How Much Should You Really Tip Your Food-Delivery Guy When the Weather Sucks?

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"You'd better enjoy that sushi." Photo: Jan Mika/Shutterstock

Snowstorms and miserable weather present a love-hate scenario for food deliverymen. Yes, they have to trudge out in the snow and slush, but blizzards also mean good money: Demand goes up, and so do tips (in theory). But from a customer standpoint, what's a bad-weather delivery really worth? Do you give the guy an extra buck or two because he trekked through six inches of snow to deliver your sushi in under an hour? Do ice pellets warrant a five-dollar bonus?

First, the good news: Customers really are more appreciative when the weather is miserable. According to GrubHub Seamless, the food-delivery behemoth, tips during the first big snowstorm in January were up all around the country. New York's overall hike was a pretty modest 5 percent, but harder-hit areas saw more considerable jumps as the polar vortex descended: Gratuities rose 15 percent in Detroit and Minneapolis, and nearly as much in Chicago, which saw a 14 percent tip bump.

As the New Yorker pointed out recently, the GrubHub Seamless New York data shows that online tips (those paid by credit card and PayPal at the time of ordering) on January 7 when the polar vortex arrived were above average in every NYC zip code that got a delivery except for small pockets of Queens and Brooklyn. The best of the best was 10037, a triangle in Harlem off the Harlem River, where tips bumped up an impressive 24 percent.

Yet there is still no agreed-upon standard for delivery tipping the way there is for restaurant tipping. This makes no sense. There should be. So Grub called up an authority: Adam Eric Greenberg, a UC San Diego Ph.D. candidate and co-author of probably the most thorough study yet on bad-weather tips. Here's his advice:

You should tip at least $2 to $3 no matter what you order even if it takes the deliveryperson an extra ten minutes to get to you. Delays are almost never the delivery guy's fault, so be especially forgiving when the weather is terrible.

For orders above $15, percentage-based tipping should kick in: The standard 18 to 20 percent gratuity you would leave a restaurant server. When the weather is bad, be a bit more generous by tipping 20 to 22 percent. If it's raining outside, tip 22 to 25 percent.

If there's any snow accumulation, add a dollar or two on top of what you'd tip if it were raining. Having to work as a delivery guy during a blizzard is similar to getting stuck with a party of 20 as a restaurant server, so if you hear weather forecasters promising a "polar vortex, " a 30 percent tip is not outrageous.

And yet, according to one courier we spoke to, tipping well is no replacement for common courtesy: "The rudest thing you can do is just take your food, say nothing, and close the door." Another delivery man agreed that some quick conversation goes a long way: "Just ask, 'Jeez, how is it out there?' or say, 'Man, this came fast.'"

A previous version of this story failed to identify data that previously appeared on the New Yorker. This post has been updated to include proper attribution.