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Dear Gentleman Scholar,
What is a good tip for the pizza delivery guy? My wife says 20 percent, and I think she's crazy. My standard tip for delivering a single pizza, regardless of price, is $2. When we order a cheap pizza, that's close to 20 percent, but it is more like 10 percent at our favorite pizza place. My contention is that the delivery driver is doing the same thing regardless of the price of the pizza.
Obviously, this logic doesn't hold up at a fine dining establishment. In restaurants, I always tip 20 percent, and often more when the service warrants it. I was also a bartender for many years, so I understand the etiquette and importance of good tipping. Asking strictly about delivery guys.
Not a Cheapskate
First, thank you for your letter. Second: Mmmmm, pizza.
This oregano-scented topic has been much in the air of late. Last month, it came to light on Reddit that someone paid a $10 tip on a $1,450 pizza order, scandalizing the Internet and requiring journalists to dial up America’s foremost academic in the field of tipping, Cornell’s Michael Lynn. His rule of thumb? $2 minimum per pie. Maybe that’ll fly in Ithaca and wherever it is that you live, my noncheapskate reader, but I’m not certain I agree.
Last night, with a participatory journalist’s hunger for knowledge and, also, dinner, the Gentleman Scholar consulted the Lady Scholar and ordered a large brick-oven pizza from the menu of an Italian restaurant four-tenths of a mile from our apartment. The list of its toppings—prosciutto, arugula, mozzarella, and parmesan—inspired both salivation and postulation: Might the fact of arugula on top of one’s pizza indicates one’s membership in a socio-cultural 20-percent-pizza-guy-tipping bracket?
The pizza guy rang promptly, and I ran to the door. His houndstooth pants told me that he was not a full-time delivery guy; when he bicycled away, he would plunge back into washing dishes and cleaning up other people’s messes. A fragment of Orwell pinged somewhere in my system: “His work is servile and without art; he is paid just enough to keep him alive; his only holiday is the sack.” This sensation contributed to my half-conscious decision to err on the side of overtipping. I also tend to err on the side of overtipping because I’m black and thus stereotyped as a bad tipper. (Lynn’s research has shown that such stereotypes have a basis in fact. The TipThePizzaGuy.com discussion board hosts some threads on the topic, and the way a few of those pizza guys talk about getting stiffed by customers who are black makes we wonder if the customers were in possession of some kind of racist-delivery-guy-detector technology.)
I signed away $28 for the meal (pie, overpriced ginger ale, tax) and scrawled a $5 gratuity in the man’s direction. I’d rather have tipped him in cash, but I had no folding money, and if I had, I might have tipped $4. (It occurs to me in retrospect that I could have given him a handful of quarters, which I believe are generally acceptable for tipping delivery guys and baristas, somewhat less so for ecdysiasts.)
Sitting with a calculator, I see that I tipped 19.2 percent tip on the pre-tax total, and I reason it perfectly generous (which is to say, also, not overly generous, Frank Sinatra generous). But as I stood there at the door, intuition was my guide. Developing a subtle internal sense of what to tip delivery guys isn’t difficult, but it is, like learning a language, a talent best acquired by the young. A 26-year-old intimidated by his toaster oven develops a certain knack.
In researching the question, I found I agreed with the guidelines presented at TipThePizzaGuy.com, which is not only an esteemed source for information about tipping the pizza guy but also host to a discussion board that is about to captivate you for the rest of the afternoon, inspiring many threshold questions about the American appetite. Here, pizza guys trade tales of sex (“Maine: Female customer drops towel … ”) and violence (“Pizza guy gets shot at … ”) and new hotshot assistant managers who think they know it all and the glory of getting hugged around the knees by a 2-year-old “who said he loves me.”
These pizza guys think it fair to receive a minimum tip of $3, which is also my personal standard. They call a 15 percent tip a common courtesy, and the default setting on Seamless backs them up on that. These pizza guys allow that if the order is $50 or more, it’s cool to let the tip dip as low as 10 percent. Sounds fair to me. But the pizza guys sell themselves short when suggesting that the customer need only throw in “at least $1 more” in bad weather. Surely you owe at least an extra Jefferson to a courier who braves snow or rain to swiftly complete your appointment with crazy bread.
You should throw in an extra couple bucks, the pizza guys suggest, if the driver is coming from more than 5 miles away. Is that reasonable? I don’t know. It seems to me not unreasonable, but I live in New York, which is so dense with pizza places that the only way to get a pie delivered from 5 miles away is to buy frozen from Giordano’s.
Lastly, the pizza guys insist that it is correct to tip “20 percent or more if the service is excellent,” and I won’t fight them, stipulating that I define excellent pizza delivery service as that which brings piping-hot pies to sixth-floor walk-ups or involves the driver performing evasive maneuvers in the course of actively avoiding Noids. Moreover, as the phrase excellent brings to mind the crypto-stoners Bill and Ted, let me issue a reminder: Don’t try to tip the pizza guy in beer or weed or whatever. This is his job, and you need to tip him in American currency so that he can buy beer and weed for his family.