Tipping Etiquette During a Pandemic

If your budget allows, consider adding a more generous tip. Local writer Bert Archer tells you why.

Do you remember that long Steadicam shot from near the beginning of GoodFellas that follows Ray Liotta through the back door and kitchen of that club? As he’s waving and smiling and showing off to Lorraine Bracco, he’s putting bills into everyone’s hand, tipping everyone from the valet and the guy guarding the back door to the guy who sets up his table.

That’s because for Ray, like many of us, tipping is about relationships. We like to tip so we’ll get good service next time, or because we’ve built up a relationship with the person serving us over the course of a good meal. We’ve established a connection, and it’s one we want to recognize, and maybe build on. That’s great, and when we all get back into our favourite restaurants, let’s keep doing that.

But we’re home now, mostly dealing with takeout and delivery, two areas where, typically, we don’t associate with tipping much or at all. We may justify it with takeout because nobody’s serving us, and tips are for service. With delivery people, it’s such a transient interaction, we have no relationship and no real sense of responsibility. And since we’re probably never going to get the same delivery person, there’s no reason to do any relationship building.

But as I hope we’re all aware by now, delivery people are front-line workers, braving the kitchens, streets, lobbies, and sometimes elevators so we don’t have to. And the people doing the takeout hand-offs are coming into contact with dozens of people a day, maybe more, and no matter how safe everyone’s being, that’s increasing the risk to their health by at least an order of magnitude.

Helen Rosner, now a food writer for The New Yorker, wrote a famous pre-pandemic piece for Eater about tipping your delivery people in which she said you should never tip less than $5.

That’s good advice, but let’s give it a pandemic update. 

You’re saving money on some things (movies, concerts, gas, dry cleaning, gym membership), so maybe we could come to terms with spending a little more on some other things that have become more important, like food. 

Based on how we used to tip here, I’d suggest 20 per cent across the board, if you can afford it.

It’s more than most of us were probably tipping in restaurants, and way more than almost all of us were tipping delivery people and takeout folks. 

These are not well-paid gigs, as the recent unionization drive and subsequent withdrawal of Foodora from the Canadian market made clear. The biggest player in the delivery game, Door Dash, says it pays its couriers between $2 and $10 per delivery. No hourly wage. That’s not a lot. The restaurant industry is doing yeoman’s service for us all, and since we’ve just realized how important they are, let’s try to take financial insecurity off the table for them for at least a while.

Our sequestered lives would be a lot less bearable without them.

They deserve the 20 per cent.

Pro-tipping tip #1 

Don’t tip with cash. Tip through your app, or if you’re ordering directly, ask how you can tip your delivery person. If you’re getting takeout, ask to include a tip on your card charge.

Pro-tipping tip #2

The math on a 20 per cent tip is way easier than 15 per cent.

Many Toronto restaurants remain open. Support local restaurants by ordering delivery or takeout.

About the Author

Bert Archer lives in Toronto, writes about travel and cities and things that tourists like him like, and teaches food writing at George Brown College. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter, and read stories he’s written about places he doesn’t live in the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, CNN, the BBC, and about a dozen others.

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