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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:

May 5, 2013 1:50PM
How would YOU pay your bills if you only made $2.13/hour because tips are expected to be part of your income?
Dec 4, 2012 1:06PM

I think many of you could benefit by spending time in the restaurant industry and I suspect that you are the same people that no one wants to wait on when spotted in the restaurant. First, some of you have implied that perhaps servers should go get different job, one with a better base pay, thus getting you off the hook paying a tip. Here is what many of you do not realize...... many of these lowly servers are in fact college students paying their way through school. There was no way I could have worked a job with normal hours while attending college. Serving was the only way I could still work and focus on school. Second, many of you question why you should tip more if your bill was more... let me educate you. Servers are taxed on the amount of their sales. Therefore the more you spend and not tip, you are actually taking money out of the servers pocket. Also, servers tip out bartenders, bussers, hosts, etc. on the amount of sales. So, if you order an expensive meal and do not tip, you are again costing the server money. I do agree you would tip on service, but has to be a percentage. It is true, there are lousy servers out there, but there are some good ones too! There are definite standards that should be met and if not, the tip should reflect it. I myself have not tipped before too, but before doing so I encourage you to evaluate whether your poor experience was cause by the server, or some other factor?  

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. 
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 30, 2012 11:22PM

I am of the school that a tip is earned for good service. Like the guy said if you don't like working for minimum wage, get another job. This is America no one can force you to work where you don't want too. I worked for minimum wage for a long time and I busted my butt, unfortunately is was not in the service industry where they expect tips...for an uneducated therefor they better deliver excellent service if they expect more than thier minimum wage. I have been to dinner many times where the waiter made more per hour than I make and I went to college for six years. I believe that tips should be recognition based for a job well done. I don't owe the wait staff anything, except to recognize and reward a job well done.And I really hate walk up/ fast food places that have tip jars...get serious. Maybe I should have a tip jar at work for a job well done!



Nov 30, 2012 11:13PM

its not our fault the government taxes wait staff for their tips some wait staff knowig people will tip them anyway are rude the tip is supposed to be given for good service the fact that is sometimes shared with others goes to show how your attitude at work can affect your co workers. I believe should tip but if the waiter or waitress didn't earn then they shouldn't get it I have only with held a tip twice in my life and it was greatly earned. I have also payed more then the recommended tip when it was earned as well I am sorry the goverment taxes them for their tips it shouldnt be that way but we shouldnt be obligated to tip for bad service just because they are besides how will they change if they dont learnn they wont get tipped if they dont act better.


Nov 30, 2012 10:44PM
Oh and BTW the restaurant is suppose to make up any wages so the employee gets a check that equals minimum wage.  
Nov 30, 2012 10:40PM

TIPS= To Insure Proper Service. 

I have worked in the service industry, but that does not mean I'm going to leave you a TIP if you give me crappy service.  I don't even go to restaurants that add the tip on for 8 or more people.  You want a tip, then do a good job. 

Nov 28, 2012 3:50PM
Pretty one-sided article as they only interviewed wait staff or former wait staff. Of course they are going to stay that tipping is mandatory. Glad to see most posters feel the way I do: that the tip is a reward. I once knew a rabbi who didn't charge for conducting bris ceremonies; he only took tips. :-p
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 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 16, 2012 8:56PM
Tipping should be part of the bill.  That way everyone pays their fair share of tax on their tax return.  If someone wants to add more than 15 percent, than it is that persons option.  I feel that being a server or waiter is a very honorable profession and should be paid a living wage and not rely on tips.
Nov 16, 2012 5:10PM

Kansas minimum wage for serving staff is $2.15 an hour. Some of the Mom and Pop old fart patrons give a $1 tip. Some younger folks are guilty of cheapskate tipping too. Don't even think a person who works in a restraurant will get a free meal. There folks have to pay for their food at work sometimes even eaten bite by bite running back and forth from the kitchen to customers. But rest assured, the taxpayers are paying for the servers food at home through food stamps. There is not other way out.



Nov 16, 2012 12:31AM
I think not tipping is OK if you received willful bad service - they ignored, got the order wrong, forgot part of the meal, etc.
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 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 4:10PM

Just an added thought if the employer all the restaurants went to no tipping the cost of all menus would go up.

Second because waiters and waitresses or any service job did not have any reward for their service the quality of that service would be sh*tty like you have never seen before

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 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 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...


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