The conversations that take place over a meal are some of the juiciest. Just like booze doubles as truth serum, there's something about macking-down on greasy fried chicken that stimulates a free flow of spicy chitchat.
When my mouth isn't full, or fingers occupied typing, I'm rapping out about food. Eating at anywhere from three to 10 restaurants during the workweek means there's a whole lot to chew on. You can always count on reading about good eats in my columns (Monday Munchies, besides this one), but now, I'm going to start freeing the conversations that have remained within my circle of friends, in hopes that readers will join the gab fest and weigh in on various topics about our local food scene.
One conversation that keeps coming up has to do with tipping etiquette. And, with the rise in popularity of counter service, i.e. the "fast casual" craze sweeping the nation, including right here in San Diego, patrons have never been more confused about how much - if at all - to tip service people when dining in, and carrying away.
While there's no definitive answer to this quandary, there are a couple of things I keep in mind when faced with a tip jar before having experienced the food, or service at a place. We've all been there - awkwardly clutching our change at the counter, waiting to drop it in the bucket just as soon as an employee is paying attention.
First off, it's totally acceptable to hold off on tipping until after your meal. Don't be pressured to add to the jar of dollar bills just yet. If you're satisfied, tip the standard 15-20 percent on the way out. It's almost never OK to skip leaving a gratuity if you're dining in and planning on doing so again.
For take-out orders, there's simply no other protocol to follow besides common sense. Is the restaurant busy? Did the counter help fetch you a side of gratis ranch dressing? How would you want be treated if the tables were turned in this exchange of services?
Still, many people are adamant about skipping the tip on take-out altogether. Even the server friend of mine who embarked with me in spirited debate on this topic says she doesn't expect tips on takeout orders, ever.
We concluded that it's the kind gesture that counts. A tip, however big or small, says thank you when those words simply won't do alone.
So what are your thoughts on tipping for takeout, and at counter service restaurants? Please, dig right in, and email your piping hot food debate topics our way.
Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at email@example.com.