Tipping points – on stiffing for poor service
July 13th, 2010
08:45 AM ET
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We asked, and boy, did readers serve up some boiling hot feedback! In a poll last Friday, we asked one simple question: Have you ever left a restaurant meal without tipping?

At last count, here's how voters responded:

I sure have - the service was that bad 49% (22,139 votes)
I've left a very low tip 29% (13,402 votes)
I would NEVER! Never even less than 15-20% 15% (6,803 votes)
I've left a penny 5% (2,482 votes)
Other (tip us off in the comments) 2% (745 votes)
Total Votes: 45,571

And they didn't stop there. We've collated a few of the over 1,200 passionately pro and anti goose-egg-leaving sentiments below, but first, a few facts.

– According to the Department of Labor's website, while some states don't specify a minimum wage lower than the one determined by the state, Federal and many state laws allow a minimum wage of $2.13 an hour and assume that tips will make up the shortfall. In West Virginia, it's $1.45.

– Restaurants are legally supposed to make up the shortfall between this minimum pay and minimum wage.

– Tips are taxable income as they're part of assumed wages.

– Many establishments practice tip pooling so that servers' tips are also spread among busboys, runners and other service staff.

And on to the comments.

Pro-goose egg

If you receive terrible service, not only should you not tip or tip very little, you should speak with the manager and let them KNOW why you are tipping thus. Otherwise, they won't know that your server was incompetent – they'll think you just forgot or were too cheap to tip.

If the service is bad enough to warrant no tip, I make sure that both the waiter and the manager know about it. I try to be very nice and understanding – I do understand that kitchen mistakes are NOT the waiter's fault, but leave me or my family sitting with empty drinks and fawn over a table that's on expense account and you'll get nothing but a complaint to the manager.

You bet your butt I've walked out without leaving a tip! The service was HORRIBLE. At one point my husband had to get up and walk around the place asking where our waiter was. ... I would have no problem doing it all over again. If I am provided with bad service, then I am not going to reward you for it.

Why do people assume that everyone is obligated to give tips?
Tips shouldn't even be expected unless a server demonstrates impeccable service and does extra things they aren't paid to do. This show of entitlement is a little obnoxious, to be honest.

They chose to work at that restaurant w/ minimum wage. They're not forced to live off that money. If they really wanted to, they could get a good-paying job somewhere else. It's not the customer's problem that the server doesn't earn enough money to fend for himself. We eat out to feed ourselves, not to worry about someone else.

Anti-goose egg

How would you like to be "punished" at work by a complete stranger if you were having an off day? Most likely this was the cause behind your poor service. My other co-workers and I understand that if your experience is sub-par you're not going to come back, or tell anyone new to stop by. We work in a busy restaurant in New York City, and most of us are able to stop a problem or correct one before it even becomes close to ruining your night.

Sometimes, however, it's inevitable. And believe me, I feel as upset as you do when it happens because I take pride in doing my job well. So ,all I ask is next time you wield the mighty pen at tip time, give your server the benefit of the doubt if your experience was sub-par. Truth is: getting a serving job in a nice restaurant involves fierce competition. Truly nasty or incompetent servers are usually very quickly weeded out before they make it to a table.

To anyone who has ever left Zero Tip... Next time you think about going to a restaurant, stay home. As a server for many years, I have always maintained my tables with the utmost efficiency. Every now and again, I wouldn't get a tip. This wasn't from poor service I can assure you. Every time you leave a server no tip, not only does it ruin that person's night, mood, and future interactions with the remaining tables for the evening.

Furthermore, that person will remember you forever, and if you do go into that restaurant again, rest assured that person will tell all of their co-workers just exactly how cheap you are, and you will receive poor service again. That person isn't serving because they want to, but because they have to in order to pay bills, tuition, etc... Just a little something to chew on before the next time you decide to stiff someone.

p.s. most servers only make $2.65 an hour... try working for that plus tips, then we'll talk.

oh my
Are you guys serious? Throw a couple bones (literally $1 or $2 more) and call it a day. Why so bitter about a couple bucks? Will that change your lifestyle? Suddenly you can't go get yourself a Ferrari? Or, does it make you feel like you didn't get "taken" by a WAITER/WAITRESS? Does it make you feel like you stood up for yourself? Grow up, and just leave a couple extra.

Do not go out to eat if you do not want to tip. Tipping in an social norm and is expected. Bottom line.

Spare change for your thoughts

When the service is horrible, I prefer to leave something insultingly low, like a penny, so that they know I think they were terrible and didn't just forget to leave a tip. Good work gets rewarded, laziness gets punished.

The least I have left for a tip is a quarter. Our service was so bad that I wanted to walk out leaving nothing. A friend told me that the server would just think I forgot to tip. He suggested that I leave a dime. Too bad I only had a quarter.

I have left a penny, on one occasion; I wanted the server to know that I had not simply forgotten. In all my years, I have only been that irritated with the wait-staff. The other time, I went to the owner and said that the woman should be fired.
But it HAS to be clear that is was the waiter or waitress. There are a number of times when I have been irritated, but realized that it may not have been the server that was at fault.

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Filed under: Bite • Buzz • From the Comments • Restaurants • Tipping

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    October 12, 2014 at 9:59 pm |
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    June 18, 2014 at 8:12 am |
  3. justo

    Tips are not mandatory !!!! Wher did we get off thinking that we have to tip? Its a choice and if i chose not to then thats my decision.last time i checked l live in America where im free to make my own choice. And more important no one held a gun to the head and told him that he had to work as a waiter you don't like your pay find something else! I don't tip and will never tip

    April 17, 2014 at 10:43 pm |
    • RC

      Shouldn't you be in school or something? What an a$$.

      April 18, 2014 at 1:07 pm |
      • Shirley U. Jest

        There is something to be said about this. Are you aware that in Europe there is no tipping at a restaurant? Sometimes I wonder why, after dropping more than a $1000 for a dinner for four (a very special occasion or so during a year), I have to tip the waiter 20 percent or more. I mean, at those prices you'd think the owner of the restaurant could afford to pay his staff a decent wage without my subsidizing his wait staffs income. It's like freaking welfare! I say give everybody a living wage and take tipping off the menu.

        I remember one more than one occasion my company took around 100 people out for a very special dinner, it ran into the 10s of thousands of dollars and a 15% gratuity was auto added to that! People selling houses don't get that much commission.

        Now, I walk into a burger joint and see a tip jar? Come folks its time to tell these owners to pay their people what they are worth. I do and so does everyone else in the tech world. Why does the world of food have to be any different?

        April 18, 2014 at 4:17 pm |
  4. kevin

    I have worked at three restaurants waiting tables, and have held around thirty other positions in other industries. I distinctly remember my first tip. I thought- "This is a pretty stupid system, why is the customer expected to pay me?" I always did very well as a server, frequently making more money that my fellow staff members in all three restaurants. When I did get stiffed, I never got angry, because I realized how insane our tipping expectations in America are. (plus, waiting tables is pretty fucking easy, much easier than sweating in the kitchen putting dishes together.)
    A few years ago I was privileged to travel with some Taiwanese travelers, who were unfamiliar with the concept of tipping, as it's not a logical or sensible thing at all. I had difficulty explaining to them the necessity of tipping, and became frustrated at having to defend something I generally don't believe in.
    Every job provides a service, yet not every job expects the customer to foot the paycheck.
    I hardly ever tip anyone anymore, and I'm just as likely to tip someone in a position that's not expecting it. Call me an asshole if you like, But if you really THINK, you might realize how inane the system is. Thank you. That is all.

    November 22, 2013 at 3:03 am |
  5. Sharon

    Communication is a two way street. I am server, one of the best in my restaurant. If you have problem,express it, don't wait until the end. We want your experience to be good. (we even such things as server night mares). If you really don't like something bad enough in the beginning, please leave don't waste my time. I have a kid to feed and gas to put in my car to get there. As far as I am concerned $2.00 is not enough to bus you table, and man do I wish had a cam Lysol to clean up the vibes. An example, you tell me the font on the menu is too small, so I if have any questions about the menu–trying. You say, but don't really ask. Then you order on the spot. I want the mushroom soup and the Lobster ravioli, and ice tea. I do refills and food is prompt. You say Thank You during the meal are pleased with food & refills. But, in the end you leave $2.00 on a bill that is a little over $45.00. To top it off, you leave a note: Menu print too small. Will not return ever again. That happened last night. Terrible.

    October 24, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • justo

      get a different job!

      April 17, 2014 at 10:48 pm |
  6. JoJo

    I cannot understand the audacity of waiters. Im a nurse and if i'm going to have a "off night" either cause something is on my mind or i'm just not feeling well then i lose a day of work and stay home. I as well work very hard for my money and have tuition and much higher bills to pay. As a nurse I am a patient advocate and fight for whatever my patients needs are. If I dont have the medication my patient needs I call and yell at the pharmacy for not having my patients medication here when my patients need it. As a waiter you are your patrons advocate when it comes to their service and food. If your patrons food isn't out then don't wait for them to say something.... go yell at the kitchen or tell the manager and let them tell the kitchen. If you did this then i know that it is not your fault and I will tip you at least 20%. I do not care that you have to share your tip either. It is a team effort, If one person fails the team fails. The best part of all of this is that we live in America and if you do not like the way your wages are calculated....STOP WHINING AND FIND A DIFFERENT JOB!!!

    March 9, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Chelsie

      As a server, I will always advocate for my customers, but there are some problems with your theory of yelling at the kitchen and management. First, if you yell at the kitchen staff, they will only try to ensure that you get your food last every time, and they will make it wrong just to piss you off. Also, telling management is always an option that I will take, but I have had management tell me that the insane 45 minute wait time on pizzas was the norm that day, because we were THAT busy. Did I like it? Not at all, and I didn't want to tell my tables this. Did I have a choice? No, I did not.

      Sometimes it's not necessarily the kitchen's or the server's fault, because things come up unexpectedly. For example, unprecedented busy days where we are largely understaffed. That is not anybody's fault and it's unfortunate that it happens, but it does. Also, not having the equipment to handle too many of one kind of order at once. At my restaurant certain stations get backed up, and that's unfortunate but yelling at the kitchen staff is not going to make my pizza cook any faster.

      Also, you say that you will tip 15-20% as long as your server advocates for you, but there are some cases when you may have no idea how much they are trying to get your food out. The server may not tell you, "I yelled at the kitchen" because that is unprofessional and unnecessary information. Simply by acknowledging that your food is taking awhile– "I'm so sorry about the wait on your pizza, I'm going to check on it and get it out as soon as I can"– does enough to show that they are attentive to your needs and they are aware of the situation. However, you can't always be aware of their situation, and they may be doing a lot more than you know to help you. Or, they may be sitting around. The problem is you never know what they are doing for you, and it's better to give them the benefit of the doubt and at least leave something than to just assume they're lazy and leave them nothing.

      June 26, 2013 at 12:51 am |
  7. John Hagher

    Let me say this very clearly, I will never, EVER tip for bad service. As a waiter, YOU CHOSE your job path. It doesn't matter how terrible the hospitality field may be, you have filled the application to get your job.

    That being said, I would never be cheap enough to leave a bad tip if the waiter went out of their way to make your dinner a memorable moment. However, bad day or not, if you mess up, you have to reap the consequences of your actions. Stop crying because your JOB doesn't make any money without tips. IF YOU CANNOT DO YOUR JOB, YOU SHOULD BE PUNISHED FOR YOUR MISCONDUCT. STOP COMPLAINING, AND FIND A NEW LINE OF WORK IF YOU ARE A LAZY WAITER THAT THINKS YOU DESERVE A BREAK.

    February 16, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • Amanda

      You must be on welfare or something along the lines of not having to truly work for your money. I work and am a full-time college student and working as a server to pay my bills. This isn't my job of choice but they work with the changing schedule of a college student. If you are unwilling to tip good service or not go through a drive thru or cook your own DAMN food.

      March 11, 2014 at 12:44 pm |
      • justo

        for someone who's in college you sound pretty stupid if you don't like your pay then get another job I'll give you that one for free you don't have to pay me $60,000 for that one take that as your tip .

        April 17, 2014 at 10:51 pm |
    • JellyBean

      You must be part of the Lord Voldemort fan club.

      March 11, 2014 at 2:21 pm |
  8. Lynn

    PS we ALL deal with pissy people in our service oriented jobs, does that mean too I should get a tip? If so, I am putting out a tip jar tomorrow for my good service. Plan on about $150- $200 for the 15%-20% tip I should get for doing a good job, of which I might add, I do every day, because I am paid to do it!

    June 30, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  9. Lynn

    HELLLLOOOO! Tips are optional-not required! If you chose to work as a waitress than it is your choice. To have me the consumer, make up the difference because of the choice you made in a profession, is just plain ridiculous! Change jobs if you don't like it! Yes I tip good and bad waitresses and waiters and very well if earned, however I will say I am sick of so many people offering a service with their hand out for a tip! Beauticians, nail salons, car washers, window cleaners, carpet cleaners, fast food restaurants, even the stupid Dairy Queen! I could go on and on! IN CALIFORNIA, WAITERS AND WAITRESSES ARE PAID THE SAME MINIMUM WAGE AS ANYONE ELSE IN ANY OTHER INDUSTRY WORKING FOR MINIMUM WAGE . THEY ARE NOT PAID AT A LESSER AMOUNT IN THIS STATE, but they still have their hands out for a tip! So does this mean that everyone who provides a service should have their hand out for a tip, including me? I should say NOT! It is part of the job that I am paid to do, that I chose and that my company pays me to do each and every day. Each of us in some way provides a service- so should we start tipping everyone? How about when you go to the market, perhaps the cashier should have a tip jar out for tips or your dentist, doctor, the receptionist that answers your phone call, let's add a tip on those services too! After all, isn't he/she providing a service? For those of you that EXPECT a tip, I can only say that is why you are disappointed and call those that don't tip-Cheap! It is OPTIONAL and it is getting out of control!

    June 30, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  10. Valerie

    One more thing.....If you do not want to tip then please stay home. We do not want to wait on you as much as you do not want to pay us for our service.

    June 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  11. Valerie

    Every single person who said that tip should not be required should rethink this statement. If companies begin to pay servers the correct hourly wage and end the tipping system, your price for your dinner will go up to include the cost. The reason servers rely on tips is because in the states we assume that our people are generous enough to know how to tip. If you do not tip your server, then you have taken money out of their pocket. Why would a server want to give you the service you think you deserve, if you are not willing to pay them the wage they deserve. I wish the industry would change and no longer rely on customers to do simple math. There are plenty of people who get paid hourly, but do not work hard enough to deserve. I would like to take money out of their pocket when they are rude and lazy.

    Servers are not your punching bag when you are having a bad day.

    AND just because you do not make enough money to feel "wealthy" does not mean you can show up to a restaurant and expect to be treated like you are. You have to pay for the 5 star treatment you want.

    ALOT of people who work the industry are students. We are not less educated or well off than you. I hope you enjoy taking money out of our college fund.

    I eat out too and I know when i've seen good or bad service. I know when I have given good or bad service. I know when I give amazing service and these people do not know how to pay me for my good work.


    It's been like this for years, so please don't pretend like you didn't know(unless you are a child).

    If an 80 year old women/man can come in and tip then a 30 year old knows they are suppose to tip.

    June 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
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