Ask The Salty Waitress: How much should I tip when ordering catering for the office?

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Photo: sol_studio (iStock), Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio
The Salty WaitressThe Salty WaitressSalty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.

Dear Salty, I often order meals for meetings where I work. Sometimes they are small (5-7 people) and I can get by with Zaxby’s or Chick-fil-A. More often than not, it’s for a large group (30+) and I will order a wide variety of food from a “sit-down” chain restaurant. I always order in advance and I pick the food up from the restaurant. That’s where my dilemma lies. Do I tip or not? The order is typically $200-$300. The restaurant employees have worked hard to make sure my large order is correct and ready on time. But I don’t have a “server.” I set the food out buffet-style and it’s self serve. I have asked several co-workers and nobody really knows what to do in this situation. If I’m supposed to tip, I definitely want to, I just never know if I’m supposed to or not. HELP!

Thank you,
Confused with Carry-out

Dear Confused,

Honey, you are doing the Lord’s work ordering lunch for your coworkers and picking it up. You are also paying with a company credit card or getting reimbursed, I assume? (If not, you and your employer need to have a little talk.) Since it costs you nothing, and since I suspect it would make your life a lot easier if the employees of the restaurant were happy to receive and prepare your semi-regular big-ass lunch order, tip away!

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Who cares if there’s no server involved? You can still leave a tip to show your appreciation of the restaurant staff’s willingness to pack up 30 extra lunches. There are restaurants that pool the tips and divide them between the front and the back of the house. You can ask someone at the restaurant if they follow this model. Or you can fill out the tip portion of the receipt and specifically request that it should be divided among the staff.

But how much to tip? Should you leave a flat fee or a percentage? Let’s call this a catering order instead of plain old delivery. And when I worked as a catering server back when I was a dewy young thing, the standard was 10%-15% of the total bill. Anything less than that, and we were advised to spit strategically and discreetly. (Not that I would ever!) Or, if you don’t feel like calculating percentages, $25-$30, based on your average bill.

Does your company know it’s also common practice to tip the person who transports food from the restaurant in order to cover the wear and tear on their vehicle and the hazards of driving in traffic? Just saying.


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com

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