A Twin Cities denizen sent me this fun story about pizza delivery guys and the adventures they run into. That article led me to this blog full of pizza tales and in turn to Tip the Pizza Guy, with way, way more thoughts than you’ll ever need about tipping and pizza delivery generally.
These days, I always get my pizza to carry out, rather than delivered, for several reasons, but somewhere in the calculus is the fact that it saves me the tip (and the delivery charge, which TPG informs me does not go to the driver). I’m not a good tipper. By that I don’t mean that I’m cheap but rather that I don’t do it well. I always think about it roughly two seconds too late, and then sometimes I don’t know how much to tip. Also, I didn’t grow up in a big city or some other tip-heavy situation, so it never came natural to me: all those times when people like cab drivers and doormen and concierges and porters and paperboys and so on get tipped are relatively new to me. And then I went off to college and things got worse. At college, a lot of delivery places — not just pizza but subs and regular restaurants too — were part of our meal plan. So if you didn’t want to go eat in the cafeteria, or saunter over to the Burger King in the student union (also on the meal plan), you could just have some food delivered. As a consequence of everything being paid for via our i.d. card, it became a cashless society. (Even vending machines were on the card!) You could probably find American dollars more easily in a Mexican prison than in my dorm at college. Also, on top of the ordinary delivery fee, the stores would charge higher for meal plan purchases, and usually had a minimum charge, in order to recoup the huge fees the schools charged them to participate in the meal plan. As a result of all this — no cash, the sense it’s coming out of the meal plan and not “real money,” aggrievement at supposed gouging — tips were usually pretty low. The standard tip was probably a dollar or two for the ordinary run of two or three pizzas to a few guys in a dorm room. I know, I know — that’s beyond shitty. I know that now. But we got accustomed to the norms of our isolated little enclave. To all those delivery guys I stiffed in the past, I’m sorry. But the overall experience in the days before I lived on my own led to two things: first, I just was not used to tipping, and second, I’m unsure of proper tip amounts in many situations.
I’m not one of those people who is against tipping for philosophical reasons. I would be happier if restaurants paid their employees a wage sufficient that tipping was a true gratuity rather than a chunk of their wages the employer has me pay directly. (An aside: I worked briefly once at the host stand in a restaurant. We got a percentage of the tips the wait staff reported to the management. My hourly wage was $2.50 plus this percentage. So as to not violate federal law, they had to promise that I would at least get minimum wage regardless of the tip percentage, but I wasn’t guaranteed anything more than that. But the point is that the restaurant relied on customers’ tips just to get me to minimum wage.) But I don’t get worked up enough about to agitate for change, and I’m not foolish enough to think that a meager tip from me will “send a message” about the way things ought to be. On the other hand, I am against tipping people just for doing their job. Example: I’m not going to slip the cable guy a few bucks for coming out to install my cable. The pizza delivery guy is a convenience for me and saves me the trouble of going to the store if he comes out. I’m willing to pay for that, especially since I know he depends on tips as wages. The cable guy, on the other hand, doesn’t save me anything — it’s not as if I could walk the cord from my place down to the office and hook it up to the satellite. The way it works is they have to come to you. I also don’t like tipping in the jars at the end of a counter in a place where I order food, like an ice cream shop or the burrito place where I walk down the line and tell them what I want in it. I appreciate that they work hard (usually), but it’s not like they brought the ice cream to me — I went to them. I’ll toss my coinage in there, and I wouldn’t stiff them if the service is extraordinary or I have some huge or intricate order — something above and beyond. But I hope tips aren’t expected or relied upon in that situation, because they’re not getting it from me. Also, I get confused about why and when tipping is expected. For example, I had a plane trip not long ago. When I checked in inside the terminal to leave, I was at the little kiosk and the agent printed out the tag and slapped it on my checked bags. No tip. But when I returned, the cab dropped me at the curbside check-in. I wasn’t familiar with the airport, so I didn’t want to try to find my way inside to check in. (And given the layout, at first it didn’t seem like I could have even if I had wanted to.) So the skycap does the exact same thing as the inside agent — prints the tag, affixes the sticker, and places my bags on a conveyer belt. I realized, again about two seconds too late, that I should have tipped him. But (a) in my defense, this was the first time I had ever used curbside check-in, and (b) what did he do differently from the inside agent warranting a tip that she doesn’t get? I’m not asking in a rhetorical fashion to show my outrage — I’m genuinely curious why a tip is expected at curbside but not inside. (And just to clarify: inclement weather was not an issue in any way.)
I was going to discuss some more my philosophy of tipping, but I got sidetracked and lost my train of thought. Anyway, I’ll share a few tipping stories. I try to be generous once I know the convention, although in some ways I’m still a neophyte. But I’m not going to open my wallet and say “Take what you like.” I remember one of the first times, maybe the first time, I paid for a cab myself. I was going from the Metro to a friend’s house in the DC area. I might could have walked it, but (a) I only had an address and vague directions and wasn’t familiar with the area, and (b) I discovered that getting there would have required crossing a major highway not conducive to pedestrian travel. So I got a cab, and the fare came to something like $1.85. The smallest I had was a five. Now, I know that there may be some minimum standard even for small fares, and if I had thought about it, I would have realized that the guy had opportunity costs to taking me such a short distance — he might have missed the next guy needing a trip to the airport or something. But I still didn’t think a 270% tip was appropriate. So I asked for some change, figuring I would give the guy a couple of bucks and keep a dollar. Suddenly, he seemed incapable of comprehending me, and he took so long trying to puzzle through what I wanted that I finally gave up and told him to just keep it.
My two favorite tip stories are from my Dad and a friend from college. When Dad was a high school football coach, he got a little bonus at the end of the season like all head coaches got. It was compensation for their extra duties. Well, Dad didn’t want to just pocket it, so he always used it to take his assistants and their wives out to dinner, because they put in hard work too. So one year they went to a nice seafood place, and the waitress worked her tail off for the eight or ten of them. The bill came to something like $190 (this was a long time ago). Dad went to settle it and asked the assistant coaches to get the tip (this was an arrangement, not something he sprung on them), assuming they would recognize that she worked hard and they were there a long time. They gave the gal ten bucks. Dad had no idea until the waitress caught him as he walked out of the restaurant, shoved the ten-spot in his shirt pocket and laid into him about what a cheapskate he was. My Dad was mortified and severely pissed at his assistants. I don’t know if the tradition continued after that.
My other favorite is from a time during college that four of us decided to get off campus and went to some place like Applebee’s or Chili’s. The service was as bad as I’ve ever seen anywhere. The waiter was curt and inattentive most of the time. But some times he actively ignored us — we were in a booth at the end of a row, and he would walk to the next table, and then walk all the way back down the row rather than pass our table for the most convenient egress. We had to wait and wait for any service. We were all pretty steamed. Finally, he brought the check. We could have paid cash, but one of the guys was so upset about this shoddy treatment that he waited almost a half hour for the credit card receipt. His bill came to something like $9.96, and wrote in a tip of $0.04. He figured that would be even more annoying that just stiffing the guy, which is what the waiter deserved. Who knows — maybe the guy figured we were college students and only expected a dollar.
Finally, to pre-empt Mr. Poon, I’ll mention the old joke: Did you hear about the rabbi who didn’t charge for circumcisions? He just took tips!