Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Here's a Switch: Tips From the Delivery Guys
By KIM SEVERSON New York Times

Published: March 2, 2005

FRIEND of mine has a continuing debate with her husband over their official apartment delivery policy: Do boxer shorts count as clothes?

He figures wearing boxers to the door is no different from wearing shorts. She says he ought to at least put on some pants when money is being exchanged for food.

Here's what the delivery people say: They don't care where your wallet is, as long as it's open when they knock on the door.

"Time is money," said We Chang, one of the dozen or so delivery people who race food from Ollie's Noodle Shop in Times Square to hundreds of offices and apartments each day. "No clothes don't bother me. I just want to get in there and get out of there."

Money is money, too. So if being prepared is the first rule of New York delivery etiquette, tipping well is the second. An unscientific survey of men and women who dispatch dumplings showed that tips can range from a meager dollar to a nice 15 percent of the total bill (maybe $5 on a $30 order). And if the weather is particularly bad, the figure goes even higher.

"Our guys wish every day for snow or rain," said Tommy Chu, a manager at Ollie's. "Sunny days are no good for tips."

Of course this all depends on whether the food arrives in a reasonable amount of time. Depending on the neighborhood and the time of day, "reasonable" is usually under half an hour.

"It's just like eating at the restaurant," said Branson Lee, a manager of Wild Ginger on 29th Street in Murray Hill. "If the service is slow, the tip goes down."

No one understands the need to get the food to the door fast more than the delivery guys (and they are mostly guys). Every day they dodge cabs and police officers ready to ticket for detours on the sidewalk or running a light. And they do it all while trying to keep food hot and intact, hoping for a tip to supplement their hourly wages.

Nazario Benitez, 32, has been delivering roasted ducks and chickens for East Side Poultry on the Upper East Side for about a year. He uses his own bicycle and said he makes a total of $30 to $60 a day, relying on tips to supplement the $3 an hour he earns.

"Sometimes you have people who are mad because we came a little late," Mr. Benitez said. "They don't give you tips. They close the door like they're mad. I try to be the most nice I can. If people see you are nice, they will take care of you. When I see it's a little late, I say I'm sorry."

Mr. Benitez likes payments in cash. When people use a credit card, he often does not get a tip. But if customers have to use a credit card, he prefers they at least tip in cash. And though he is as nice as possible, a bad tip can rub him the wrong way. That is especially true when the kitchen is slow to get the food to him or when snow forces him to abandon his bike and slog the order over on foot.

Some people understand, and some people do not. During the blizzard in January deliveries took longer than usual. One man apologized for making Mr. Benitez go out in the storm and gave him a good tip. But another woman was so mad she gave him a dollar and a tongue lashing.

"I said: 'Wow. Excuse me. Just take your bag and don't worry,' " Mr. Benitez said. "For a dollar it doesn't make sense. A dollar is an insult."

Which leads to the third rule of delivery etiquette: Whatever you do, do not get on the do-not-deliver list.

Failing to tip is one way to land there, said Kristyn Watters, a manager of the Park Slope Ale House in Brooklyn. So is ordering food and then not being home to accept the delivery, a big problem when people call during their commute home and then get caught on a slow train. And even though you swear your barking dog is friendly, keep it away from the door when the food arrives. For cat owners, there is a corollary: Don't expect the delivery person to block a fleeing animal.

And of course it is always a good idea to avoid threatening behavior if you ever want to get food delivered from a particular restaurant again.

Mr. Chu, the manager at Ollie's, recounts a recent example. One of his deliverymen brought $15 worth of food to a nearby apartment building. The customer only had $13 but promised to make it up the next time. The delivery man would not leave the food, and the customer pulled a knife from his pocket.

The delivery man ran, still carrying the bag. The next day the customer called back and tried to place another order, explaining that he was going to give the knife to the delivery man as a way to make up the $2. If there ever was a candidate for the do-not-deliver list, he was it.

At the end of the day New York's delivery rules are pretty basic: Watch your dog. Have your money ready. Tip well, and do it in cash.

And wear your nicest boxers.

Anyone wishing to respond to my notes posted in this weblog can do so on the we8there forum.