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A Guide to Tipping During the Pandemic

The coronavirus and its economic fallout have reshaped the etiquette of giving gratuities

woman wearing surgical mask standing in house door way paying for home delivery of groceries with credit card

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En español | When Diane Gottsman saw her hairdresser in San Antonio for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak began, she left a larger-than-usual tip — and not just because her hair was a self-described mess after two months of styling it herself.

"She could not work those months,” says Gottsman, who assesses tipping decisions as both a customer and as the head of the Protocol School of Texas, which provides etiquette training for corporate and academic leaders. “We should not feel compelled to pay them for all those months we missed without a service, but if we can give them a little extra, why not?”

Etiquette experts like Gottsman are fielding a lot of questions about tipping as people rethink remuneration for those providing services in the fraught environment of the pandemic — from delivery people risking virus exposure when making runs to baristas and hairstylists slowly returning to work after weeks without pay.


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Pandemic Tipping at a Glance

Experts suggest these tips for services during the coronavirus outbreak, if you can afford them.

  • Grocery delivery: 10-20 percent
  • Meal delivery: 15 percent
  • Restaurant takeout: 15-20 percent
  • Personal services: 20-25 percent (or double your usual tip amount)

Consumers appear to be rising to the occasion. A May survey by Bankrate.com found that 62 percent of people who have had food delivered during the pandemic are tipping more than they did before, and 21 percent “much more.” Instacart, one of the biggest grocery-delivery services, says its “shoppers” — the workers who fulfill and deliver customer orders — have seen tips nearly double amid the outbreak.

"Before all of this, people were debating the whole idea of tipping, but during this pandemic that's really kind of gone away,” says Paul Bagdan, a professor in the College of Hospitality Management at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. “They're not arguing the idea [of] should I be tipping this person who bags my groceries or delivers my groceries anymore. They're really just doing it."

Here are some expert rules of thumb for tipping during the coronavirus, all subject to your own financial circumstances.

Know your tipping point

When people ask if they should be tipping more, “My answer is, ‘When you can, please do,'” Gottsman says. Workers delivering groceries and meals for services like Instacart, DoorDash and Grubhub “are getting into a situation that they're putting their personal health at risk,” she says. “We have to remember that when we're tipping."

How much more is appropriate? “I like to tip a minimum of $10 per delivery right now, but some people would not be able to do so,” she says. “it's all very personal."

Lisa Grotts, a San Francisco-based etiquette expert and author of the Golden Rules Gal blog, recommends a $5 tip for pharmacy delivery, or a pizza order in the $20 range. “For grocery delivery, consider upping your tip to 15-20 percent of your total order,” she says.

Tip for takeout

In its online "General Tipping Guide," the Emily Post Institute — run by the descendants of America's most famous arbiter of manners — lists getting carryout from a restaurant as a “no obligation” situation — but recommends 10 percent for extra service, like curbside delivery or a large, complicated order.

But with eateries nationwide limited in recent months to delivery and pickup orders, and those in many states still operating under restrictions, customers are taking their favorite spots’ losses into account. “Now, it is strongly advised that you should tip close to that of in-house dining,” where the standard is 15 percent to 20 percent, Bagdan says.

"I think in more normal times, people kind of balked at tipping for takeout,” says Ted Rossman, an analyst at CreditCards.com who writes regularly about consumer habits. “But right now in a lot of places it's the only game in town, and there's this recognition that restaurants are struggling and can we help these people out."


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Mind the delivery app

Web- and app-based delivery services have tools for contactless tipping, but they aren't always easy to navigate, especially for new customers. “If you're using a delivery service, know how it works,” Gottsman says.

Some apps set a default tip amount; to tip more (or less), you have to change the setting. And don't conflate a delivery charge listed on your bill with the tip — that fee doesn't go to the driver.

Popular meal-delivery apps Grubhub, DoorDash and UberEats set the default tip at 15 percent, and “that's great,” says a representative of the Gig Workers Collective, which advocates for sharing-economy workers. For groceries, the organization recommends 10 percent as a minimum and 20 percent for good service — two to four times the default on the Instacart app.

Given that Instacart orders involve both more time and comparably greater risk of virus exposure than meal delivery, “the fact that their tips default to just 5 percent is insane,” the representative says. (Instacart says it recently changed its in-app tip settings so that if a customer gives more than 5 percent, that higher amount will be the default the next time he or she uses the service.)

Support those who support you

As service businesses such as hair salons, nail salons and coffee shops restart in many states, it's “absolutely” appropriate to “think of all the tips and revenue they have lost” while shuttered, Bagdan says. He suggests doubling the normal tip if possible, at least on your first time back.

At-home and childcare workers like caregivers, house cleaners, dog walkers and day care providers warrant similar consideration, experts say. They liken the current situation to the holiday season, when many people get into the giving spirit by padding gratuities.

"Think of it like Christmas in June,” Grotts says. “Your house cleaner, manicurist and hairstylist will be working even harder to make sure safety precautions are in place for everyone, so please make sure you tip these workers well.” If you normally tip 15 percent to 20 percent for a personal or domestic service, “try to bump it up to 20-25 percent,” she says.

Leave a little something for mail carriers, package deliverers

Here it's not about money: U.S. Postal Service staff are prohibited by law from accepting cash tips (or checks or gift cards). But postal carriers have been among the most visible essential workers during the pandemic, “and if you feel compelled to do something kind, I say don't skip it,” Gottsman says.

For example, your carrier might appreciate a bottle of water — especially as they sweat under masks in the coming summer swelter — or a little snack. “A prepackaged something,” Gottsman advises. “I don't say homemade because we're all a little bit leery right now."

The same approach can work for FedEx drivers (who are prohibited by work rules from accepting payments from customers) and UPS drivers (who are not barred from taking tips but are encouraged to say no).

"Leave a basket at your front door with some options if they want to take them,” Gottsman says. “Just something that says, ‘Look, I care, thanks so much.'”

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