When I go to a restaurant in the USA and order food for takeout, am I supposed to tip?
No. You don't tip unless it's a delivery charge. For example, if you order takeout food and have them deliver (especially common in hotels), then you'd want to tip the driver.
Tips are also generally given for services provided in golf courses, casino, hotels, concierge, food delivery, taxis, spa and salons.
If you're going to the restaraunt or venue to pick up food, then you don't need to leave a tip.
Tipping is not required for fast food restaurants, take-out orders, and coffee houses.
No, I wouldn't. A tip is for good service (someone bringing food drink to your table, keeping on top of your requests etc.) but with takeout you're buying a product. Its similar to going to McDonalds or Wendy's.
Generally, its waiters and waitresses that get tips as they make a lower Federal minimum wage than the other staff. While some states have laws which force employers to at least pay the standard minimum wage if the worker doesn't earn enough tips, most don't.
Also you usually would tip someone that delivers your food to you, but that's not relevant for takeout.
Here's some useful information from the US Dept of Labor. http://www.dol.gov/whd/state/tipped.htm
I also found this good Trip Advisor article. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g191-s606/United-States%3aTipping.And.Etiquette.html
My experience comes from living in the US.
The people at the takeout counter probably aren't dependent largely on tips as their primary wage (as waitstaff in the US are), but if your order is complicated, it is courteous to tip. And, I'd recommend being consistent with a dollar or two if this is a neighborhood restaurant you order from frequently — they'll remember.
The blog "Wait But Why" has a long article on tipping, based on extensive but non-scientific research. It's worth reading in general, but to summarize the relevant part for this question:
- About a third of take-out customers tip
- If you don't tip, it's fine
- Average tip is "$0-1"
- High tip is 10-20%
- And, the blog notes: "if you order for 10 people and it's all carefully packaged, that took time. Tip."
Generally the worker at the cashier will take tips if given, but they aren't required. Usually the "tip jar" in those circumstances serves as a "put that pocket change you didn't actually want here," like if you're paying cash or the like.
Just because there is a jar of some sort next to the cash register doesn't mean they take tips, either; Some establishments collect customers' spare change to make charitable contributions to various organizations (one notable example is McDonald's and their partnership with the Ronald McDonald House). These are completely optional, and the money does not go to anyone at the restaurant. This practice is also the exception, rather than the rule.
Basically, if a place has a tip jar at the point of payment, and you pay in cash, it's generally appreciated for you to put some or all of the change into the jar, but it is never required.
I've worked in a bunch of restaurants (many years ago) as both a waitress and a bartender. In both instances I've placed takeout orders for customers either in the restaurant or calling in to pick up. At the time I was making below the standard minimum wage because it's assumed by the government that I'll make it up in tips. That was not always the case.
When a waitress or bartender "cashes out" at the end of the night, they print out how much they "sold" and have to tip out other people at the restaurant that don't get tips (ie. bus boys, kitchen staff, hostess, bartender, it really depends on the establishment). Now the amount that they have to tip out to these co-workers varies but it's been as high as 5% of the sales. So if most people tip 15%, 5% of that goes to the other staff and the waitress / bartender makes 10% for themselves. That's IF they're getting 15% on average, which is not always the case.
Now take into account a take out order...If I take the order, I have to put that under my "sales" for the night and have to tip out the other staff on the sales. It was always appreciated when someone would tip on their takeout order so that I wouldn't lose money on it.
That's how it worked in the restaurants and bars that I worked in. I'm not saying that's how it is everywhere, but that's how I've always know it to be and that's why I tip on take out orders (from restaurants or bars).