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Tipping at places with counter service

I'm sure this question, or a variation of it, comes up a lot, but I've been on the Manhattan board for a while and haven't seen it, and I tried several different searches and couldn't find anything on point.

I know that there's some debate about whether it's necessary to tip on take-out, but believe that the general consensus is "no." If you accept that as a given, what about those places (like a number of hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants with big photographs of the food on the walls with captions in cheesy yellow lettering) that are primarily take-out places but have some tables and chairs set up? If you go up to the counter, place your order, pay, wait, pick up your food at the counter, bring it to a table, sit down, and eat, do you need to tip?

What about places that seem to have a reasonable number of people eat in, but that give you your food at the counter, make you pay when you order, and don't actually wait on you? My theory has generally been that I don't need to tip even if I sit down and eat at such places, but I'm starting to go to a couple of them once every week or two and am starting to worry that I'm being cheap or a freeloader. On the other hand...if I don't tip at Chipotle, why would I have to tip at the Turkish place down the street that serves its food the same way?

And if you do tip at places like that, how much?


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  1. I agree that I generally don't feel the need to tip, but at some places (Katz's, for example) I usually do. At Katz's, I leave $5 on the table.

    Katz's Delicatessen
    205 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002

    1. This topic is not Manhattan specific. As such it has been covered AD NAUSEUM on the Not About Food board.

      Seriously, there are dozens of posts on this with dozens of responses.

      Search for TIPPING on that board and you'll get more opinions on that topic than you thought possible.

      7 Replies
      1. re: thegforceny

        Word. Here are five posts on the same tired topic. There are more. A lot more. A whole lot more. Anything you want to know about this subject has already been asked and answered. Over and over and over.


        1. re: small h

          Four of the five threads you linked to address tipping on take-out, which is explicitly not what I asked about and potentially quite different from the situation I described, in which I pay at the counter and then sit down for 20-30 minutes and eat 10 feet away from the guy I just declined to tip.

          The thread on tip jars was marginally on point, so thanks for that.

          1. re: Garlic Guy

            Fair enough. But your question was whether you "need" to tip. That's between you and you. A lightning bolt will not strike you dead if you don't tip. The staff of the restaurant won't surround you and pelt you with rotten fruit if you don't tip. Nor will a contingent of law enforcement officers swoop in and cart you off to Riker's if you don't tip. So tip if you want, or don't tip if you don't want, and feel free to peruse the 8,000,000 extant tipping threads for posts in support of either position.

            1. re: small h

              Sorry about the mini-rant. I guess I've reached my tipping thread tipping point.

              1. re: small h

                I know tipping threads annoy me as well. You so seldom see ones that say" Opps, I under tipped, how can I fix it?"

          2. re: small h

            I really think we need a "Non-tippers Anonymous" Or A "tightwads are us".

          3. re: thegforceny

            YES! Many, Many topics, posts and comments all on the same theme: "please help me justify why I don't tip?"

            Face it, it's one of the most popular "Not About Food" topics. So, you don't tip, why should anyone besides you justify that to you? Accept that you find excuses not to tip. Move on.

            The only topic I ever read here after years on Chowhound.com that was more miserly and self centered, was someone who wanted CHers to help him justify "selling tickets" to his annual (some holiday) group gathering. This person felt that since food costs had gone up, to make "his standards" more than he wanted to spend, should be paid for by his guests.

          4. Would it really kill you to leave a buck.....especially if at a place on your regular rotation.?

            1. If you feel cheap/really like the place etc. then tip... It is generally not considered compulsory, but if I pay cash and there is a tip jar out I at least throw in any coins I receive as change. If I get what I deem to be good service I throw in a dollar or two. If food is delivered or drinks refilled I tip a bit more.

              1. If I have a simple and inexpensive order (drip coffee to-go, for example) I probably won't tip, but for things that are more complex (a dozen customized meals/latte orders for the office) I usually will, especially if the order is accurate and/or completely ready at the agreed upon pick-up time.

                If it's a place where you order at the counter, then take your food and sit down I'll usually throw a couple of bucks in the tip jar on my way out if I was satisfied with the food, service, and general appearance or cleanliness of the area. I NEVER fill out the tip portion of the receipt before I've had a chance to experience the place.

                I could be off-base, but if I were an employee I would feel more proud if a customer tipped on their way out and said a polite "thanks, it was great!" rather than someone impulsively tossing whatever change they received from the transaction into the jar.

                1 Reply
                1. re: d8200

                  Thanks, d8200, for that very helpful response. I don't think the various places I've been going to have a tip jar, just the "tip" line on the credit card statement, but I'll pay more attention in the future.

                  Maybe I should just tip generously every few visits instead of a little at a time. I don't know, it just feels more natural that way.

                2. I'd leave a buck. Someone is cleaning that table you sat at, and if you were given your food on a tray to eat in, the tray must be bussed and cleaned as well.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: bagelman01

                    This sounds almost the same as leaving a buck when you eat in at a fast food place. When I was in high school, I cleaned the "dining room", and cleaned trays. Where do you draw the line?

                    1. re: Oboegal

                      If there's a tip jar at the front, be it fast food or not, I'd leave something. My nephew used to work at Tim Horton's (fast food doughnut shop with no tip jar) and was regularly tipped with extra change. I think it is a personal line, but I prefer to err on the side of generosity.

                      1. re: Oboegal

                        The only place I can think of where I pick up food, eat a table ....and do not clear it myself is @ a local Fuddrucker's or similar burger operation.......I'll tip a buck per person at the counter and a a couple of bucks under a plate for the clean up person. There is no line to cross in my mind.

                    2. I don't know why people feel inclined to be rude when they respond to questions like this. I think the OP wants to know whether it's normal to leave a tip in this situation and why. Why does it need to be seen as an attempt to justify not leaving a tip?

                      To answer the question, yes I would leave a small tip in this situation. It would be less than the typical 20% for table service but a smaller tip because as another poster mentioned, someone is going to clean your table and wash the dishes (assuming the food comes on a real dish). If my meal is less than $10, I would probably leave around a dollar.

                      1. A buck or two isn't going to kill anyone's budget. Sometimes graceful generosity goes a long ways. If it isn't full service, don't leave a full service tip. If it is takeaway, you wouldn't be out of line leaving a dollar or two in their tip jar. After all, if it was delivery you'd tip the driver. If it is cafeteria-style, and you pick up your food but eat at their table and they clear it and wash up, you could leave a few bucks, preferably at the tip jar so no one else lifts it. It wouldn't kill you and I doubt you'd be chased out of the establishment for not tipping more. As for Starbucks, I often leave extra change there. They work hard for low wages, and I'm not going to miss the leftover change from my latte.
                        Karma is a payback, and once you have these types of jobs you appreciate every penny that comes in from those who are generous by nature.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: freia

                          Well put, I agree. When I'm weighing how much to tip I always consider that the money will mean more to them (because if everyone leaves a nice tip it adds up) than keeping an extra 50 cents or dollar or whatever amount I'm fretting over.

                          1. re: virtualguthrie

                            For me it's the opposite. That buck or two, extra 50 cents, or whatever amount does mean more to me than them. So I'm not going to leave it as a tip in a jar. But, if I was to become a regular somewhere, or if I had an income my opinion would probably change. Especially at a place that buses the tables or brings your food to you at your table.

                        2. For what it's worth, this is how I approach tipping:

                          I only leave a tip when I am being provided with service. The tradition of tipping evolved out of the concept that someone was providing you with service (waiting on you or helping you out), so it was appropriate to give them a tip as a form of gratuity. "Back in the day" there was a lot more forms of service such as bellboys, gas station attendants, porters who met the train and carried your luggage, elevator operators and so on, so it was clear what was service and received a tip and what wasn't service, such as buying food or goods in a shop. When you bought food in a grocery, you didn't tip the person who sold you the food, but if a bag boy carried the grocery to your car, you tipped the bag boy. Makes sense?

                          Thus, if I go to a restaurant, sit down, order from a menu and am served by the waiter/waitress, I am being provided with service by the waiter/waitress, hence the tip.

                          If I order food via delivery, I tip the man who delivers the food because he provided me with a service in bringing the food to the house.

                          If I go to a takeaway place, place the order, pick up the food and leave, I am merely buying a good in a process that's no different than buying food at the supermarket or clothes at a store, and there is no service involved. Thus no tip is required.

                          If there's a dine-in option but one that is fully self-serve, as in a McDonalds or Chipotle where you clean up after yourself, then there is still no service involved and generally no tip required. If it's a small mom and pop type outfit there's usually a tip jar by the cash register. You are under no obligation to leave a tip but you can if you want. If you wish to develop a relationship with the takeaway place proprietors, it's perfectly fine and understandable to leave a tip. A dollar or two is fine.

                          1. it just depends. if I want to leave money in a jar I do if I'm not moved to I don't.
                            find it annoying when people are overly talkative about how for instance they always put money in a tip jar at $+@rbuck$. why brag if you really do. by same token if I'm lead to go into my purse when I'm sitting at a stoplight and a person is there holding a sign I act on it. I don't broadcast it.
                            there are too many variables for a yes always or a no never.

                            1. I never put money in tip jars but sometimes I take money out.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: redfish62

                                love it when there is a tiny little bowl at a cash register of pennies.
                                I go digging in my purse for my wallet and the cashier says it's ok, I have one here we can use.
                                that's a brilliant thing.
                                we save change for trip expenses that come up. last week while I cleaned out the wet bar top, glass shelves and contents of all that booze, there were 2 huge containers found that we'd stuck in/under there. I will just say I filled up many coin wrappers but have to get more penny wrappers. so many more pennies to get to the bank for real money. or I should add my pennies to that little bowl by the cash register or give them to redfish.