Is not tipping ever OK?

Should a tip be considered a reward for good or excellent service at a sit-down restaurant? Or is it something you should always do?

By Karen Datko Nov 14, 2012 1:17PM

Impatient waitress waiting to take order © Brand X Pictures, Brand X Pictures, Getty ImagesAre you in the camp that believes that if you can't afford to leave a tip, you should not be dining out?


I am, but that sentiment is not universal. Most recently, the no-tipping debate erupted again after a photo was posted on Reddit of a credit card receipt for $138.35 for a restaurant meal. In the line for the tip, someone wrote "single mom sorry" and added a cheery note, "Thank You it was great."


Some bloggers figured the receipt was a fake or, worse, was intended as a slap at single mothers. "I think the diner was not really a single parent, or at least not one who couldn't afford a tip, but rather someone trying to imply that some single moms feel like they are entitled to a pass because they are struggling financially," wrote Mari-Jane Williams on The Washington Post's On Parenting blog.


Mommyish blogger Lindsay Cross said she thinks the note on the receipt was "a very awful prank to make single moms look bad."


Since we have no way of knowing anything about the signer's intentions, let's focus on the basic question: Are you ever right to not leave a tip at all?


The Emily Post website seems silent on this question. The site's recommended tip for sit-down dining is 15% to 20%, pretax. However, no exceptions are listed. recommends the same range for tips.


Others who have commented on the topic seem to fall into one of two groups:

  • Those who recognize that the tip is a part of the server's pay and thus always tip. (This group generally includes those who work or have worked as a waiter and understand how hard the job can be.)

Wrote one commenter on Yelp in San Antonio:

"It's never acceptable to not tip your server at all! Even when the service is terrible. Now, I'm not saying you must leave a GOOD tip but keep in mind that these people live on the measly change you're leaving them. If there is a serious problem with your service/overall experience then let management know and trust them to take care of the problem."

  • Those who think a tip is a reward, and thus can be withheld.

"This arrogance that tipping is required for service is ludicrous," wrote Chris Thomas, a former server, on the Brass blog. "If you don't like working for minimum wage or less, don't work in service expecting more."

We can think of a combination of factors where you might be tempted not to tip. (This applies to sit-down restaurants in the U.S. In some countries around the world, tipping is not expected because restaurants pay the wait staff a living wage. Yes, hard to believe, I know.) The service would have to be really awful, like the server repeatedly ignoring requests for water refills, screwing up orders and delivering cold food -- all delivered with a bad attitude. Many recommend complaining to the manager in such cases. 


On the other hand, we can see why you might always want to leave something -- perhaps 10% -- even if the server was rude. Here's why:

But not tipping because you can't afford it is never legitimate. As one commenter at Yelp in Portland, Ore., wrote, it's like saying, "Can't pay my rent because I bought expensive furniture."


Is not tipping ever appropriate? Why or why not?


More on MSN Money:


Nov 14, 2012 4:29PM
It is called a Tip, not a tax. If service is awful then we'll let the manager know and then the waiter/waitress will know it effects their tip.  If the problem is the taste/quality of the food but the server is proactive in attempting to make ammends then they will still get a tip.  The rule is simple. If your service is lousy then the tip or lack thereof will be a direct reflection.
Nov 14, 2012 3:20PM

I will not tip if the server is rude or incompetent. On the other hand, I might tip a bit more than 15% if he or she is very polite & helpful.

Nov 14, 2012 5:48PM
Why do I have to leave a bigger tip if I decide to have lobster instead of a burger? Shouldn't I get the same good service regardless? The tip should be about the service I received not the meal I decided to have.
Nov 15, 2012 12:20AM
I had a unique experience this past Saturday.

Slow service, waiter was somewhere between inattentive and rude.

As I took the check to a computer where they handle all of the orders, the manager happened to be standing there.

I told him about the service, he did the thing of taking off part of my bill and then handed me my card and receipt.

I asked for a pen to sign the receipt. (I wasn't going to leave a tip.)

He said that he didn't need a signature (and I guess part of that message is that he was refusing to give me an opportunity to tip).

(And yes, I've checked my statement and have been charged for the exact adjusted amount.)

Nov 15, 2012 1:33AM
I believe that the burden of "tipping" needs to go to the employer. Instead of expecting diners to pay an extra 15% onto the tab, restaurants should mark up dishes by 15% and give that percentage to the waiter and staff. It shouldn't be my fault as a diner that the staff is underpaid. Also, tipping is not required, but minimum wage is- how are restaurants getting away with this??
Nov 15, 2012 7:54AM

Yes,  not tipping or tipping a few cents can be an appropriate way to point out to a server that they need to seek out another profession or to give them an attitude adjustment.  I rarely leave no tip, but have on several occasions left 2 cents and in one case the server caught up to me in the parking lot to apologize(it was a restaurant that I was a regular at), but only happened once.  I also had a waitress confront me the check out line and throw the 2 pennies at me and scream at me in front of the manger that I was speaking to about her.  She didn't last long cussing me out ion front of management was not smart. 


Despite the low hourly most servers make, I look at a tip as a bonus for proper service and the tip percentage goes up as server gets better.  

Nov 15, 2012 11:11AM

My best friend was a waitress in an upscale restaurant many years, she worked 5-midnight on Friday and Saturday, her gratitudes for those 2 evenings she took home more than I did working a full week in an office. Have I ever NOT left a tip, yes, very very few times, it is a thankyou for satisfactory service received and I won't thank someone for that which I did not receive, not a watiress but a haircutter that I did not tip. Most times the problem is the so-called management and supervision or lack thereof.

Nov 15, 2012 3:48PM

Its called a tip for a reason. Reward for services performed. If a person performing a service is getting stiffed maybe they should reevaluate their performance standards.


There will always be non paying a holes.  I am not going to tip (reward) for crappy service.

Nov 15, 2012 7:21PM
TIPS = To Insure Proper Service (I know the spelling/usage of insure/ensure is probably incorrect, I met a bartender once who told me this line) ... To me, if I get halfway decent service, Im going to leave 15% + ... if its a food situation, I'm still going to tip, that's not the server's fault.  Now, if a server is rude, takes my order wrong, or gives off the attitude of not caring, my tip is going to drop quickly.  If I have to call a manager about the service, that's generally a good bet the tip is gone.  Coming from both sides of the industry, I understand that servers make or break it on tips, but at the same time, they should remember that themselves and act accordingly.
Nov 15, 2012 10:41AM

I was a waitress... hard work for little money. There are the "good" customers who interact with you and then there are the "jerks" who leave the change in an upside down water/soda glass or in the left over food. I taught all my kids to tip, also, and leave comments.... good or bad.

I may be your server for your meal, but i am not your maid...........

Being a server helps the communication skills, people skills and dealing with priorities and deadlines..... a good way to start out and it is FUN. Any job is fun if your attitude is in the same state of mind.

I TIP and I also have no problem giving my opinions to the server and the owner. Positive & negative re-enforcement.

Nov 15, 2012 3:17PM

Base pay for servers is lousy, with the median in the U.S. at $8.81 an hour in 2010...

WTH does this mean?  All the waitresses I know make $2.83 an hour...


Nov 15, 2012 11:04AM

when did service get redefined into auctioning off your food? 


when i order a steak and my wife orders the chicken, and someone comes out seriously ASKING US "steak?" or "chicken?", WHY DO THEY NOT KNOW?!?!?!?


that is one element of basic service.  your JOB is to take the order, deliver the food TO THE RIGHT PERSON! 


this is even worse with a small to large group of people. we have to turn into trained seals because the training of "service" that doesn't include noting WHO ORDERED THE FOOD!


when i get this style of "service" my tip drops from potentially 20 to 15, to 10% or less. 


the job you ELECTED to take has a description of take the order, deliver the food, deliver the check.  if that is ALL you do, that gets simply minimum wage. 

Nov 15, 2012 1:56PM
If it is supposed to be part of the bill, then make it part of the bill as they do in other countries.  If I get terrible service, how does the server know that?  If I withold some or all of the tip then that sends a message. 
Nov 16, 2012 9:31PM
I always leave a tip, however if the waitstaff is extremely bad then my tip will be accordingly adjusted. I normally tip around 20% but have gone much higher for excellent service. On just one occassion I left a 2 cent tip. Get it, I left my two cents to let them know what I really thought of the totally horrible lack of service.
Nov 15, 2012 8:34PM
Tipping provides employers an excuse to not pay a fair wage.  Tipping should be eliminated entirely, but until then, tip appropriately so that your server understands that good service is appreciated and poor service is not.  This should be enough of an incentive for them to avoid a customer service job.  I work in retail and my sales are directly related to the item I sell and my level of customer service, thus I am "compensated"  based on these criteria.  Why should others who work in the service industry expect any different?
Nov 30, 2012 11:51PM
There have 2 times in life where a tip was not left to the server. One a Christmas party and the bill was over $800.00. One of the guests spent a lot of time talking and had a couple bites left of his prime rib. The server (he had not been friendly or accommodating the entire meal) began to take his plate away and the guest said "I not quiet through" the server looked him square in the eye and asked him if he was going to lick the plate. No lie. They left one penny for the server but made sure the others were all compensated for their service which was great.  The other, my kids (newlyweds) took me to dinner after they got their tax return back because of the help I had given them.  Chinese food. The woman server was not happy to be there.  Took for ever for our order to be taken, then she set the food on an empty table across from us. (While waiting for our food I ended up pouring coffee to other patrons because no worker would). She finally came back and set the plates down but she didn't have everyone's food. Got up to get her and asked where the rest was and she looked at me (smacking gum) and said you got it all.  No we didn't and asked for the manager, she said she was. Lying. Finally got the rest of the cold food.  The bill was padded and you could see it right away. Plates were still on the table so I drug her over there and made her count them against the bill.  OK OK so I f__ed up. True story. We paid her and left NO tip.  Could hear her nice language on our way out.  No the place is no longer in business 2 weeks later. Imagine that.
Nov 28, 2012 10:37AM

I usually tip 20 - 25%, when the bill is low I feel guilty just giving 20%.  I eat out often - multiple times a week- and I've only not tipped twice in my life(I'm 40).  Both incidents were really bad service, and one of them the waitress was a racist.  Usually when I feel the service was poor I will only tip 10 - 15%(very rare).  Thankfully God has blessed me financially and I am able to do this, however, I don't believe that you have to tip for poor service.  The whole reason the they get paid low wages is to incentivize them to provide great service and earn their tip.  I know others are also relying on the tip because of pooling, but if the waiter/waitress is bad, how would they be incentivized to do better if they always get tipped no matter what.


I know I may sound hypocritical because I pretty much tip no matter what, but that's only because I feel guilty not doing so.  But if you don't have that guilt, I think you should withhold the tip if the service is poor.  On the flip side, you should always tip if the service is acceptable - if you can't - take it to go.


Also, I did complain to the manager regarding the racist waitress, and he offered to comp my meal.  I told him that I will pay for the meal, but that the waitress has no business working at any restaurant.

Nov 15, 2012 3:23PM

I agree with Paul & shouldn't be based on your food selection and whether or not the dish is higher in cost than others that are listed on the menu. I also feel that it shouldn't be a burden to customers that just want go out occasionally and have a meal away from home. It’s not our fault that the restaurants are paying them less than minimum wage. They shouldn't be allowed to get away with that anyway but that's the choice the employees made when they accepted the job and we shouldn't have to make up the difference in their salary. I always TRY to leave a tip but it's never what it should be (by the rules of the restaurant business). After I've paid the bill there isn't enough left for the 15-20% so I give what I can and really don't care what they say about it to others because it's better than nothing.  What I hate is the attitude that you're given not only in restaurants but also in the hair and nail salons when they don't see a sizeable tip afterwards. I don't feel that I should have to pay double for them having to do their job! The whole idea of it all makes me very uncomfortable anyway so for the most part, I just stay at home or go to a fast food place where no one is expecting anything extra. I pay for the service given and anything else is optional. Due to the economy, I sometimes just don’t have the extra to give but still would like to enjoy life as best as I can without any hassles.



Nov 15, 2012 1:51PM
Too be honest, the camp saying that you shouldn't eat out if you cant afford to tip is on the right track.....however, the best solution  is to raise the price of the food so that the employee's get at least minimum wage. Then, a "tip" would actually be for good service ONLY and this discussion wouldn't have to take place.
Dec 1, 2012 3:44PM
I offer this to those waiters and waitresses who claim it is never okay not to leave a tip: is it ever okay not to claim the tip that you received.  A waiter/waitress receive an hourly wage and then have to claim their tips.  The combination must add up to minimum wage.  If it doesn't, then the restaurant must make up the difference.  However, after working in the restaurant industry, I find it eerily interesting the number of times that the tips plus hourly wage exactly equal minimum wage.  So, although I generally tip 15 to 20% (sometimes more) if the service is particularly poor, then I figure out how long I was sitting there, divide it into an hour and tip to equal minimum wage - no more.  ****, maybe - but if you ever wonder how much to tip consider this - start at minimum wage and then figure out whether or not, if that employee was yours, how much you would be willing to pay them.  After all, they are only going to claim minimum wage anyway.  Anything over that is a bonus for excellent service and not required. 
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