In the old days, restaurant tipping was pretty straightforward. It was customary to add 20 percent to your bill and call it a day. Now, etiquette is more complicated. Do you tip on takeout? What about delivery? Throw in a little extra for curbside pickup? And how else can you make sure that restaurant workers feel valued — and safe?
“They’re providing luxury service to us so we don’t have to go out and expose ourselves to COVID. Now more than ever, they should be getting the utmost respect from us. We should be so grateful,” says Myka Meier, etiquette trainer and author of “Modern Etiquette Made Easy.”
In that spirit, here are the etiquette commandments of COVID-era takeout and delivery.
Whenever possible, skip ordering apps and call a restaurant directly. “I understand the convenience of the apps. However, those apps are charging unmanageable rates for independent operators. Especially now, during COVID, if you can order direct, order direct,” says Daniel Roughan, owner of Cambridge’s Source restaurant. (This tip was echoed by many operators.)
Order in advance if you can. Many restaurants allow diners to schedule orders days ahead of time. This gives the restaurant more time to plan.
“Any advance information diners can give us is incredibly helpful,” says Trisha Pérez Kennealy, owner of Lexington’s Inn at Hastings Park.
If you have dietary restrictions or allergies, place your order over the phone. “Sometimes platform or website menu buildouts don’t accommodate full functionality,” says Lyons Group director Luke Beardslee.
Rely on restaurant websites for menus — not third-party websites. To avoid confusion or disappointment, “Make sure to look at the actual menu listed on the specific venue’s website,” Beardslee says. Sometimes sites such as Yelp or Tripadvisor aren’t current, he warns.
Wear a mask at the door. “This shows respect,” Meier says. Better yet, leave a note for contactless drop-off or make clear that a delivery person can put food in your mailbox, so he or she doesn’t have to get out of the car. To make the experience even more contact-free, pay in advance, either over the phone or online.
Shovel your driveway and salt your walkways. This is especially important during bad Boston weather. Make sure your entryway is well-lit and that your home number is easily visible, too.
“These are people who are trying to make a living and go home to families during one of the hardest years in history. It’s so important that we’re respectful and show gratitude,” Meier says, in ways beyond money.
Tip properly. Meier advises nothing less than $2 (even if your meal is cheap) and incrementally more depending on the cost of the order, between 15 to 20 percent. “If it’s really bad weather, 20 percent is important,” she says.
This is true even if you’re using a delivery app that charges a fee. It’s not the same as tipping your driver.
Tip for curbside pickup, too. Yes, you did the driving, but someone is going outside to bring you food. Meier recommends 10 percent.
“What’s small to you is instrumental to their livelihood. Little tips throughout the day are what they rely on,” she says. Feel free to tip on takeout, too, even if you normally wouldn’t. If you can afford it, a restaurant would appreciate it.
Be patient. “Just like having to wait for food while on-premise dining, sometimes guests may need to wait for takeout food. The order may not be ready within the quoted time. The kitchen may have gotten slammed, so it’s important that the customer is patient and understanding,” says Mo McGraw Bentley, general manager of Jack’s Abby Beer Hall in Framingham.
“Many of these restaurants, like our own, have had to pivot to a model that they’re not as familiar with … That being said, we proactively welcome any feedback to improve when delivered in a respectful manner. We want to get better,” she says.
Leave a positive review. Many delivery apps allow you to rate or review your meal or a driver.
“When there is an exceptional delivery person, I will write a note. If there is a star system, leave a good review and mention them by name. Give them kudos. Let their bosses know,” Meier urges.
And if your order is wrong?
“Now is the time to show grace,” she says.