Dear Penny: My Cheapskate Parents Won’t Tip for Uber Eats. What Can I Do?

A senior citizen accepts a takeout order from a food delivery person. This photo goes with a story about a daughter who is concerned that her elderly parents do not tip their Uber Eats driver.
Getty Images
Dear Penny,

My parents are in their 80s. They love to dine out, but like a lot of older folks, they’ve been avoiding restaurants due to the pandemic.

I downloaded the UberEats app for them on their phones so they could continue to enjoy their favorite restaurants while staying safe at home. But I was recently mortified when they mentioned that they never tip the drivers. I have several friends who are driving to make ends meet right now, and they rely on tips.

My parents refuse because they say the delivery fees are already too high as it is. My parents have always been stingy on tipping. They think 15% for great service when you dine in at a restaurant is plenty. I know how hard it will be to get them to change, but I feel strongly about this. Should I drop it or keep pushing here?


Dear N.,

I’m a proponent of the “if you can’t afford the tip, you can’t afford the service” philosophy. That applies whether you’re dining in or having food delivered. In the case of Uber Eats — or any food delivery app — if you don’t like the fees, that’s an argument in favor of picking up the food yourself or cooking at home. It doesn’t justify not tipping your driver.

You don’t say how you responded when your parents told you they don’t tip or whether an argument ensued. But if you went directly to their history of being stingy tippers, I don’t think that’s a good approach. People generally don’t respond well to being called cheapskates.

I do think that it’s worth letting your parents know how drivers for food delivery apps are paid, though. If they just started using Uber Eats, they may be a little shell-shocked by all those exorbitant fees. (And I’m only calling out Uber Eats because that’s the service you mention by name. Everything I’m going to say pertains to food delivery apps across the board.) Perhaps they mistakenly think that all those charges are lining the driver’s pocket.

Here’s what you can tell your parents: Drivers are basically paid by the order, not by the hour. If they spend 20 minutes waiting because the kitchen is backed up, that’s 20 minutes that they essentially aren’t getting paid for. Because drivers don’t make an hourly minimum wage, they rely on tips.

Unfortunately, a lot of drivers will tell you that non-tippers are common. Ask any of your friends who are delivering food for an app, and I’m sure that they’ll confirm this. Perhaps some of these customers are simply confused about how drivers are paid or whether tipping is the norm. I also suspect that it’s easier to stiff someone when you have zero interaction with them — and with contactless delivery, zero interaction is becoming the norm.

But tipping has taken on a new level of importance during the pandemic. Before coronavirus, we were often asking people to deliver food to us simply because we were too lazy to pick it up ourselves. Now, we’re asking drivers to risk their health so we can stay safe at home. Plus, so many people have lost their jobs and are trying to cobble together a living from gig work. This is a time to be as generous as you can afford to be. There’s no hard-and-fast rule here, but the general consensus seems to be that 15% for food delivery is fair.

All that said, I think this is a conversation you have with your parents one time, and one time only. Beyond that, you’re not going to make a difference. You’re about as likely to change your parents’ minds by arguing about it repeatedly as you are to change someone’s mind by arguing politics at Thanksgiving.

I have a hunch that your feelings on this matter reflect a broader disagreement with your parents. Tipping has taken on a new level of emotion in 2020 — even for those who have the luxury of making this a philosophical debate because their livelihoods don’t depend on tips.

The pandemic has exposed just how frail the safety net is for so many workers, particularly in the restaurant and hospitality industry. If you feel strongly that that needs to change, you’re hopefully tipping more generously these days.

Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do on this one. You’re not going to fix the broader structural issues of the economy by making your parents into better tippers.

Hopefully, though, your parents will surprise you. You’re not asking them to drastically change their habits. You’re just making the case for tacking on a few extra bucks for the driver. In the meantime, keep tipping generously knowing that you’re helping make up for all those non-tippers out there.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]