It was a Friday afternoon in Manhattan and Sasha Zielin, owner of TriBeCa’s Cornerstone restaurant, as he tells the story, received a phone call from a woman who says she was delivered the wrong chicken sandwich.
“What’s the address?” he said.
“140 Broadway,” said the voice on the other end.
“Oh, the 60-cent tip?” Zielin responded.
Zielin is one of many fed-up restaurant owners who can no longer hold their tongues. “You want $40 of food and you tip 85 cents? It’s a major issue. It’s something I complain about every day,” he says.
Zielin refers to his restaurant as an “old-school hole-in-the-wall New York spot.” He and his business partner opened the joint in 1991 and TriBeCa grew tall all around them. The same TriBeCa that a recent survey by StreetEasy blog and Seamless delivery service found to turn out some of the lowest food-delivery tippers in all of New York City. In fact, the survey revealed 17 of the 20 lowest delivery-tipping neighborhoods are in Manhattan.
Of the top ten most generous delivery tipping neighborhoods, nine are located in Brooklyn.
“Those who tip well are gonna be wealthy,” says a hotel bellman to a valet attendant in front of the Greenwich Hotel in TriBeCa one afternoon. His name is Patrick Duggin and he believes gratitude brings in blessings. “Synchronicity. My life happens like that. Specially the better I tip,” Duggin told the Brooklyn Ink.
Where does Duggin live? Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Fort Greene is one of the higher tipping neighborhoods, according to the survey.
But Greenpoint, Brooklyn takes the top spot. Uddin, an employee at Agra Taj Mahal Indian restaurant in Greenpoint, says, “Most of the time, it’s more than 20 percent… My delivery guys are very happy.”
Two managers of Fornino, a pizzeria in Greenpoint, say knowing the struggle of working in the food industry plays a big role in how one tips. “Maybe the majority of people [in Manhattan] haven’t worked in the industry,” says Jennifer Pless. “Having worked in the industry, you understand.”
A Brooklyn resident herself, Pless says the weather affects her tips as well. “If it’s cold, I’ll tip more. Like, would I want to be out in the cold?” she says, “There’s a fee for me to be lazy.”
Patrick O’Halloran, a hospitality management professor at City Tech College, says that he consulted different food delivery restaurants in downtown Brooklyn and found that employees feel working at a restaurant for a substantial amount of time builds relationships with customers. Customers can then relate to them as blue collar workers who are part of their neighborhood. “This relationship may not be possible in Manhattan, due to the fact that deliveries are often to hotels and commercial buildings,” O’Halloran says. He adds that in Manhattan, restaurants come and go more often, too, which can affect restaurant relationships with the neighborhood.
StreetEasy concluded that the study meant “the greater the rent burden in a particular neighborhood, the lower the tip amount as well.” StreetEasy reported that renters in Brooklyn Heights, with 30 percent of the typical household’s annual income going to rent, tipped more than Elmhurst, where renters pay 42 percent of typical household income.
Van Tran, a sociologist and professor at Columbia University, says there’s not enough evidence to prove this theory. “I don’t doubt there’s a strong relationship between the rent burden that people feel versus how altruistic or generous they could be when it comes to tipping for services,” he says, “but I think there are other variables that have yet to be fully explored.”
“One potential explanation for why Manhattan neighborhoods tend to tip at a lower rate, proportionally speaking, compared to Brooklyn neighborhoods, is because in Manhattan the restaurant networks are much more dense compared to Brooklyn,” Tran says. With more frequent restaurants on the blocks of Manhattan, he says deliveries tend to be shorter distance and easier to make. “People are likely tip to what they perceive to be the amount of effort it took to deliver their food,” he said.
Tran also adds that the study could have been more rigorous—investigating the total amount of each order instead of median amounts for each neighborhood. “When you think about it, 10 percent of an order of $100 is a lot of money—$10, whereas 15 percent on an order of $12 is much less in terms of nominal sum,” Tran says.