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April 6, 2020, 9:42 a.m. EDT

How much do you tip the delivery person during the coronavirus pandemic?

The Moneyist breaks down what is appropriate to tip service-industry workers during the COVID-19 outbreak

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By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch

Dear Readers,

That’s usually the other way around. Normally, readers ask me a question. But this is a time we can figure out what we can do for each other. While more people are working remotely and avoiding public transportation due to the coronavirus, not everyone has the luxury of working from home. How do you show people in consumer-facing industries that you appreciate all they do? Delivery staff may be busier than usual, but wait staff are going to see their income drop as people stay home.

In New York, studies show people tend to tip 15% to 20%. It’s often less than that in other parts of the country.

America is battening down the hatches. Restaurants are closing. Music festivals have canceled. Broadway has gone dark. There are lines outside some supermarkets with people on the hunt for fresh fruit and vegetables, cleaning products, hand sanitizer and, yes, oat milk. You can’t get toilet roll on Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -0.94%  for love or money.

So here is my question: How much should you tip the delivery person or Uber driver during the coronavirus pandemic? They are, after all, potentially putting themselves in harm’s way.

In New York, studies show people tend to tip 15% to 20%. It’s often less than that in other parts of the country. Wages are higher in metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, New York and Seattle, among others. Service-industry workers may be feeling extra anxious going to work and dealing with members of the public. They are, after all, among those Americans who do not have the luxury of working from home. To quote a slogan of yore from an Irish credit union: Every little bit helps.

You may care more about whether COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is more deadly than the flu, worry about how long coronavirus lasts on surfaces, or wonder if recirculated air at 30,000 feet increases your chances of getting sick. I’m turning my gimlet eye to etiquette. My recommendation: tip service-industry workers 5% more, if you can afford it. For me, that’s 25%. Likewise, if you usually tip 10%, perhaps consider 15%.

Also see: Meet the most generous tipper in America

I asked Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, Fla. “Exchanging money is not the best thing to do at the moment,” she says. “Use a credit card or an app, and tip at least 15% to 20%. I usually tip $4 on a $20 pizza, but it’s not going to make or break me by giving them one more dollar. However, I am also aware that there are a lot of retirees living in this state, and not everyone tips like I do.” ( This Square /zigman2/quotes/205989440/composite SQ -1.33% survey says Floridians tip about 16%.)

As economists warn of a looming recession, some industries may be less secure than others. “Declining consumer confidence, potentially severe retail-traffic declines, and temporary store closures are evolving risk factors that depend on uncertain variables like the geographic spread of the virus and the timing of containment/eradication solutions,” analysts at Cowen, a financial-services company. wrote in this research note .

That said, there’s one thing (almost) better than an extra dollar: Acknowledging that people in the service industry are turning up for work. When I greeted the man who gave me coffee in the local bodega last weekend, and a Lyft /zigman2/quotes/208999293/composite LYFT +1.74%  driver, I told each of them to stay safe and stay healthy, and I thanked them for showing up, and I tipped the driver 25%. I gave them the peace sign and said, “ V for Victory . We’re gonna beat this!”

Coronavirus update:

Coronavirus had infected at least 337,933 people in the U.S. as of Monday morning and killed 9,653 people, 3,048 of which were in New York City, according to Johns Hopkins University. With 122,911 cases, New York State accounts for more than a third of the national cases. Worldwide, there were 1,288,372 confirmed cases of the virus and 70,590 reported deaths, and 270,372 have recovered.

<STRONG>You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com</STRONG>

Want to read more? Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter and read more of his columns here

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas: inheritance, wills, divorce, tipping, gifting. I often talk to lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and other experts, in addition to offering my own thoughts. I receive more letters than I could ever answer, so I’ll be bringing all of that guidance — including some you might not see in these columns — to this group. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

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