How much dough for delivery?
August 18th, 2010
09:15 AM ET
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"Ding dong." "Buzz." "Knock, knock." Delivery.

It’s pizza. Or sushi. Or Chinese food, Italian, Thai, burritos or burgers. I fumble for my wallet, secretly wishing my husband makes it to our apartment door first. I have no desire to be the one to decide how much to tip the delivery guy. Some women want a man around when it’s time to kill an insect or plunge the toilet – my fear is the delivery tip.

Ordering in food is a way of life in New York. Our kitchens are small, our work days long, our social calendars are full and perhaps we’re just lazy. We also can pick from nearly any type food imaginable – from dirt cheap to high end – and have it delivered to our door in a matter of minutes. It’s a huge convenience, but it’s partially offset by the anxiety of figuring out the tip. If I’m the one to answer the door, I usually grab the receipt from the delivery guy (and no, I have never seen a woman doing the job) [Ed. note – plenty of delivery ladies out here in Brooklyn], scan it and try to do some quick math in my head.

Usually, I give between 15% and 20%. This seems to be on average for New Yorkers, at least according to some message board discussions on the topic.

But in New York City there is something called Manhattan Math: you give extra if it’s raining or snowing, or if the restaurant is more than X blocks away. People also tend to give less if the delivery is slow. But even when I’ve had nightmare delivery experiences, I still don’t have it in me to take it out on the delivery person. One time, we ordered in dinner from a French bistro three blocks away from our apartment. Five angry phone calls and an hour and a half later, our salad and roasted chicken arrived. Although I most definitely had steam coming out of my head, I still tipped 15%.

I’m sure that most of the delivery guys could use the extra dollar or two a lot more than I could. Many of them are immigrants and they work hard. I also take into account the conditions under which they do their job. First, there are the taxis, the buses, the crazy drivers; there have been fatal accidents in New York involving delivery people. Aside from the dangers of the street, delivery people surely put up with obnoxious New Yorkers, people who aren’t home or don’t have enough money when they show up, humongous dogs, 6-floor walk ups, cranky doormen and people answering the door in all states of mind and dress. My husband sometimes answers the door in a t-shirt and boxers. He then contorts the bottom half of his body behind the door in an attempt to hide his half-dressed self from an unknowing delivery man. It’s not pretty.

Not everyone agrees on how much to tip though. Some people just give a few bucks, regardless of how much the tab is. Their arguments go like this: the delivery guy isn’t serving you, he’s not pouring drinks, opening wine, folding a napkin on your lap. If the meal isn't cooked properly, he isn’t waiting around to bring it back. That’s the kind of service you tip a waiter 20% for in a restaurant.

So what do the experts say? Daniel Post Senning from the Emily Post Institute says tipping delivery people depends on the city and the region. Typically a 10% to 15% tip is appropriate. You should tip on the higher end if the service is especially good, the food gets there hot, etc. And even if the service is bad, Senning says you should still give 10%. Like servers in restaurants, delivery people aren’t even paid minimum wage; they count on the tip money as part of their salary. Plus, he says, it’s not always their fault if the food is late. No surprise, according to this etiquette guru, one of the places with the strongest expectations when it comes to tipping is New York, more specifically, Manhattan.

And, cheapskates beware: most restaurants allegedly keep blacklists of customers they won’t deliver food to any more. It’s worth remembering next time your doorbell rings and you reach for your wallet.

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Filed under: Bite • Restaurants • Tipping

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