Tipping in the era of the coronavirus: What do you give the grocery or restaurant delivery person? The mail carrier? The plumber?

Tribune Content Agency

The Instacart workers who bring Lee Goldstein her groceries are usually women in their 20s or 30s. Goldstein wonders if they’ve lost their jobs due to the coronavirus epidemic. She suspects that they are the mothers of young children.

And so she tips an extra $15 or $20 in cash, beyond the 15% she has already agreed to online.

“Everybody is doing what they need to do to survive right now,” said Goldstein, 68, of Elgin, Ill. “I’m struggling like everyone else, but everybody needs it right now. Everyone just needs help.”

Americans are in uncharted territory when it comes to tipping during the coronavirus crisis, when essential workers are putting their health at risk to bring us food and mail, fix our leaking pipes and unclog our drains.

What’s clear, according to Peggy Newfield, president of the American School of Protocol in Atlanta, is that for those who can afford to tip more than usual, doing so is now fairly standard.

“I’m going to tip as much as I can for any service that’s rendered,” Newfield said. “This is a very desperate time in our America for many people.”

To get a sense of Chicago area tipping practices, the Tribune posted queries at neighborhood Facebook pages for Elgin, Naperville and Oak Park, drawing responses from more than 60 food delivery customers and a handful of delivery workers, including an Uber Eats worker who said she typically gets $5-$10 in tips per order and a Grubhub worker who mostly gets 20% or more. We also interviewed Newfield and a spokesperson for the Gig Workers Collective, a California-based organization that advocates for Instacart shoppers, Lyft drivers and similar independent contractors nationwide.

Here are some basic guidelines for the Chicago area:

For grocery delivery, 20% is a good tip. Gig Workers’ spokesperson Heidi Carrico said that a good tip during the coronavirus era is at least 20%, up from 10-15% before the epidemic; a great tip is now 30%. Among the 52 Chicago area Facebook users who responded to the Tribune’s grocery tipping query, 41 said they were tipping at least 20%. Seven of those 41 named specific amounts higher than 20%, ranging from 25% to 50%. An additional seven said they were tipping in the 10-15% range, and four were giving flat amounts of $5-$20. That breakdown is probably not representative of the Chicago area, but it does offer a snapshot of what some of the more generous tippers are giving.

For restaurant delivery, think 15-20%. Newfield says that even before the pandemic, a lot of people were tipping 22% at better restaurants, and now some people are tipping 40% for delivery. But that’s not your average tip. Carrico, the Gig Workers’ spokesperson, estimates that people are tipping about 15% for restaurant delivery nationwide. A local Grubhub driver responding to the Tribune’s query on Facebook said she typically gets tips of 20% or more. Of the 63 Facebook users responding clearly to the Tribune restaurant query, 51 indicated that they tip at least 20%. Six of the 51 named a specific amount over 20%, ranging from 25% to 50%. An additional four people said they tip in the 10-15% range and eight gave flat dollar amounts from $5 to $30.

Yes, some people are tipping for carryout. Four Facebook users told the Tribune they were tipping from 10% to “at least 20%,” an additional respondent reported tipping $10-$20, and another $20-$30. Again, bear in mind that this is what generous givers are saying in a semipublic forum; the average is likely to be lower.

The mail carrier isn’t eligible. Mail carriers aren’t technically allowed to accept cash or cash equivalents, but three local Facebook users reported springing for gift cards. One individual gave a $25 Target gift card and a group of neighbors banded together to give a $200 Grubhub gift card.

You can try giving the plumber $10 to $15. Plumbers and electricians are relatively well-paid professionals, but if one risks his or her health to deal with a household emergency, you may want to go above and beyond. Plumbers working for bigger companies typically won’t accept a tip, Newfield said, but there’s no harm in asking if you’re so inclined. If you want to try to tip an independent plumber, or one working for a smaller company, $10 to $15 is a good amount, Newfield said.


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