Coronavirus Tipping Guide: How Experts Say You Should Tip During The Pandemic

The Four Percent



Becky Beach, a blogger and part-time Instacart shopper, has been braving crowds and potential COVID-19 exposure to ensure her customers get their groceries without having to do the same. Most people tip her via the Instacart app. “I would like to get 20%, but receive 10%, on average,” she said.

If a customer is unhappy with her service, they can remove the tip completely once the groceries are delivered. However, happy customers can also choose to tip higher once they’ve received their delivery. “This happened five times before, which was awesome,” Beach said. “I aim to provide excellent customer service at all times in the hopes I can get higher tips.”

Amid a pandemic, service providers like Beach are forced to risk their health in order to earn a living. So if you’re the beneficiary of these types of services, you might be wondering whether you should tip higher than usual to compensate.

We reached out to experts to find out how tipping etiquette has changed since the coronavirus hit, and what to do if you can’t afford to tip generously.

Should You Tip More Than Usual Right Now?

When it comes to how much you should tip, some etiquette experts believe you should contribute as much as possible.

In addition to health risks, many frontline workers are also in precarious financial situations, said Jodi RR Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. For example, many restaurants are restricted in their capacities right now, and servers have had their hours cut. They’re also often paid below minimum wage with the expectation that they will make up the difference in tips.

“When you decide to dine out, you should tip to the point of pain,” Smith said. “Overtipping is the standard until we are back to business as usual.”

On the other hand, service industry workers aren’t the only ones feeling the financial pain of the pandemic. You might be struggling with loss of income and higher bills, too. “This continues to be a difficult time and, of course, if it’s not in your budget, it would not be expected to go above and beyond,” said Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. “However, when you can, you should show respect to those who are providing a service.”

According to Gottsman, you should aim to tip a minimum of 15%. And if you receive exceptional service, don’t hesitate to add more.

But what if that’s just not possible?

“I am a believer that if you do things with the right intent, it will balance out,” said life etiquette expert Juliet Mitchell, aka Ms. J. She explained that some people can’t leave their homes and have to rely on restaurants to deliver, such as the elderly, disabled and other high-risk individuals. Often, these are also the people experiencing financial distress or hardship right now and they may only be able to tip the minimum based on their budget. “The person who is doing the delivery should accept the tip with as gracious an attitude as possible. Somewhere along the way, someone’s going to give 100% tip or more,” Mitchell said. “I believe it all balances out.”

Smith suggested that if you know your budget is tight, choose a restaurant with a lower price point so that you can still be generous in your tip, or get takeout instead. You would still tip on takeout, but you can tip a lower amount than you would if you had occupied a table.

For other activities, such as getting your hair done or grabbing a drink, it may be a good idea to skip it until the cost of service, plus tip, fits your budget.

And the best form of tip? Despite the hygiene concerns, cash is still king. Mitchell suggested that workers wear gloves and use a tray to accept cash tips to minimize contact.

Tip Amounts By Service

Though 15% is the general minimum, tip amounts may vary depending on the service provided. So how much are you expected to give?

“As patrons, we should keep in mind that these workers are risking their health and safety in order to provide us a service,” said Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette. Below are a few examples of how much to tip depending on the service. But if you can tip more, it’s encouraged.

  • Dine-in: 20-25% of the pre-tax total.
  • Takeout:15-20% of the pre-tax total.
  • Delivery drivers: 20% of the bill
  • Pizza delivery: $5-$7 depending on the size of the order and difficulty of delivery

Baristas and bartenders: $2-$5 per drink

  • Hair stylist/barber: 20-25%
  • Manicurist: 20-25%
  • Spa services: 20-25%

Of course, if you are unable to tip these amounts due to your own financial situation, there’s no need to overextend yourself, Tsai said.

She cautioned workers to remember that if a customer provides a larger tip than usual, they shouldn’t expect it to become the norm or take it for granted. The pandemic isn’t over, after all. “This extra or more generous tipping may not last if the economy continues to decline and the customers’ budgets become tighter,” she said.



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