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An Employee Fired for Tip-Shaming Raises the Question About Tipping and Food Trucks An Employee Fired for Tip-Shaming Raises the Question About Tipping and Food Trucks

An Employee Fired for Tip-Shaming Raises the Question About Tipping and Food Trucks

by Rodrigo Mejia
August 3, 2013

Are you supposed to tip a food truck worker? When a hungry group from Glass, Lewis & Co. ordered $170 worth of sandwiches and milk shakes from Milk Truck, a New York-based food truck specializing in all things grilled cheese, cook and cashier Brendan O'Connor expected a tip to follow; the group felt otherwise, and left no tip at all.

O'Connor wrote on The Awl about the experience, then took to Twitter for some tip-shaming.

Unfortunately for O'Connor, Glass, Lewis & Co. contacted the owner of Milk Truck, who then promptly fired O'Connor and issued an apology.

“What did I get out of this? Hmm. A 'story,' maybe. A lesson about employers—at least in the food service industry—and what they think of workers advocating for themselves,” O'Connor wrote.

But should he have expected a tip in the first place? Food truck workers often wear many faces on the job—switching between cook, barista, cashier, and waiter over the course of the workday. Customers can pin food truck workers as incomplete builds of those identities—associating them with fast food workers rather than waiters. So what's the course of action when standing in front of a food truck? Richard Myrick of Mobile Cuisine suggested this:

“Even if you order from a truck or cart that offers only prepackaged food, you are still expected to tip at least 10%. Usually, the person that takes your order has to jump through hoops to get your order together complete with utensils, extra napkins, bags, etc. They go out of their way to take care of you, you should take care of them back.”

But a minimum 10 percent tip is hardly a strict standard. Taking in some feedback, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine asked their readers what was customary for them. User tmlunchbox, someone involved in food truck service, responded with the following:

“We don't put out a tip jar unless we are doing an event where we can donate the funds [to] a cause such as uniforms and equipment funds, food bank funds, etc. Expectations for tips has overstepped its appropriateness.”

Meanwhile, there are some interesting workarounds to the question of food service tipping in actual restaurants. Sushi Yasusda, a Japanese restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, decided to do away with tips altogether and include the service fee in the bill. “We thought, 'How great would it be when you go to a restaurant not to have to think about the tip?' ” said one of the restaurant's owners, Scott Rosenberg, in an interview with The New York Times. It's unknown whether or not this can work at the food truck level, where low prices are a large draw for consumers. Still, food truck employees are rarely paid more than $10 an hour, making tips an invaluable source of additional pay.

So what is appropriate? Should food truck workers expect a tip, much like waiters, or is it a situation similar to ordering fast food? And what are some possible solutions to a problem that is sure to persist so long as food trucks dot city streets and fairs?

Photo via Flickr (cc) user Edsel Little

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