Apr 28, 2008

The Secret Lives of Restaurant Food Delivery Tippers

Tipping protocol is a constant subject of conversation, debate, and controversy in New York. Parking lot attendant extortion, unsolicited "help" hailing yellow taxis, doorman ties to the mob, the massage parlor "invisible hand," gypsy cab negotiations (and whether this term is offensive to the gypsy population), dedicated sommelier tip lines, Christmas gifts for the highrise building family you never knew you had, and the bartender binary bill conundrum are a few of the many gratuity topics on the mind of today's metropolitan citizen. Most of the notes I've read on the topic are generalized guides, outlining the appropriate instances when prescribed roundabout percentages are owed to certain recognized service providers. But with the recent rise of purveyor instituted tip jars -- accompanied by gratuity induced prices engineered to maximize coinage returned from paper bill purchases -- it's become increasingly important to develop a more granular and robust thought process for gauging these subjective matters of social protocol.

Friends commonly ask me for opinions on appropriate tipping procedure expecting a singular hard-and-fast rule in reply. Very few tipping situations are as uniform and static as the posers of this question would like to think. And many, like the one I’ve outlined below, involve multiple considerations in order to tabulate the proper outcome. To give you an idea I’ve outlined a cursory “thought process” examination of the high-frequency, multi-variable tipping scenario of restaurant food delivery.

>Long a Floor / Short a Cap
Importance: High

The blind application of a flat tipping percentage will at times result in a payment shortfall or overage. On the low side, remote patrons who are consistent placers of near minimum charge meal orders should be tipping more than 15-20%. On the high side, the toro sashimi takeout party you and your ten closest friends decide to have shouldn’t require the full 20% on top of an already pricey bill. A floor/cap of $2/$10 for a reasonable payload carryable by one delivery person should override an otherwise 15-20% of bill baseline rule-of-thumb.

Importance: High

Requesting delivery to the outskirts of a maximum territory boundary prevents workers from churning out additional orders. Reward distance. Conversely, don't feel guilty offering up a low side tip on deliveries from restaurants located within shouting distance of your front stoop.

>The Multitask
Importance: High

Reward delivery journeys that appear dedicated to your order alone. If the person shows up with multiple bags it’s likely that the oven-to-door time has been extended against your interests (though this is not always the case).

Importance: High

Though braving the elements is technically part of the job description, an additional tip is appropriate to compensate for safer/slower delivery speeds, especially if the payload arrives promptly. This booster is countered partly by the fact that during bad weather there is likely more orders to deliver, thus more tips.

Sidenote: The opposite theory applies in regards to bad weather when considering tips for taxis. Yellow cabs generally operate "in stride" during inclimate weather. And since there is usually no shortage of riders I feel less compelled to bump up gratuities.

Importance: Moderate

Unwieldy pizza boxes and heavy orders of cheap brothy soba deserve more credit than a lightweight bento box or portable dish of Thai protein. Reward tonnage.

>Stair Stipend
Importance: Low

Climbing two flights of stairs is easier than four. Delivery to the door of my fifth floor walkup apartment deserves a small scaling consideration. Reward height.

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