As a DoorDash driver in the Boston area, Steve said his job has become significantly more dangerous during this time, but tips from customers have stayed the same.
“Tips have always mattered, but the issue now is that the tips matter even more,” Steve, whose last name has been withheld to protect his privacy, told HuffPost. “I’ve literally seen at least 50% of restaurants shut down temporarily, possibly permanently. The college students in my market have left, as they were ordered to leave the premises of the student dorms last month.”
Customers, particularly younger ones, are still tipping $2 to $4 per order, he said, while some don’t tip at all. While Steve is grateful to have income right now, making the same amount of money for much riskier work doesn’t seem fair.
“If someone told you the pay model structure would essentially remain the same during a viral pandemic, would you complete a $5 order, knowing you run the risk of catching the virus while working and bringing the virus home to your partner after working?” Steve said. “You’d probably say absolutely not, but here’s the crazy thing of it all: Most jobs are not hiring right now, so for me, DoorDash has been a financial lifeline that has allowed me to continue to work to pay the bills where I live.”
“When you can show your appreciation for those who are making your life easier and keeping you from going out and potentially putting yourself at risk, extra gratuity is always a kindness and appreciated.”
– Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert
Etiquette experts said tipping guidelines have shifted during the outbreak. Local restaurant delivery drivers and gig workers for companies like DoorDash, Postmates, Uber Eats, Grubhub and Instacart are putting themselves in harm’s way to bring these goods to our doorsteps. And customer tips make up a large portion of their income.
“When you can show your appreciation for those who are making your life easier and keeping you from going out and potentially putting yourself at risk, extra gratuity is always a kindness and appreciated,” said etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas.
“Take into consideration special challenges, such as weather, location and the pandemic we are all going through and the convenience and health advantage you are being offered by using a delivery service,” she added.
Customers who have been hard hit by the economic downturn may not be able to tip any more than they normally would, and that’s understandable. But those who are in a position to do so should.
“Realizing that times are tough for so many of us right now, it’s vital that those who are still financially able are extra generous with the men and women who are putting their own health on the line to bring us our meals and other essential supplies,” said etiquette expert and speaker Thomas P. Farley, also known as Mister Manners.
What To Consider When Tipping Delivery Workers
Under normal circumstances, the general recommendation is to tip anywhere from 10% to 20% on a food delivery order, but not less than $3 to $5, even on small orders. Right now, consider tipping at least 20% or more, if you can. Quentin Fottrell, personal finance editor at MarketWatch, recommended tipping 5% more than you typically would — so if you normally tip 20%, up it to 25%.
“For some people, 25% would be really high,” Gottsman said. “But there are some circumstances that leaving a $20 tip on a $10 order would be worth it because it saved someone from having to go out and buy groceries or pick up a to-go order from a curbside pickup.”
And remember that the delivery fee and service charge you’re paying do not go to your driver.
“Don’t confuse a tip with a service charge,” Gottsman said. “The restaurant may add a flat fee for delivery or service, so tip on top of that charge.”
And since Uber Eats has waived delivery fees for independently owned restaurants during the pandemic, think about putting the money you’re saving there toward a larger tip.
If you’re unable to tip more than normal because of financial constraints, rate your driver highly in the app or “show your gratitude by writing a positive review on the restaurant’s Google listing or on your community’s most popular site for reviews,” Farley said.
During this time, you may want to order from local restaurants instead of large chains that are more likely to weather economic hardship than smaller businesses.
“And if you are ordering from a franchise, check their website to determine whether they have established a sick leave policy for their employees as it relates to COVID-19,” Farley said.
Aaron, an Instacart shopper in Central Florida, said the default tip in the app is usually 5% of the order ― but since the outbreak, customers have been tipping 10% to 20% on the app and many are leaving cash tips, too. (In response to the recent strike, Instacart changed the default tip from 5% to whatever amount the customer last tipped).
Take into account the time and effort involved in this service: The shopper is walking through the store, looking for and selecting your items, waiting in the checkout line and then carrying them to your doorstep. Experts said that justifies at least a 10% tip in normal circumstances and perhaps an increase to the 15 to 20% range during the pandemic.
And customers should not give lower ratings to a shopper because items on their list are out of stock, Aaron said, as that’s not something the shopper has any control over.
“I wish people knew they were rating me and not Instacart as a whole,” said Aaron, whose last name has been withheld to protect his privacy.
You can also increase the tip if your shopper has gone above and beyond in some way.
“I tip online and when my Favor delivery driver has been so kind, calling me to ask for alternate suggestions once they are shopping for me at the grocery store and they are out of what I want, I end up giving them additional cash at the door,” Gottsman said. “I leave it in an envelope so there is no face-to-face connection.”
If you go the cash tip route, “do so using a fresh envelope — clearly marked for the delivery person and taped to the outside of your door,” Farley said.
“If you are not able to safely tape the envelope to your door, a quick, safely distanced, clean-handed exchange of tip for food bags is another way to go,” he added.
If you or someone in your household is sick or showing COVID-19 symptoms, stick with an electronic tip and select a contactless delivery option to limit the delivery person’s exposure.
A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus