Dear Salty: Please help me figure out whether I’m nuts. I took my kids to a baseball game, and we were seated at the end of the aisle. This guy a few seats in, toward the center of the row, flagged down a hot dog vendor midway through the game. The two hot dogs and a water came to $18 or something, and the guy reached over us to hand the vendor the $20. Then, he stood with his hand out waiting for change, which the vendor gave him. I mean, you’re supposed to tip the hot dog and beer vendors, right? I’m not crazy? These guys work for tips?
Not only do these vendors work for tips, but it’s tips and commission that generally make up their entire pay. I can’t speak for your individual team—I’m assuming we’re talking Major League Baseball here?—but yes, most hot dog and beer and popcorn vendors at those games are working entirely for tips and commission. At some stadiums, vendors buy their own food from the food-service company, so they need to make money on the first set of hot dogs or candy candy to be able to buy the next load.
And let’s not forget that they’re schlepping up stairs, carrying heavy tubs, standing out in the elements, and yelling for hours. It seems a lot of these stadium food vendors do it as a side job while in school or working other part-time jobs. Imagine if their other job involves food service or construction—that’s a lot of physical labor. I’m sure it can be fun on good days, but I can also imagine it’s pretty miserable during really hot, rainy, cold, or poorly attended games. At the end of my shifts, my lower back hurts from bending over and my feet are sore from standing, and I’m not even carrying cans of beer from a tub around my neck. Though I will say, if I climbed up all those stairs carrying a 20-pound box of beer, my ass would look amazing. They do have that going for them—amazing glutes on those guys and gals.
You’d tip a delivery driver, right? These stadium vendors are essentially delivery people. You could get yourself up, climb the stairs, find the concessions stand, wait in line, miss the big play, etc., or you pay a little premium to keep your butt in your seat and have someone hand that hot dog and beer right to you.
I get it, stadium food and beer is overpriced. But remember that money isn’t what’s going home in the pockets of the vendors. A guy by the name of John Carruthers—who writes for The Takeout, too!—did a stint as a hot dog vendor at a Chicago White Sox game a few years ago, and he made 64 cents per hot dog. So if that guy in your row thought his $7 per hot dog was going straight to the vendor, he’s sorely mistaken. Like other servers, those vendors are counting on your tips to pay their bills—and they’re doing it with 20 pounds of hot dogs around their hips.
If that stadium beer conveniently costs $8 or $9, you best believe it’s designed for you to hand a ten over and let the vendor keep the change. Maybe we can give the guy in your row the benefit of the doubt, in case he’s from another country or planet and doesn’t know the tipping customs here. But from Salty to the rest of you: Watch out for fly balls, and tip your vendor.
Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: email@example.com