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These 9 Important Factors Help you Decide How Much to Tip on Doordash

What's the best way to determine what to tip Doordash workers when you place your order?

Should it be a percent of the total bill? Should you not even add a tip, and wait to see if you had good service before leaving a tip? Or maybe just go with Doordash's suggested tip amount?

There's a lot of ways where it's different than dining at local restaurants or tipping your bartender. On the one hand, Doordash asks you to add the tip when placing your food order. There are some things that are different about the relationship between food delivery services like Doordash and their couriers that play a role.

It's a messed up system. It's not fair to you, and it's not fair to me (a Doordash delivery driver). But it's the system that exists.

I thought I'd share some things about my relationship with Doordash, how deliveries work, and what happens for Doordash drivers. Maybe these thoughts will help you get a better idea for what is an appropriate amount to tip when you place your order with Doordash.

I order from Doordash from time to time, just so I can keep up on what it's like for Doordash customers. I especially get it when you pay so much in fees, and then have to add a delivery tip on top of it.

That's why I wanted to address this in a reasonable manner. With all that said, here's what I want to talk about:

  • 9 important factors about how a Doordash delivery works
  • One way to use those factors to help you decide what to tip
  • Some final thoughts on tipping, and how this whole thing is messed up for both you and I

A jar at a Mediterranean restaurant with the handwritten sign: Pita spelled backward is a tip.
One of the cleverest things I've seen at restaurants while on delivery was this sign at a Mediterranean restaurant.

9 Important factors involved when I deliver food to you on Doordash (or any other platform)

I'm not going to say I speak for all food delivery drivers. In fact, I'm sure a lot of couriers will disagree with me strongly on this first point. I'll probably get some nasty comments.

That said, here are nine factors that are involved in any delivery that I perform for you or for anyone else. I hope they help you see where drivers are coming from, and maybe those factors can help you better determine how to tip when you place an order.

1. You don't have to tip at all.

You don't owe me a thing. Like I said earlier, I'm not entitled to anything.

See why I say a lot of delivery workers will disagree with me?

But here's the thing: I'm not going to be offended if you choose not to tip. How you decide to do things is completely up to you.

2. I don't have to deliver your order.

This is why I don't get offended: If the delivery doesn't pay enough for my time and expenses, I'm just not accepting it. Someone else may. They may not.

This isn't a threat. It's just a reality.

As independent contractors, we have the right to accept or reject delivery offers. We're going to talk more in a bit about how that independent contractor thing works. For now, I can tell you as a driver that most orders that either never get accepted and are cancelled or that are extremely late are orders with very low customer tips.

3. This isn't my job. It's my business.

A worn table with white painted planks, and on top of that wood blocks spell out the words: Gig Economy.
Doordash is part of what's called the Gig Economy, where independent contractors are hired to provide services as a business.

I've seen more than a few people suggest “just do your job.”

Thank you Josh McDaniels. (If you're not a football fan, you may not get the reference. My apologies.)

But the thing is, this is not a job.

Doordash uses independent contractors, not employees. They put it in our contract that we're providing a service as a business, not as an employee.

Ultimately, that puts us on the same footing as any other business. The IRS treats us like a business. As a result, I choose to treat this like a business.

SHOULD we be doing this as a business? There's a whole lot of discussion going on politically about whether these companies should be allowed to use independent contractors.

However, whether it's right or not, it IS the nature of our relationship.

4. This leaves us completely on our own.

Here's the thing about contracting with Doordash as a delivery driver: There are no guarantees.

There's no such thing as minimum wage for us. We could go out there for hours, not get a single delivery, and if that happens, too bad. We're out of luck.

We don't get reimbursed for using our own vehicles. This is the kind of work that can run your car into the ground. With wear and tear, loss of value from the extreme miles we put on our vehicles, it costs a lot more than just gas to get your food to you. And that all comes out of our own pocket.

It also means we have none of the protections that go with being an employee:

  • There's no worker's comp. If we get hurt on the job, we're on our own.
  • No minimum wage or overtime.
  • We do not get any benefits
  • The companies do not insure us. In fact, most personal insurance policies exclude delivery work, meaning we may have to pay a lot extra to have the proper coverage.
  • We pay double for Social Security and Medicare taxes because we're self-employed.
  • There is no safety net. If for whatever reason Doordash arbitrarily says sorry, you're done here, there's nothing we can do. You'd be amazed how often that happens. There's no due process for contractors. And, there's no unemployment.

5. I'm not asking for pity. I choose to be an independent contractor.

It's just like starting any business. I made the decision that the benefits outweighed the risk. It's not any different than if I'd chosen to open a store or restaurant.

I choose to do this because it gives me incredible flexibility. The flexibility lets me can choose when and where to go out and work. I have more control over my profitability than you might expect.

In fact, I'm pretty sure I would opt out of doing this if I had to do so as an employee.

The reason for mentioning those things is, there's a certain amount of risk when doing this. As a result, we have to make decisions that allow us to continue running our businesses well.

6. My agreement with Doordash is on a delivery by delivery basis.

When a company like Doordash chooses to use contractors, they cannot control the work of the contractor like they can an employee.

That means they can't set our schedule. They can't tell us what deliveries we have to take. All they can do is offer us opportunities.

It's only when we accept a given opportunity that our agreement with them goes into effect.

Now, once I accept a delivery, I have a moral and contractual obligation to complete that delivery with excellence. But as long as I'm not on an active delivery, I have no agreement or obligation that says I have to accept a delivery.

7. Each delivery offer from Doordash is a bid for my services.

Here's how it works: When I decide to go out and deliver, I turn on the Doordash app. This tells Doordash that I'm ready to receive delivery offers.

Once I do that, Doordash will send me an offer. It's like they're saying hey, I have this delivery available, and this is what it pays. Do you want it?

The offer screen will give us details such as the restaurant (or store), how far I can expect to drive, and how much the delivery will pay. While Doordash doesn't tell me how much the tip will be before the delivery is done, we have a pretty good idea.

It's not really any different than any business. I can't just walk into your store or business and say I want to use your services but you have to accept whatever my offer is.

Doordash doesn't have my back if the offers I accept result in my pay being too low. As I said earlier, we have no guarantees and no minimum wage. (There are some exceptions, such as in California under Proposition 22). Without that safety net, I have to think like a business owner when deciding whether to accept a delivery.

8. Your tip is part of that bid.

Icon that you might see on an online auction site depicting a gavel and the words Place Bid.

In fact, it's a very significant part of the bid.

The offer they give us reflects the part Doordash pays with the tip that you added when you placed the order.

The important part to remember is, Doordash rarely pays much for base pay (or delivery fees). As a rule of thumb, Doordash pays less than $4 for a delivery. It's rarely higher, but sometimes can be as low as $2.

That means, if you choose not to tip, your driver's total earnings for that delivery will only be about $3, give or take a dollar. That's a small amount of money for a half hour's work.

9. We have to make a business decision based on what a delivery will pay compared to the time and expense of delivering that food.

When we accept a delivery, we have to go to the restaurant. Sometimes we have to place the order, and then wait for the food to be completed. Then of course, we bring it to you.

The industry average for completing a delivery is about a half hour. If you're really close to the restaurant (and if the restaurant is really efficient getting your food ready) it could be a shorter delivery time. If there's a long drive, it could take longer.

The first thing I do when I receive an offer is, I ask myself how long I think it will take. Then I evaluate that against the pay. Personally I try to break it down to pay per minute. It's my way of setting my price.

If the offer meets my pay per minute, cool, I'll take it. If not, I'll pass.

Think of it this way: If I were to ask you to do work for me, you have to pay expenses out of your own pocket, and oh, by the way I'm expecting you to do it for about $5 per hour, would you take that offer?

That's the position we're in as drivers.

One way you can use this information to determine a good tip.

A tip jar with coins and cash.

I'm not sure that appropriate is the right word. Neither is fair.

Ultimately, what you choose to tip will determine whether I'm paid well enough to take your delivery. That said, I understand that what's fair to me may not be fair to you.

If you're paying enough for the food, Doordash could be charging you twenty or thirty dollars extra on top of the cost of the food. I can see where it feels like extortion to have to pay extra to guarantee it's delivered.

Please understand that we as drivers not the ones extorting you here. No matter what the Doordash platform is charging you, they're typically not paying any more than the $3 to $4 delivery fee. So without your tip, it doesn't make sense for me to accept your delivery.

That's messed up. We'll talk about that more in a bit.

Think of it in terms of what your driver is getting paid.

I feel so uncomfortable saying that. This should be more of an equal conversation. But in the end, whether or not I decide to deliver your Doordash order depends on if it's paying me a reasonable amount for my time.

Here's what it boils down to: You and Doordash are getting together to ask me to spend about a half hour of my time, and to pay all the costs of doing the delivery out of my own pocket. It's not like ordering from Amazon where the cost of shipping is built into the price.

All we get is somewhere around $3 plus whatever you tip.

Add three dollars to your tip, then double that. That's the effective hourly rate for your delivery. If I'm getting two deliveries per hour and they're paying $8 each, that's $16 per hour.

Now keep in mind, we have to account for the cost of using our car. That's typically 30 to 50 cents per mile (rarely the 58.5 cents Uncle Sam tells us). We also have to cover any down time such as wait times between offers.

IF it were you, is that effective rate reasonable? In the end, I'm deciding whether to accept it based on whether it's reasonable for me.

But what about if the service is bad?

3d shiny gold figurine with a tie, briefcase, and holding a big red X depicting bad customer service.

That's really a good question. That's one of the reasons I'm really hesitant to say you HAVE to leave a nice tip no matter what. Let's face it – there's a real possibility that the service won't be worthy of that tip.

How do you find a balance between rewarding drivers who go above and beyond, and not getting screwed by terrible service after you've tipped well?

In most cases involving tipping, the tip is given after the service is provided. You might tip less money if the waiter, bartender or other service provider is rude.

It's harder to manage that situation when the tip is added when you place the order.

Uber Eats does something a little different. They give customers up to an hour to edit their tip amount. That's one way of trying to balance the two. Unfortunately, as this New York Post article illustrates, there can be a problem with what's called tip baiting. That's where customers add a large tip when placing the order in order to assure timely delivery, but then remove it after the delivery is complete.

I don't know if this is a better way of doing things, but here's what I do when I order. I'll decide on a reasonable amount for the tip. I don't see that as a tip really, it's more like that's an additional service fee that ensures a reasonable guaranteed minimum for my driver.

Then, if the service is good, that's when I'll provide extra money in the form of a cash tip when the delivery is completed.

These days when we don't carry cash as much, that's not always as easy. But that's my preferred method for balancing a reward for good service and also making sure any driver is properly compensated.

Let's be honest: It's a messed up system.

The problem here is, tipping is ultimately a part of the pay model for food delivery apps.

The thing is, you get mad at me for not accepting your delivery. I get mad at you for not paying enough.

Ultimately, I feel like Doordash is pitting you and I against each other. Your order didn't get delivered? Doordash blames me for not accepting it. The pay wasn't enough for me to accept? Doordash blames you for not tipping enough.

It's messed up because it changes the nature of tipping.

Tip money is supposed to be a gratuity. It's supposed to be a reward for good service.

Unfortunately tipping has become the biggest part of the pay model for an on demand food delivery app like Doordash. That's not a good thing.

Instead, it holds you hostage. Doordash charges a 15% service fee on top of their delivery fee. They hide that in their “Fees & Estimated Tax” line. That can get pretty steep on a large order.

They hit you with all those fees and then you still have to tip generously to ensure that 1- your order gets accepted by a driver and 2- your driver gets adequately compensated.

With the way that Doordash has structured this, your tip is really just an additional delivery fee.

It's messed up because it puts drivers in an awkward spot.

Doordash chose to use contractors. That was their business decision, so they wouldn't have to pay all the costs of employment.

That puts us in a position to make decisions on deliveries that are offered to us. I hope I've described things well enough, but we can actually lose money on a lot of offers we get. But if we're contracting as a business, we have to make a decision on whether this delivery makes good business sense.

The problem with that is, it makes us look like entitled jerks when we say no to a delivery.

Unfortunately, there's already a fair bit of entitlement within the driver community. I can turn this into a rather lengthy blog post just talking about that (as if it isn't one already?).

We shouldn't have to look like the bad guys just because of the way Doordash structured this whole relationship.

It's messed up because it puts you in an awkward spot.

I mean, you pay $30 in service fees and delivery fees and so you kind of expect the driver's being well taken care of, right?

So you add a couple bucks extra. Or maybe nothing.

And now the driver thinks you are a jerk. “Spend all that money on your food order and all you can do is throw a couple dollars our way?”

It's messed up because it's a model that creates exploitation.

I've talked a lot about how I like being an independent contractor. I choose this model. But I also understand the model and I accept the downside as a part of doing business.

Being an independent contractor is not by itself exploitation. By treating this like a business, I can avoid the traps. I don't have to be dependent on Doordash, Grubhub, Uber Eats or anyone else because I look at them all like customers.

But here's where exploitation happens: When Doordash is unwilling to pay for employees but they expect drivers to act like employees.

Because here's what happens: A lot of Doordash contractors go about this thinking like employees. They think they have to take every order. They're either unwilling to make decisions for themselves or unaware that they can.

The thing is, a lot of those $3 deliveries do get taken. A lot of customers pay a ton in delivery fees, don't tip because they think the driver's getting compensated well, but that driver is making like $5 per hour for that delivery.

Unfortunately, if you didn't tip, you may have unwittingly contributed to that exploitation. I'm sure it wasn't intentional, because you probably didn't know how this was all set up.

But now you know.

My final thoughts about tipping.

I don't care what you tip, and I I won't think less of you for not tipping.

I also don't care what Doordash pays.

Here's how I look at it: I get an offer. I make my decision based on that offer. If it's a good offer, I take it and I commit to providing the most excellent delivery I can.

If it's not a good offer, I pass. Plain and simple. No emotion, no hatred, but also no thank you.

It's not that I'm too good for your delivery. It's just that the offer I received doesn't meet the needs of my business. If you offered Ruth's Chris Steakhouse $5 for their prime rib, they'll say no. If Doordash offers me $3 for a delivery, I'll say no.

Who pays what out of that payment I receive is for you and Doordash to work out. If Doordash pays it all and you don't add a tip, I don't care. If the offer was good enough for me to accept I'm not getting caught up in the details.

Your tip isn't some kind of entitlement for me. I won't insist that you offer a ton of money.

Obviously, not every driver will see it that way. I just look at it as a business decision. If I agree that certain delivery orders are good enough, they're enough. My sense of integrity kicks in then and says okay, now it's my turn to hold up my end of the agreement.

It's just that my agreement never said I have to take an offer if it wasn't reasonable.

Having said all that, the system is what it is.

It sucks that Doordash doesn't pay well enough out of their own pockets, especially with all the things they charge. It doesn't make sense that I could actually lose money where my cost of driving is greater than the delivery fee I get if I accept certain orders.

However, I know how the system works. I also know my rights.

Here's the crazy thing: I recognize that there's a lot that Doordash does that's messed up. But I'm not really all that emotional about it. The nature of running a business is that you will always have customers trying to screw you. You just learn to work around that.

And Doordash is my customer. Not my employer.

It all goes with the territory that I chose as an independent contractor.

And like I said earlier, it's messed up that you have to pay so many fees and STILL be forced to tip if you want to make sure I'm fairly compensated.

But now that you know how the system works, you also understand that if you choose not to tip well, your driver probably isn't being compensated fairly for your delivery.

I get that it shouldn't be that way.

But it all goes with the territory that you chose when you decided to place your order with Doordash.

Is there a way to change it? To get Doordash to do the right thing and come up with a new model? I don't know. Maybe it starts with people understanding how it works. I hope this has helped with that.

Could this help someone else? Please share it.

About the Author

Ron Walter made the move from business manager at a non-profit to full time gig economy delivery in 2018 to take advantage of the flexibility of self-employment. He applied his thirty years experience managing and owning small businesses to treat his independent contractor role as the business it is.

Realizing his experience could help other drivers, he founded EntreCourier.com to encourage delivery drivers to be the boss of their own gig economy business.

Ron has been quoted in several national outlets including Business Insider, the New York Times, CNN and Market Watch.