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How much should you tip for bad service?

Lousy attitudes don't discourage some generous tippers.

By Karen Datko Oct 18, 2009 4:16PM

Hardly a personal-finance topic provokes strong opinions like the question of how much to tip, particularly after the waiter treats you like a case of scurvy.


A special dinner out for Bob of ChristianPF and his wife lost its luster when their waiter became rude and unresponsive. And yet, after all that, Bob left a 20% tip.


That's more than we would have done, and we aren't alone. However, some of his readers offered other opinions when he asked, "How much should you tip a bad waiter or waitress?"

Isn't the situation complicated by the fact that a tip in many cases isn't simply a bonus, but an essential component of the server's pay? Without tips, most of these folks aren't making a living wage.


The waiter gave Bob and Linda the cold shoulder after they declined to order wine, and displayed a bad attitude for the rest of the evening. Why did Bob tip so much? He was once a waiter, so he knows about lousy pay. And maybe the waiter was broke or having a rough day.


We'll break down readers' responses into several groups:

  • Leave 10%, or $1 or zip. "A waiter has a responsibility to give good service and if they do not, a lesser tip is the consequence," reader Rebecca Mallory said. Several opponents of this proposal said the message will be lost. Your server will simply think you're a tightwad.
  • Leave 20%. Your generosity will "shock" your server into doing a better job, a waitress of nine years advised.
  • Leave 20%, just because it's the right thing to do. "Anyone can stiff a waiter. It takes a gracious and kind heart to give generously to those who don't deserve it ...," "Redeeming Riches" said.

A reader who identified herself as "Former Waitress" suggested you ask the hostess to move you to another server's section. If you don't move, don't reward bad behavior. "There is no excuse for making someone feel like a second-class citizen just because they order water or want to split a meal," she said.


Published June 2, 2009

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