Tip jars or tips requested at the point of sale have become the norm pretty much everywhere. Not only food trucks and food carts around the country, but at coffee shops and counter-service restaurants where a couple of decades ago consumers tipping wouldn’t have been considered. If you want to tip fairly, follow these guidelines.

Determine the “tippable” total

If you used any online coupon codes or discounts, calculate the tip based on how much you would’ve paid without it. Otherwise, you’re punishing the server for the food truck management’s efforts to bring you to the truck. For example, if you have a 2-for-1 coupon, you may only have had to pay for half of your meal, but the server or cook still did the full amount of work.

If there is a tax on your bill, you should technically calculate the tip based on the pretax amount, since the service you received has nothing to do with the tax. But since the difference between a tip on the total (including tax) or the pretax amount is not significant, it’s not a recommended squabbling point.

Evaluate your service. The key is to objectively judge the service you receive and the service alone. If the food isn’t good, and/or the prices are outrageous… all of this affects your dining experience, but is not always the server’s fault. If you’re unhappy with it, don’t visit the truck or cart again, or write a negative review somewhere.

The service itself should be judged on:

  • How well the food matched with your order
  • Whether the food was hot and fresh
  • How attentive the server was to your needs
  • How quickly it took to get your check and have your payment processed
  • How well does the staff communicate the wait times, menu options, or any specials? Effective communication can significantly enhance your experience, setting clear expectations and helping you make informed choices.
  • Given the smaller scale of food trucks, there’s often an opportunity for more personal interaction. Notice if the staff makes an effort to create a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, perhaps remembering regular customers or engaging in brief, friendly conversations.
pierogi food truck

Recognize food truck owners for their hard work.

Give the benefit of the doubt.

When you’re dining out, especially at a food truck, giving the benefit of the doubt can go a long way. Sometimes the service might not be up to par, but it’s essential to consider the context before making a judgment. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Busy Times and Understaffing: Food trucks can get slammed with customers, and sometimes they’re running with a lean crew. If your service seemed slow or there were mix-ups with your order, take a look around. Is the truck clearly bustling and maybe short staffed? These are signs that everyone’s doing their best under the circumstances.
  2. Mistakes Happen: Nobody’s perfect, and in the fast-paced environment of a food truck, errors in orders can occur. It’s not always clear-cut whether it’s the server’s or the chef’s mistake. If you see your server hustling to correct an issue, that effort counts for a lot. Recognize their dedication to making things right.
  3. Learning Curve: If your server seems to be fumbling a bit or not as slick as you’d expect, consider they might be new to the job. Working on a food truck requires a unique set of skills and a good deal of practice. It’s a high-pressure environment where they’re learning on the fly. Offering a little grace to someone who’s still getting the hang of things is a kind gesture.

Remember, a bit of empathy and understanding can make a big difference. Everyone has off days, and in the unique and often hectic setting of a food truck, challenges are part of the daily grind. Giving the benefit of the doubt not only contributes to a more positive experience for you but also supports the hardworking individuals behind the counter.

Determine the tip.

The general guideline is 20% for good service, 15% for solid service, and 10% for bad service. Of course in recent years, I’ve seen POS systems suggest tips of 25% for the vendor if they go above and beyond.

Even if you order from a truck or cart that offers only pre-packaged food you are still expected 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, so you should take care of them back.

Tips can make all the difference for a food truck.

Food Truck’s Perspective on Tipping

Running a food truck for years taught me a thing or two. Tips? They can really help out a small business owner that’s putting everything they’ve got into a business. Here’s the deal: tips help vendors the wheels turning, literally. It’s not just pocket change; it’s what sometimes keeps us afloat on slow days and helps us invest back into the truck and pads profitability in case your expenses or food waste is a little bit higher one day.

Look around, and you’ll see everyone’s got a tip jar out or a line for tips on receipts. It’s pretty standard these days, and for good reason. When you drop a little extra into our tip jar, you’re doing more than you think. You’re helping a local business thrive, pay our bills, and support our families. It’s a circle of support that keeps the community strong.

For those of you who might wonder if tipping at a food truck makes sense, think of it this way: every little bit helps us to not just survive, but to grow. Your generosity means we can continue creating meals that bring joy and comfort, and it’s a direct way to show your appreciation for the craft and hard work that goes into every dish. Plus, it’s a vibe of gratitude and positivity that you’re spreading, making the act of grabbing a bite not just a transaction, but a meaningful exchange. Trust me, it means the world to us when you add a few dollars for a tip whether that’s 10%, 20%, or more.

Tipping puts discretionary power in the hands of the customer. Do you know how to use that power wisely? Ideally, good service is rewarded with good tips, and bad service is punished with bad tips. In practice, however, that’s not how it usually plays out.