to do that."
So what does that look like in hard numbers?
Mehrotra said that people should add an additional percentage to what they're used to tipping. For sit-down meals, Mehrotra recommends tipping 25%. "If it's a $60 bill, you're paying a dollar extra. But imagine if that came from almost everyone going to restaurants. That will really add up for the staff."
For delivery, Mehrotra suggests tipping 20% as a general rule but making decisions on a case-by-case basis. "People should be looking at the check and saying, "How much is this person getting who is bringing this food to me?"
Sharma said that diners who want to tip consciously should think of their takeout and delivery meals as meals they would have eaten in restaurants and tip accordingly. "If you were to take a principled approach, one way to look at this could be that nothing has changed. Assume you are still in the restaurant rather than looking at it as delivery or pick-up., and simply extend the same tip you would if you were dining in," Sharma said.
Ghiselli is hesitant to specify percentages. "You should tip as much as your heart and pocketbook allow," Ghiselli said. That sometimes means tipping people you wouldn't normally tip. As a rough guideline, Ghiselli suggests tipping 20% to a delivery person and 10% for carhops. For Ghiselli, the 18-20% standard tip for sit-down dining hasn't changed. However, Ghiselli said that he is often willing to tip extra just because he wants restaurants to survive.
"When I go into a restaurant where I go in and pick up the food and there's no server involved in the situation at all, I'm still willing to tip up to 20% because I want the restaurant to succeed and I want to be able to go to that restaurant," Ghiselli said.
Ghiselli, Mehrotra, and Sharma all think that these changes will not last after the pandemic is over, but Ghiselli and Mehrotra believe that people will emerge with a greater general appreciation for restaurants and their employees especially considering how few may make it through to the other side.
"I don't think people are going to start paying $25 forever," Mehrotra said. "But one thing I'm pretty certain about is there will be a further appreciation about the kind of people that are delivering your food or working in restaurants."
"Just tip with the notion that we want this place to be here," Ghiselli said.
Sharma emphasizes that tipping was important even before the pandemic, and will likely remain important after it ends. The federal tipped minimum wage is $2.13, so Sharma said that customers should be cognizant of that when deciding how much to tip. "People need to be aware of, post-COVID, that tipping is an important thing for employees."
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