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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 15, 2012 2:19PM
Sort of a catch 22. I very seldom eat at "sit down" restaurants (twice this year because of family pressures) and never go to bars; not because of financial limitations, but only because the whole tipping thing is very uncomfortable for me. I often feel patronized by "good" wait staff, and slighted by poor service. I would rather all employees be paid a fair wage as reflected in the menu price, and only outstanding service should warrant a bonus. For some of us, neither the wait person nor the restaurant gets our entertainment money because of tipping. I would however frequent restaurants that were a little more expensive, but eliminated this awkward complication.   
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 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.
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 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 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 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 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 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 14, 2012 11:02PM
Are you people serious? Why am I obligated to tip you for doing your job? I hate tipping servers for serving! I refuse to tip someone for being nice, helpful and because the service was great... ITS YOUR JOB!!! Btw we CAN hear what you say under your breath which makes me NOT want to tip you even more. Its funny how these people automatically expect it...
Nov 14, 2012 10:40PM

I was all ways taught

20% good service

15% average service

10% bad service

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 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 3:35PM
not tipping is so rude and disrespectful.  While some places pay you less than minimum wage and have your tips make up for it... other states (such as CA) tax you massively on your "great" tips... so in theory, if you're not tipping... it's costing that server money to serve YOU!  Grow up people and please realize that if you're going to eat out, tipping your server is part of that expense and sorry, but if you can't afford to tip then you probably shouldn't be eating out.  Eat at home or dine somewhere where a tip is more optional (ie. an order and sit down joint [which even then you should at least leave a dollar considering your food is being brought to you and someone has to clean your table]).  People who don't understand tipping have obviously never served or are really, really cheap.
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 3:08PM
Some places pay less than minimum wage, so the tip is collected to make up for that. Not tipping is the worst thing you could do, next to spitting in the waitor/waitress face.
Nov 14, 2012 2:34PM
not tipping is unacceptable! servers make far below minimum wage as an hourly wage... they usually have to tip out other members of the team such as bus boys and bartenders.. the tip out based on sales. if you are not happy with your service, politely tell them or go to management. not tipping is just plain tacky!!!
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