Confessions Of A Bad Tipper

This post was featured in Totally Money Blog Carnival #2!


I am a horrible tipper. Also I should admit I can be a terrible customer. When I know that I am supposed to tip, my expectations as a consumer raise exponentially. If the service does not live up to my high expectations, I don’t tip.This drives Beaker crazy. He worked in the food service industry for ten years and he knows first hand those cheap and demanding customers like me. He dreaded them back then. He dreads me signing the bill at a restaurant now. So, I never get to sign a check when we go out.


Tips in the Soviet Union in general were ideologically incorrect. There were no official tipping practices. You took a cab ride, you paid what the meter showed. You got a haircut, you paid what the price of that haircut was. You ate in a restaurant, you paid what was on your bill (after you added up the bill yourself to make sure you were not overcharged – overcharging was a common practice.)

Waiters and waitresses in the Soviet Union were the best-off people with never ending supply of food because they had access to free provisions in the restaurant they worked for. Interestingly enough this profession was dominated by men.

It all made sense back then – why would servers need a tip when they were so much better off than some of those people who found themselves (mostly either attending birthday parties or weddings) at a restaurant? Most of the working class people could not afford to eat in restaurants anyway. Moreover it would never occur to them to tip a server.

Current Day

Correct me if I am wrong but in the US tips are paid because restaurants continue to underpay its staff. So, to compensate for this, we, customers, tip waiters/waitresses for their service to make sure they make a living.

Do we tip only because people don’t get paid enough? Would we tip if they’d get paid as much as, let’s say, $25/hour?

Whenever I get poor service in a restaurant I am inclined to skip on tipping. Beaker, however, taught me to tip at least a 15% of the bill if the service was bad. I don’t understand why I should tip for bad service quite yet. But I know that no tipping , even when the service did not live up to my expectations, is considered mean and rude. I’ve been told so by my friends and by my husband.

Trying to understand the practice of tipping for bad service, I asked people why they tip at restaurants when their experience was less than pleasant and enjoyable, and more annoying and frustrating. This is what I heard:

– “Because I don’t want to look cheap”;

– “Because I don’t want to feel guilty”;

– “Because I don’t want to upset the waiter, especially if I am planning to come back to the restaurant.” (I guess a “spitting into your food” factor plants fear into our minds)

Does it all mean that tipping for bad service has nothing to do with underpaid and overworked service workers? I think it all has to do with our human emotions and our image in the eyes of our family and friends. Don’t forget our reputation in the eyes of waiters and waitresses. Finally, and most importantly, it is all about how good we want to feel about ourselves.


Even though I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, this year I promised myself to accept and embrace tipping for bad services in restaurants.

Servers depend a lot on their customers to make a living. It is not their fault that they are underpaid, overworked and sometimes over abused by demanding, mean and rude customers like me.

Well, I am not too bad. According to Beaker there are worse.

57 thoughts on “Confessions Of A Bad Tipper

  1. Sustainable PF

    NOOOOOOOOO Aloysa – Beaker is WRONG.
    Tipping should be according to the scale of service you receive.
    This is our rule of thumb:
    20% for OUTSTANDING service
    15% for very good service
    12.5% for good service
    10% for ho-hum – average service
    5% for poor service
    0% for bad service + a complaint to the manager.

  2. Moneycone

    I stopped trying to make sense of this custom! Why tip for takeaways? Why not tip at McDs? They do work too right? Why starbucks? Their coffee is overpriced anyway!

    I tip 18/20% and I’m done with it. I consider it as yet another tax.

  3. Robert @ The College Investor

    I agree that tipping should be based on the level of service. However, the argument for always tipping is that service industry people rely on your tips to survive. While this is true to some extent, I believe that if you rely on tips for your income, you should feel obligated to give great service to earn the tip!

  4. retirebyforty

    Ho ho ho, you’re gonna get it with this one.
    From what I understand, some servers’ estimated tips count toward minimum wage. So if the minimum wage is $5, the server may get paid $3 and tips make up the rest. I think this is state dependent though so find out the local rule.
    I usually tip 15%. Maybe 10% or less if service was poor.

  5. Jessica07

    I completely agree with Sustainable PF. In the town I live in, people only become servers for the money, because the work is deplorable for most. So, never subscribe to the myth that you should tip a waiter(ess), based solely on the assumption that s/he is broke. Indeed, in many restaurants (all–around here), those who get the night shift get to take all that extra food home.

    Keep in mind that many restaurants (again, I can only speak of those I am currently around) have a rule that the servers split the tips at the end of the shift. So, if you tip one extra, the slacker still gets his equal cut. I think this is unfair, because that means the good ones kind of get jipped and the bad ones get rewarded. However, I don’t get to make the rules.

    A 13-15% gratuity is the general rule for good servers. If you want to let the server know s/he did an unsatisfactory job, leave a nickel on the table. That is the silent rule I was taught for poor service. My husband hates that I’ll call a server out if he treats us with disrespect more than once. All I do is ask if we have done something to defend him. What’s so wrong with that? Speak your true mind or hold your tongue (including in private), is my motto.

    1. Aloysa

      The other day I used the same tactics. I waited for a glass of wine waaaay too long and when I finally got it, I asked our waiter if he went for a smoke (we are in Utah, so it is a loaded question.) Oh, you should’ve seen the look on his face.

  6. Melissa

    I love reading this kind of post to see how the customs vary among countries. It is crazy to me to think that in other countries the servers are the ones who are well off.

    I used to be a server, so I generally tip 15 to 20%. (I tip more generously now that I have 3 kids who can make a bit of a mess around the table and floor.) If the service is really bad, I tip 5 to 10%, by bad I mean the server is rude or inattentive. I don’t like to penalize the server if the food is slow to come; a server can’t control how quickly the kitchen makes the food.

    Most servers also have to share their tips with the bus boys. (This all makes me glad that my restaurant days are long over!)

    1. Aloysa

      I always forget that servers share their tips. I never reduce my tips because we waited too long for food to arrive. But cold food… it was waiting to be served and wasn’t. Huge penalty!

  7. Suba @ Wealth Informatics

    As long as we received “any” kind of service (read: we got our food and water eventually) we pay 15% and the main reason would be a fear of them spitting in your food :X

    It has been getting really out of hands these days, tipping for take out, coffee shops… Also in CA the servers are paid minimum wage, tips don’t count as part of minimum wage like some other states.

  8. Buck

    Fun article. You and Beaker sound like us. I used to work in the service industry so being there and done, I kind of want to take care of my own. The Mrs. goes the other way. She will leave a tip depending on how good the service is. We meet in the middle, but I think it all depends on your personal experience and culture. Impressive, your random thought is kind of turning into a pseudo resolution.

    1. Aloysa

      I guess it is a resolution… I am trying… But we are only 15 days into 2011 and a lot of things can change.

  9. LifeAndMyFinances

    I’m pretty cheap when it comes to tipping. I was never brought up to tip for a haircut, that’s for sure. I often get scolded by my wife if I forget these days.

    I think I’m pretty good with tipping the waiters and waitresses though – typically 20% or so. If the service is lousy, I don’t mind skimping on the tip, or even leaving nothing at all.

    I had a friend that used to put $20 worth of $1 bills in the middle of the table when he sat down. If his glass went empty a dollar got taken away. If his waitress was too slow to see him waiving her down, there goes another dollar. Some waitresses were poor and were left with nothing, but if you were good, you got a hefty $20 tip. I like this method and might even start using it myself!

  10. Sustainable PF

    For the record I worked bar for 2 years. I got some awful tippers regardless how prompt and friendly I was. But I also go rewarded for doing my best to be fair on a busy Saturday night. Treat the customer w/ respect, get their order correct, be prompt, polite and friendly – you earn a tip. Fail on any of these things and you fall a notch.

    There are times when we have told our server we don’t want coffee / tea / dessert and wait on our bill. We have other plans for the evening and we wait and wait and wait and wait for the bill. If I wait 20 minutes (yes, i’ve waited longer), I go ask for for the damn bill. Anything longer than 10 minutes I deduct 1% tip for every 60 seconds I need to wait. Last time out for dinner our server was well within eyesight chatting with her friend for 20+ mins while ignoring our request for the bill. The food was great but her service was lousy, she got 10%. We simply won’t pay extra for lousy service. What I should have done, and may do in the future, is walk to the kitchen and give the kitchen staff the damned tip when the food is great and service lousy. The front staff will just give a cut to the kitchen.

  11. Get Happy Life

    I think this is partly because you come from an ex-Soviet country. Tipping is more “in the genes” of the Western cultures ,at least I think that way.
    Where I live, people also subtly refuse or try to avoid tipping

  12. The Biz of Life

    Tipping should always be based on quality of service. It is true waiters and waitresses typically get paid below minimum wage, and the majority of their compensation comes from tips which is why they should be courteous, prompt and correct with your orders. If they aren’t, then their tip should suffer accordingly.

  13. Well Heeled Blog

    I usually tip 19%-20% of the pre-tax amount during dinner, and 15%-19% during lunch. I guess I have the mentality of, if I can’t afford to tip, I can’t afford to eat out. If I get really bad service, I still leave something, but I would also speak with the manager. Sometimes the faults (food is bad, food is cold, etc.) don’t have much to do with the servers. My boyfriend is EVEN more generous with the tipping – he’d routinely tip 25%, tip 10%-15% for pick-up, and even puts dollars in those dollar jars at coffee shops.

    1. Aloysa

      Well… when food is cold it means that your server didn’t serve it to you in time. It is a server’s fault to make food sit and wait to be served. That’s how I look at it.

  14. Kellen

    They do get paid under minimum wage, so they need the tip. But if tip is most of your income, then earning a good tip should be part of your job, not just something you expect for pitching up to work. Like a salesman who earns commission – your salary is nothing unless you actually make sales. But no one’s going to just give it to you.

    I believe McDonalds and Starbucks workers get at least minimum wage. I don’t tip at starbucks, but I do tip at my local coffee shop/bar but that’s because I’m friends with the baristas/bartenders, haha.

  15. Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer

    I use a scale based on level of service: 20% for good service, 15% for average service and 5-10% for bad service. I don’t tip at Starbucks or other fast dining places.

    I understand you have a cultural bias, but when in Rome…..

  16. Aloysa

    Sorry guys that it took me forever to answer your comments. Well… I guess when it comes to tipping we all have different opinions and practices. It was really interesting to read your responses. I even read them out loud to Beaker trying to prove that we don’t have to tip for a bad service We agreed that we will tip for a bad service at least 10%.

  17. Squirrelers

    I try tipping between 15-20% and then forget about it, almost like it’s an additional tax. It’s just a part of expenses, for the most part.

    This said, there are times when I might modify lower. It’s not often, but it happens. I might tip more also, if I feel sorry for the person and/or they provide stellar service. So, tipping for me is mostly fixed but not completely. They can’t be horrendously rude and mean and expect to get much of a tip at all. But I do keep in mind that this is a big part of how they make their living

    1. Aloysa

      Beaker always tells me to keep the fact that that’s how they make a living in mind. I am trying… now.

  18. Sandy @ yesiamcheap

    Is Beaker’s last name Trump? Bad service= bad tip. Shit ass service=no tip, complaint to manager, follow-up letter to company honcho. I tip at places where I frequently eat even with bad service to keep the spit out of my food. I call it insurance.

    1. Aloysa

      Hahahaha! You are really funny! You cracked me up. I do tip for insurance purposes too. I guess we all have to!

  19. MIss Rosemary

    I HATE TIPPING!!! If you suck, I don’t want to give you more money! If you’re good I would love to tip you. The worst is in Europe where they generally include gratuity in your bill. But what if I disliked your service? What if you didn’t communicate well? What if you were nasty? I don’t want to pay you the extra 20% you already put on my bill. What if I can’t really afford that since I’m a poor college student with no job? If it costs 20 bucks, I’m giving you 20 bucks.

    1. Aloysa

      Hahaha! I totally agree with you. What if I hated your service? Can I shorten my bill by 20%? Or 15%? I bet the answer is – hell, no!

      1. Deidre

        LOL my BF lays a 20 on the table and tells the wait person – if you do good its yours, if you suck then I will deduct $1 for each mistake. Its your choice what you go home with.

  20. Money Reasons

    When I go out to eat, I expect the experience to be enjoyable. It’s expensive to go out and eat and if the waiter ruins my expensive dinning experience… well, it wouldn’t be very smart of me to reward him/her for it.

    I’ve worked in the restaurant business too, and I always performed and mostly received good tips (yeah there were a few that tipped poorly, but they were old school, so I didn’t mind much). Now that I’m the client I expect the same treatment. I’m not demanding at all, but if the food is cold and I sit for a half an hour before my waiter comes (this has happened), the tip isn’t going to be above 10%…that’s for sure!

    Oh for any of you old school folk out there that are regulars at a restaurant, after a while I would learn how you are and since the hostess was a friend of mine, I would make sure I didn’t wait on you! Sorry, but if I do a good job, I like to be tipped accordingly… Or at least I did back then…

    1. Aloysa

      I always go out with great expectations. If my expectations are ruined, I’d rather not tip… but Beaker looks at it differently.

      Hahahaha… you do sound like my husband when you talk about the old school. He never liked to serve them either.

  21. Aloysa

    Folks, Beaker is mad and I am triumphant. We went out for dinner last night and our server was okay. In the begining… We ordered and waited 10 minutes for our drinks… and five more minutes for the salad. Then after the meal we waited for dessert and drinks. It took our waiter about fifteen minutes to get me a glass of wine. I was done with dessert when I finally got my glass. I would not tip him anything BUT I did. Beaker was upset and said I was crazy… I tipped 10%! Beaker would have tipped 15%. There… I am implementing my 2011 intention of being a better tipper.

  22. Deidre


    I wandered onto your blog from Facebook, nice blog! I couldn’t help but comment on your latest post
    I used to work in the food service industry for many many years so I am very picky about the service when I go out to eat.

    I do not tip for bad service, bottom line. Why reward people if the service is truly bad? Or if the wait person is rude, why reward this? This does not make any sense at all and makes a bad situation worse in my opinion. That being said, I tip very very well for good service.

    When I worked in the food service industry I was a perfectionist and supported myself well. Were there times when I did not get tipped? Yes – of course. Sometimes, you win some and you lose some. But if I was in a poor mood that day or just busy and forgot to smile; I understood that there was cause and effect involved and accepted the times when I didn’t receive a good tip.

    I have learned to make a list of wait people that I ask for on a repeated basis. By doing so I remove myself from the situation of being ‘judge and jury’ regarding someone’s income. The wait persons on my list know what service level I expect and they also know that I tip very very well.

    How do they get to be on my list? I try out a new restaurant from time to time and if the service is fantastic, I tell them they have made my top 10 list and when I come back to the restaurant to eat again, I will ask for them exclusively. I ask them what their schedule is and make a note of what days and times they work.

    By creating a business relationship between yourself and the wait person, it becomes a give and take which elevates the experience exponentially rather than ‘just a job’ to the wait person and ‘just another potential restaurant disaster’ for you.

    Try it out for yourself, it’s a great method of networking!


    1. Aloysa

      Interesting indeed. I never heard about this kind of list before. It is a good idea but seems like a lot of work. Thank you so much for sharing your opinion and experience. It brings a completely different persepctive to the issue.

      1. Deidre

        Hey Aloysa,

        Yes, I suppose it could end up being a huge amount of work. For me though, I tend to eat out in the same venues all the time so its not too bad and well worth it in the long run to me Thanks for a great conversation starter! I will be checking out more of your blog in the next week.

        Have a great rest of the weekend!

  23. Financial Samurai

    If restaurants paid their staff more, they’d just have to charge you more for food. No way around it!

    But, I get your point. I’d say bad service, 10%……

  24. Financial Samurai

    BTW, what’s your Twitter ID? Can you include it in your Tweet button? It would help us help you share.

  25. First Gen American

    I worked as a waitress for many years in college. I overtip now. I am grateful to the people who supported me by overtipping when I was a college kid and now I’m paying it forward. I was a great waitress though and it drives me nuts when I get waited on by a bad one. My husband will leave a bad tip 10% if they are lousy but I still have a hard time doing that.

    1. Aloysa

      My husband has really hard time tipping less than 15% for a bad service. I think it is because like you who was a server for a long time.

  26. Will @

    I never really think about why I tip, I just factor it in as an expense. With a girlfriend in the industry, I know first hand they’d make terrible wages if they didn’t receive tips. I actually have a friend in Michigan who is paid something like $2/hr, and then tips get her to minimum wage. Some type of calculation like that, I’m not sure how that works out. I just always tip 15-20%, 20% for great, 15% for decent. I never really have horrible service because I’m not demanding. If I did, I think I’d go for 10% though.

    1. Aloysa

      You are like my husband. Because he worked in the industry and knows how difficult this job is, and how small the pay is, he always tips generously. Even when service is not the best.

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