It’s time for another monthly installment of Cents & Sensibility, where we explore the intersection of money and manners. Remember our motto: When people say, “It’s not about the money,” you KNOW it’s about the money.
In the past, we’ve looked (down our noses) at greedy brides, check-grabbing parents and boorish first dates, but this week the stubby-fingered vulgarian in question isn’t some slobbering stranger but moi.
Yes, I have transgressed, despite the efforts of the nuns at St. Mary’s to instill a sense of manners, which is why I still carry 45 sticks of gum. (“As a matter of fact, Sister Marguerite, I DID bring enough for the whole class!”)
Time to spork it over
The issue at hand comes from my old New York City running buddy, The Big Man From Brooklyn, who wonders whether he should tip when picking up take-out food from a restaurant. Typically, neither of us would, but The Big Man’s had a change of heart.
“When I eat in, I tip 20 percent and then round up to the even dollar, so I’m not cheap,” The Big Man notes, “but now I wonder whether I’m getting away with something.”
On a take-out order, he argues, the server takes your request, ensure it’s right, packages it for the trip home, handles the payment and adds the appropriate condiments and serving ware, from chopsticks to sporks.
That’s most of what you get when you sit down and dine, although the server doesn’t have to refill your water glass, clear your dishes or cross the dining room to conduct multiple rounds of the pop quiz, “How’s everything tastin’ for ya, folks?”
Emily, you cheapskate!
In most cases, ordering take-out is a good budget move. You’re not ordering drinks, appetizers and dessert, which keeps the bill down, and assuming you can skip the tip because you get just a short amount of the server’s attention seems natural. Even the Emily Post etiquette site, Emilypost.com, says no tip unless there’s something special, such as curbside delivery.
Even so, some notoriously low-paid waiter or waitress has made an effort to serve you promptly, get your order right and keep you happy. Plus, if it’s a busy night at the restaurant, that’s all in addition to handling all those tables filled with waiting sit-down diners. Sorry, Emily — on this one, I’m with The Big Man.
From now on, make the baseline tip on takeout from a restaurant 10 percent. If it’s a take-out only joint, throw a couple of bucks into the tip jar, if for no other reason than the fact that these people handle your food.
Any qualms I had about leaving a gratuity for take-out were answered when I picked up a recent order of beef lo mein to go. I cracked open the fortune cookie to find this warning: “He who is wise knows that tip-ping is not a city in China.”
“The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese” is Brian O’Connor’s humorous guide to budget-cutting. It’s due out Oct. 29, but discounted now at www.bit.ly/1000preorder