Where your Uber and Seamless tips go: a guide to gratuities

It’s the traditional season for giving — and for tipping service workers who’ve worked hard throughout the year a little extra. But when you order your taxi (or pizza, or cleaning help) through an app, it can be hard to tell how much of your gratuity actually makes it to the workers.

A few service apps have been under fire for the last year for their opaque tipping policies. Uber is facing a class-action lawsuit over tip skimming, and earlier this year GrubHub/Seamless reached an agreement with the New York Attorney General to stop taking a cut out of tips that users assumed were going entirely to workers.

The default tip setting provided by most service apps we looked at is low. For many services — including Uber, Taskrabbit, and Instacart — the suggested tip is $0. Sure, American-style tipping is an inefficient and generally terrible system. But it’s the system we have and some people rely on tips, so leaving a decent tip is simply the right thing to do. This holiday season, anytime of the year, really, bump your tip up a higher than the default amount suggested by the apps you use to satisfy your on-demand whims — even if you have to carry a little bit of cash.

Our chart covers a number of services you might already use, their tipping policies and how to make sure that your driver or delivery person is getting their fair share:

Should you tip?
Accepts tips on credit card? Does the service take a cut? Default suggested tip Cash tips? Notes
Uber No, but Uber suggests that there is a tip built into some fares Maybe (see notes) No tip Yes, drivers can accept cash tips UberTaxi fares include tip, but UberX, UberBlack and UberSUV don’t include tips and there’s no way to include one on the credit card. Your driver merely gets his or her portion (80%, according to Uber) of the total fare. There is significant controversy whether the tip is included in the fare: Uber used to claim that fares included a 20% tip “for the driver,” but they no longer, possibly due to an ongoing class action lawsuit claims that Uber has been taking a cut of what is supposedly the 20% gratuity. Drivers on UberPeople say they generally tell their passengers that tip is not included.
Lyft Yes No, and credit card fees are not taken out of tips. Checkout buttons for $1, $2, $5 and “other” and no tip It’s against Lyft TOS for drivers to accept cash at any time Lyft was accused of taking 20% of tips in a California lawsuit that was dismissed in August.
Postmates Yes No, and credit card fees are not taken out of tips. No tip (but checkout screen buttons for 5%, 10%, 15% or 20%) No — “Tips are only accepted through the app during check-out.” There is a separate delivery fee that is not a tip, but according to Postmates, delivery workers keep 80% of those fees.
Instacart Yes No, and credit card fees are not taken out of tips. “Optional,”  and “Tip later,” but at checkout it includes options for 5%, 10%, 15% and “other.” Yes On Glassdoor, a few self-reported Instacart contractors say that tips are essential to their wages.
Google Shopping Express No No tips None You can try. Someone on Quora said his delivery guy refused a cash tip. “No need to tip the courier — he or she doesn’t expect tips and is compensated accordingly.” There’s a delivery fee, but that’s not a gratuity.
Seamless (owned by GrubHub) Yes No, but it’s up to the individual restaurant to fairly distribute tips to its workers. Default is 10%,rounded up to the nearest $0.25 but you can increase it. Yes In April, the New York Attorney General investigated Seamless for taking a cut of tips provided through the service. Seamless agreed to change its fee structure, and now makes clear to restaurants (which are responsible for distributing the tips) that your tips are for the delivery workers.
GrubHub Yes No $0, with options for 10%, 15% and 20% Yes (the default is actually “tip in cash”) See Seamless
FreshDirect No Cash only None FreshDirect workers are allowed to accept cash tips but not to solicit them. A current lawsuit alleges the delivery fee misleads customers into thinking it’s a gratuity.
Home service
Handy No. Handy says tips are included in its fees. Maybe. 20% (supposedly built into fee) Cash is the only way to tip your help booked through Handy Handy’s subsidiary, Exec, says tip is “included in the price” as well. Handy is currently being sued by former workers over many things; one allegation is that Handy skims the 20 percent tip.
TaskRabbit No, but Taskrabbit says a cashless tipping option will be available “in the coming weeks.” Cash only None Yes, cash is the recommended way to tip a TaskRabbit worker There was a tip option in the app until its July redesign. Users can still include a credit card tip under “expenses.”