clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

With a New Delivery Law, How Should You Tip?

Delivery apps are making it tougher to tip — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t

A man is bundled up on a bike to make deliveries.
An NYC delivery worker in the winter.
Getty Images
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at Eater.com, and the series editor of Best American Food and Travel Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

Just as the new minimum wage law ensures delivery drivers can make more money, delivery apps are making it more difficult to leave tips in New York — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. The prevailing wisdom has been tip $5 or 20 percent, whichever is higher, but what about now?

Over the summer, a new minimum wage law went into effect in New York City that drastically changed things for delivery drivers. Separate from the regional minimum wage hike that took place January 1, drivers started earning a minimum of $17.96 an hour, up from an average of $11 an hour. The rate can be calculated a few different ways, but it adds up to massive increases in driver pay, much to the chagrin of third-party delivery companies who don’t want to share their massive profits.

The first-in-the-country law has been an unequivocal good, allowing workers to drive slower and safer while still earning more.

“As essential workers with grueling conditions, they deserve a pay standard that is not dictated by the whims of apps companies or by how many food orders they can achieve in an hour,” Comptroller Brad Lander told Gothamist.

Since the law took effect, delivery apps have been making it harder for customers to tip. In what we perceive as retaliation, the apps have significantly changed the tipping option from the beginning towards the end, which is making it harder for consumers, customers to find the tipping option,” says Ligia Guallpa, executive director of the Worker’s Justice Project.

On a recent test, the Seamless app still gave users an option to add up to a 25 percent tip before checkout. But DoorDash only offered up to a pre-set $3.50 tip on an order that came to $31.75 with tax and delivery fee, before you’d have to enter your own sum. Most drastically, the UberEats app provided no option to add a tip before checkout on an order. According to The City, UberEats now only allows customers to tip after the delivery has been made. Both DoorDash and UberEats said the changes were made in response to the new law.

Apps’ firewall tactics highlight the larger question of how to tip — a crucial one for New Yorkers who care about fair labor practices and also want to participate in the long tradition of getting a pizza because, oh my god, it’s 7 p.m. already, and you forgot to go grocery shopping.

A year ago, Grub Street deemed the greater of $5 or 20 percent as the minimum for a decent tip for a delivery worker in the city, and colloquially, there was an agreement that a delivery in inclement weather deserved even more. But now that the city’s delivery drivers are earning slightly more than the state’s minimum wage, do the same rules still apply?

“Workers have significantly seen a pay increase. Workers who have reported making between $700 and $800 a week are now making anything between $1,200 to $1,500,” says Guallpa. But she stresses that tipping is still an essential component of delivery worker pay. Though we should all ideally be tipping in cash, as that’s the only guaranteed way to ensure your driver sees the entirety of their tip, and immediately, the fact is most people tip through the third-party apps.

The new minimum wage is calculated one of two ways: how long a driver is connected to the app, or by the duration of each trip, as long as the minimum rate averages to $17.96 an hour. Of course, the amount of time each worker spends either connected to various apps or making individual trips wildly varies, and may or may not add up to a full-time job.

Even if it did, however, the new wages still aren’t enough to amount to a living wage in New York City. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the “one bedroom housing wage” in the U.S. — that is, the hourly wage of a full-time job to afford a one bedroom — is $23.67 an hour. NLIHC calculates one would have to work over 80 hours a week to afford a one bedroom at minimum wage in New York. That one bedroom, however, is a “fair market rent” one bedroom, which NLIHC calculates as costing $1,231 a month, a full $3,500 less than the average rent for a one bedroom in New York City. So no, $17.96 an hour, at 40 or even 80 hours a week, isn’t going far, especially as delivery workers are considered independent contractors, and thus not eligible for benefits like company-paid health insurance.

The City reported that the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection was looking into these new app updates. In a statement to Eater, the DCWP said, “DCWP supports consumers’ right to tip whatever amount they wish and urges apps to make tipping options easy for customers to use. We do not endorse the apps’ business practices, nor have we recommended these changes.”

Ultimately, delivery drivers are making more money, even with a drastic reduction in tips. But landing on a precise number that is the “right” amount to tip is not really the point. Instead, the point is that tipping should not be used as actual compensation, which is what delivery apps have long relied on.

“The consumer was fronting the wage for workers,” says Guallpa. “But now that the company has to pay, they’re intentionally making it harder for consumers to tip. It’s to send a strong message to workers, it’s kind of indirectly saying, ‘yes, you have fought for a minimum wage, but I’m going to make it harder for you to still make money.’”

The ongoing existence of the tipped minimum wage allows restaurants and third-party delivery apps to pass the responsibility of paying their workers a living wage onto customers. This should never have been the case, and it’s wild that businesses that don’t pay workers a living wage can still be considered “successful.” Luckily, more laws are chipping away at that tradition, but we’ve not quite arrived at that beautiful world where tipping a delivery driver is an act of pure gratitude.

Allow that to inform your tipping habits from now on. Consider the new wages, but also how much you need delivery, what the weather conditions are, and how much you can reasonably afford to spend, including at least some tip. The math may be different for everyone, but, says Guallpa, “if you have the means, yes, do the 20 percent.”