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In recent months, the proliferation of tipping has been getting a lot of attention. Most recently, there has been debate regarding flight attendants having to compete for tips. It spurred this opinion piece. As I sit here two hours after placing my Grubhub order that I tipped $5.61 for, I can’t help but throw my hat into the ring.

I admit there are more pressing issues right now, perhaps none as meaningful as the spinning iPads. Nevermind the fact that I almost tipped $300 on one last week and that after adjusting it to a generous $3 the barista forgot to return my credit card. When it comes to delivery, I order a lot of it, and I’ve had a lot of time to identify trends and organize my thoughts.

Tipping on delivery is important to think about because most apps give you the option to tip before your food is delivered. A busy delivery driver is guaranteed to see your tip amount when they pick up your food (at the latest). Then, the driver can prioritize your delivery speed by factoring in your distance, the amount of food, and, maybe most importantly, your tip.

Not always, though. In a setup that isn’t fair to deliveryfolk, UberEats drivers can only be tipped in-app after the food is delivered. Because of this, drivers can’t prioritize and customers have less incentive to tip at all. There’s less pressure at handoff at your front door because you can tip in the app (apparently, nobody ever tips at the door anyway). Are you really going to open the app, leave a rating, and figure out a tip before you sit down to eat your food? I usually leave a tip, but sometimes I forget. Most times, I don’t do it until the next time I open the app. The app is flawed and, in my experience, seems to attract the least competent drivers.

The choice for most people is Grubhub/Seamless (I will use “Grubhub” to refer to both). Grubhub allows you to tip in advance. Candid surveys with delivery drivers always reveal that the drivers prioritize orders based on tip amount. That makes sense. I would, too. Grubhub is a little more explicit with their guidelines, insisting you should “never tip less than five bucks.” And also mentioning that 20% is the standard tip amount.

However, this 20% default tip amount, as seen on the website, is actually a farce. Sure, I was raised with the notion that you tip 20% for good service, but Grubhub is dishonest in the way they calculate the number. For example, here’s a recent order from Busy Burger:

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My tip was the default 20%. But, wait. 20% of the subtotal–how tips have always been calculated–is $3.57. Where did $4.58 come from? The tax and delivery fee are included in the amount that the tip is calculated on! So, in this case, a 20% tip on my Double Busy Burger is actually 32%. As the subtotal grows, this becomes less significant, but when you consider that the majority of orders are for single-serving meals and that I personally am eating more than most people, the average Grubhubber is getting tricked into leaving much larger tips (while still being guilted into tipping $3-5 more when the weather is bad).

I haven’t seen anybody else complain about the tip “fraud.” I guess it’s just another quirk of the gig economy that will trigger mass protests if changed. Grubhub did $1,100,000,000 in Gross Food Sales in Q4 2017. Assuming every customer got bilked for an extra 1% due to the tax and delivery fee being used to calculate the tip (this is conservative), we’re talking $11,000,000 taken from consumers. This is wholly distributed to delivery drivers, so Grubhub is really just protecting their contractors rather than inflating the bottom line, but, sheesh, this is more than a rounding error!

For this reason, I usually tip closer to 15%. I find that my proximity to the restaurants I order from means I always get my food quickly. I even imagine that I have built rapport with certain drivers by always responding quickly to their phone calls. I have found it weird that Uber maintains a rider rating system but delivery services haven’t implemented one for customer responsiveness and average time taken to complete the order after arriving with the food. Anyway, my doorbell just rang.

My Thoughts on Tipping Delivery Drivers
  • Linda Reddevil

    Due to the COVID pandemic, I’ve recently started using Grubhub again and I noticed this same exact thing. I thought maybe the rules had changed for tipping but I’m glad to see I’m not alone. Many people also erroneously base the tip with the sales tax included but Grubhub didn’t start that. I’m all for giving a good, well-deserved tip, but tipping on sales tax AND a delivery fee? That’s a bit much! I now use the custom tip feature to override Grubhub’s calculation.

  • Richard

    I tip on the FOOD AMOUNT, not including taxes, junk fees, delivery fees, environmental fees, waste disposal fees, etc.