The unofficial social convention in the US seems to be that everyone tips 15-20% on their food and in exchange very good service is expected, compared to other countries. But what if I didn't like the service? How bad does the service have to be to justifiably leave no tip at all?

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    I see there is a "primarily opinion based" close vote. I was planning to cast one myself, but since US tipping culture can indeed be very opaque to outsiders, it seems that questions on this topic ought to be useful to many. Perhaps there's a better way of phrasing the question to fit with the site's guidelines, but I don't think it ought to be closed.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 17:47
  • @phoog rephrased the title
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 17:48
  • There are plenty of Americans who would be outraged at leaving no tip at all, and plenty of others who would be outraged that they would owe anything for rude/racist/etc. service. The only convention that matters is whatever convention the people you are dining with hold to. My personal view is that I never leave less than 10%, because after all the food didn't carry itself to the table, even if it sat on the counter ignored for ten minutes and then was the wrong food and the waiter made crude remarks at my date. but that's entirely arbitrary.
    – choster
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 18:06
  • @choster doesn't always leaving a tip support bad service though? If service in the US was like the one I'm used to Europe and I'd have to leave 15%, it would be absolutely horrible.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 18:10

1 Answer 1


How bad does the service have to be to justifiably leave no tip at all?

I would say it has to be pretty bad. In particular, the server would have to have been willfully refusing to accommodate some request or other. If the service were just inattentive, I would probably just leave a smaller tip.

In most cases I'll leave slightly less than 15% if I'm unhappy with the server. (I find it unfair to penalize the server for bad service that is the fault of management or other circumstances beyond his or her control.) If I were very unhappy, I might go down to 10% or 5%, depending on the size of the bill.

Some servers find a minimal tip more insulting than no tip at all, so if I were really upset I might leave a dollar or a handful of pennies. I should emphasize that this is exceedingly rare. This probably happens less frequently than once every ten years, even though I am often very critical of restaurant service in the US. Even leaving slightly less than 15% probably happens once a year or less.

I also learned a trick from a friend of mine: if something is upsetting you about the service, the best way to deal with it may be to say something about it to the server in a fairly neutral way. That is, do not sound like you're complaining or protesting, but telling the server how you like to be served (for example, "please don't clear the table until everyone is done eating"). A little communication goes a long way.

  • One thing to remember for foreigners: conventions in the US are very different from those elsewhere. In the US, it's a race to remove empty plates, whereas elsewhere removing a plate while someone is still eating is a definite no-no. So the tip you leave should be based on the US convention, not what you expect. I've often considered preparing a card with how I want to be served in US restaurants (don't tell me what your favorite is, don't touch me, don't bring appetisers while we're still drinking cocktails or before wine has been served, don't bring mains before appetisers are finished...).
    – jcaron
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 17:58
  • @jcaron I suspect it's probably best to pick the one thing that bothers you most and concentrate on that. In my case it's the empty plates.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 18:05
  • YMMV (your mileage may vary)! I prefer to have my plate taken away if I've signaled that I'm done. I won't be tempted to pick at it, and won't put my sleeve in it by mistake. I'm an American.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 18:09
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    @mkennedy that's my problem, french education makes me cringe every time I go back to the US, it always takes me a few days to get used to the local conventions again...
    – jcaron
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 18:11
  • @mkennedy I'm also American. I tend to eat quickly. Having my plate taken away early causes in me an adrenaline rush of anxiety that is very unwelcome in the midst of what should be a moment of relaxation. The worst instance I can remember was when the waiter's hand slipped under my arm to remove the plate as I was closing my mouth around the fork that held the last bite of my meal.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 18:18

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