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I tip all the time in the USA, usually from 15% up to 20%. The food is usually good but sometimes the service I received from the waiter/waitress is terrible. He/She was basically ignore me all the time, even though I made multiple requests.

Should I reduce the amount of tip, or leave a message on the receipt to let him/her know if he/she is terrible? What if the food is really good?

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    I never tip, the waiter is supposed to do his/her job and the employer is supposed to pay the employee, taking work performance into account if necessary. I don't see why the employer should outsource part of his/her duties to the customer. – Count Iblis May 18 '15 at 20:51
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    @CountIblis If you're in the US, that's simply wrong. The cultural expectation is that you tip around 15% on average for restaurant service, and that's made it into the system directly. Waiters are typically paid $2-$3 an hour. You can disagree with the cultural mechanism all you want, but not tipping the waitstaff nonetheless is just rude. – Joe May 18 '15 at 20:57
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    @Joe and then people are surprised when they got a bad service. If you must pay a tip, no matter how crappy the service was, why should a waiter bother to provide you with any service at all. Just wait for "cultural expectation" and do nothing. – Salvador Dali May 18 '15 at 21:34
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    But how should he be fired if there is 0 feedback? He did a crappy job - got 15%, did a normal job - got 15%. How should he or his manager can find out that he underperforms? On the other hand there is no cultural expectation in software development. If I missed a few deadlines and wait for a cultural expectation to bring me a promotion, my manager will notice it and will fire me. – Salvador Dali May 18 '15 at 22:05
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    @SalvadorDali You tip accordingly. I've left 2c tips before when a waitress was too busy gossiping to get us something as simple as water. If you get bad service, tipping low IS THE WAY you put forth that across... and maybe a note on the receipt. Or a complaint to management as well as no tip. You don't HAVE to tip 15%... that's what's expected for except able service... Go up or down depending on what service you actually receive. It's not a hard concept. – WernerCD May 18 '15 at 22:07

11 Answers 11

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Tipping is for the service, the menu price is for the food.

If the service is bad, leave a small tip. This will show the wait person that you didn't forget to tip, but felt that their service was undeserving.

On the converse, it is important not to leave a poor tip if the food was bad but the service was good. The wait staff can not make the food better and should not be punished for that. If this is the case, I would probably not go back to the restaurant again. I can get a better/different waitperson next time, but the number of chefs is much more limited.

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    Tip is whatever amount you want to leave. A range of 15-20 is reasonable starting point. There is no requirement that you tip (although there is an expectation) and certainly if you want to send a message, leaving less than 15% could do that. Of course, some waitpersons do not recognize their own shortcomings, and will think you are just cheap. YMMV. – cdkMoose May 18 '15 at 15:23
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    @nsn The smallest tip is actually $0.01 - in US custom this is the most extreme criticism of a waitperson, and is akin to directly saying "I left this penny just to let you know I didn't forget to leave a tip - you really treated us that terribly" - it's not far from "screw you". Out of easily thousands of visits to restaurants in my lifetime in the US I've maybe had reason to do this...once, twice maybe? <15% of a bill is considered a somewhat low tip, with 15% meaning "you were adequate" and 20%+ being "you did a great job, I'm leaving you more than social custom requires". – BrianH May 18 '15 at 17:36
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    @nsn restaurants are allowed to require tipping ("gratuity"). that's their right as a business. this is a common thing, but usually restaurants only force you to pay gratuity when there's a certain minimum number of diners (5-7, typically). i've never heard of a restaurant that requires gratuity on all meals. – ell May 18 '15 at 19:08
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    @BrianDHall $0.02, not $0.01 — just my two cents :) – hobbs May 18 '15 at 21:30
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    I usually tip 20%, largely because I've known a lot of people who worked as waiters coming up who have related just how many people don't tip at all, ever. In the USA a 15% tip is customary, but some people just tip $5 no matter how big the check is; some tip 10% because it's easy to calculate; and some don't tip at all because they're cheap. I tip 20% - and usually have the wait-staff fighting to get me in their section. I've been known to tip more than the check if it's a small check (e.g. ice cream with my young daughter) and the waitress made the visit fun/special (e.g. 10$ on a 5$ check). – Bob Jarvis May 20 '15 at 2:50
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cdkMoose is correct in that the quality of the food should not influence your tip. However, your question appears to operate on a bit of a false premise, and I think it should also be said that leaving a small tip for poor service should be done only in exceptional circumstances.

By exceptional circumstances, I mean active hostilty or extreme rudeness on the part of the waiter. In a case where the waiter is simply inattentive, you should still leave a full tip. Here's why:

  • At many restaurants and especially during peak hours, waiters are severely overworked, and often cannot be as attentive as they might like.
  • Wait staff at most restaurants in the US are paid almost completely out of tips. Getting a tip isn't a nice little bonus for good service, it's their livelihood.
  • Few other professions demand such constant attentiveness with the possibility of immediate financial penalty for a single failure. If I'm having a slow day at work, my boss might reprimand me, but can't arbitrarily cut my next paycheck.
  • Tipping culture is strongly ingrained in the US, and many will see leaving a small tip as extremely rude, even if service was suboptimal.

If you want to tip based on quality of service, I would suggest adopting the opposite mentality to the one espoused in your question; rather than punishing poor service, reward good service. For instance, plan always to tip 20% as a fixed 'service fee', but occasionally leave an additional 5-10% 'voluntary gratuity' for exceptional service.

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    Time for living minimum wages so wait staff has not to beg for money. Raise the price of the food and pay that to the staff. – Willeke May 18 '15 at 18:08
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    +1 for the comparison to almost every other job, in which I get paid the same regardless of how well I do an individual task. Everyone has a bad day. It would be nice if we just started paying servers properly, but until then, tipping is a necessity. – Jeremy Nottingham May 18 '15 at 18:10
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    @user29655 A server's reasons for not being 100% on their game is not the customer's fault nor problem. I, as a customer, should not pay a premium for terrible service. – UnhandledExcepSean May 18 '15 at 18:32
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    @Ghost no one is going to stop you from leaving a stingy tip for whatever reason you see fit, and I doubt I can convince you not to do so. That said, in this case and others, I think it's better for one to do what is generous and kind even if it's not strictly their "fault or problem". And I would reiterate that from the server's perspective, a tip isn't a "premium", it's their income. – user29655 May 18 '15 at 18:44
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    If wait staff are severely overworked, then they're serving more customers than they should be, and so need a smaller tip from each customer in order to get a decent income. So it's fine to give them that smaller tip in order to reflect the poor service that you get because they're overworked. – Mike Scott May 19 '15 at 6:25
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I like to tip them the smallest value coin I have; that way they knew I didn't forget a tip. Then I talk to the manager or email feedback.

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    @JeremyNottingham Talking to the manager and/or emailing them feedback is not constructive to improve the service quality of a server? It's not my job to make them better at serving others. – UnhandledExcepSean May 18 '15 at 18:18
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    Tipping with a penny or a nickel is not constructive to improve service quality. Talking to the manager may get you a free meal, which is usually what a low-tipper really wants. – Jeremy Nottingham May 18 '15 at 18:37
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    @JeremyNottingham I may have misunderstood this, not having lived in the US, but I completely fail to see how a low tip is not constructive, if used in combination with a complaint to the manager. A waiter who gets consistently low tips and many complaints will either have to improve or get fired/quit due to low income. – March Ho May 19 '15 at 6:14
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    @JeremyNottingham How should an unhappy customer then express their disapproval of the service they received? – Nobilis May 19 '15 at 10:13
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    @JeremyNottingham I think restaurants provide food and servers provide service. Like cdkMoose said, food price is in the menu and service is in the tip. Waiters/waitresses should provide at least adequate service in order to receive reasonable tip. – Tuan Anh Hoang-Vu May 19 '15 at 13:30
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In many locations, tips are not only for the waitstaff, but are actually shared with the busboys, the bartender, and sometimes other members of the staff - usually not the cooks, but even occasionally then.

They're also a significant fraction of their wages, most waiters earning a few dollars an hour "plus tips" rather than a full, normal wage. When I worked in college at a local breakfast/diner place, low prices but high table turn, I usually pulled $10-$15 an hour in tips, and $3.15 an hour in wages (IL minimum wage at the time), for example, and gave 25% of that to the bartender and the busboys (15% and 10% if I recall).

Tipping zero or near-zero, especially if you're obviously not American, will accomplish nothing other than make them think you're a foreigner with no idea of our customs.

Instead, tip at the low end of your comfort zone - for me that's dead minimum 10%, most of the time 20% with average to good service - and leave a comment with the waiter or the manager, depending on what the problem was, if it was significant enough to justify doing so. If the waiter was simply inattentive, letting him know may be actually helpful to him in the future. If the waiter was rude or otherwise you aren't comfortable talking to him, letting the manager know is helpful; be aware that if you do it in person prior to paying, it sends a signal you expect some compensation, so often doing it after you've paid is better.

As a former waiter myself, I definitely would've appreciated being let know if I wasn't sufficiently attentive to a table - and most of the time I probably knew already. I was fairly good at my job, usually receiving among the highest percentage in tips of the restaurants I worked at (after the first one), but I still had tables I made mistakes at, days I wasn't as on top of things, or otherwise had issues. A quick:

Hey, thanks for serving me today. Don't worry about the iced tea I asked for.

is a pretty non-confrontational way of reminding the waiter he didn't do something you asked for.

  • How you are paid is not the customers concern. That you share tips is also none of their concern. You knew full well what the jib entailed and kept it anyway. You get poor tips for poor service. Don't like any of that, find another job. – Andy May 31 '15 at 23:18
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The quality of the food is irrelevant to the tip. The cook gets payed a full wage and does not receive any of the tip. Therefore your only concern when deciding how much to tip should be on the service provided by the waiter or waitress. DO NOT reward the service staff for the work of the kitchen.

Personally, if I get bad service then I tip about half of the average; so about 7.5%. If I get good service, then I tip over the average (22.5%).

My wife's entire professional career has involved some form of tipping, so she often tips up to 50% and believe me this has not gone unnoticed. We would often have people recognize us when we enter a place that we frequent regularly, and get amazing service because they know a large tip is coming.

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I've never received such poor service that the waitperson did not deserve a tip for their time. Most cases where the server did the worst job, they were obviously in, or just out of, training and still slightly overwhelmed.

I typically use 15% as a starting point. If it was on the extreme end of bad, I'll play fast and loose, maybe round to the nearest $1 and short them down to 14% or so. When I worked in a restaurant (15 years ago), the hourly wage was $2.13 an hour (or thereabouts... within $.10). Unless they are outright hostile to me (which has never happened), they deserve their 15%.

This is in the US.

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    +1 To add detail to the wage part, $2.13/hr is the current federal minimum wage for a tipped employee; however, the employer is required to make up the difference if the $2.13/hr plus tips comes to less than regular minimum wage, i.e. $7.25/hr. – Daniel May 19 '15 at 1:00
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    @Daniel If that's the case then foreigners should not feel guilty at all for not tipping. – curiousdannii May 19 '15 at 8:04
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    @curiousdannii that's not the way it works. It's not figured per-table, i.e. if I spend an hour serving your table, and you don't tip me, the employer has to pay me the difference. Typically a server will make up the difference on some of their tables and go over minimum wage in total - so if you don't tip, you're still taking away from that person's wage. Waiting on tables is not intended to be a minimum wage job. – Jason May 19 '15 at 11:54
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    @Jason Agreed except with your last point. Unskilled entry-level service jobs are the perfect candidates for minimum wage. The minimum wage is just far too low. – Matthew Read May 19 '15 at 19:53
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    Waiting tables is not an unskilled entry-level service job. That would be fast-food. – Jason May 19 '15 at 20:33
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Tim Urban's wonderfully thorough piece Everything You Don't Know About Tipping explains what tipping in the US is about.

Unless a server was actively hostile, rude and offensive to you, it's not right to deprive them of their income. That's just how it works in the US.

Furthermore, as is mentioned, if they get good tips, servers see it as a reflection of their good service, but if they get bad tips, they see it as a very poor reflection on the tipper. The tip on its own is therefore not an effective means of communicating your satisfaction (or lack thereof) with the service: tipping below 10% is depriving the server of their income (which they deserve even with what many might consider "subpar" service), but tipping above that is still in the range of what people might give for ordinary service, so your intentions are left unclear.

You can certainly tip on the lower end of the acceptable range (15%, or a bare minimum of 10% if service was truly bad), but keep in mind that this is meaningless unless you communicate your dissatisfaction clearly using words. Speaking to the manager is helpful for all concerned: the manager is aware of the problem, the server gets the opportunity to improve, and you have successfully communicate your dissatisfaction. In fact, you may even receive a gift certificate.

To answer the more direct question: Certainly don't base your tip on the quality of the food, but don't base it too strongly on the quality of service, either. It's just not that helpful for anyone. Consider it part of the price of the meal; don't spend the meal judging the server; and if at the end of the meal you have strong opinions about the quality of service, communicate that directly.

  • Interesting point in the link about tipping ratios of a country correlating with corruption in that country - that might help to explain the different attitudes to tipping amongst different nationalities, which seem to vary from "you should always tip" to "why would you pay someone extra for doing their job?". There are places where handing over extra cash is seen as unsavoury, and I've seen people refuse to take tips that were offered. – bain May 21 '15 at 12:16
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While in the US, you should definitely tip. This should only be based on the service; you're tipping your waiter/waitress, NOT the cook. I generally use 20% as my starting point, if I don't feel that they did a good job I'll drop down to 15% (or further if need be). Likewise, I'll go up to 30% if I feel like the server really earned it. In almost all cases, this is their paycheck. They DO need to earn it, but if they do a great job, let them know.

If the service was seriously lacking AND the place wasn't obviously busy (we must take that into account!), I'll drop the tip to 10%. However, in this case it's also appropriate to leave a note with a 'tip' on how to improve. Keep it positive, constructive criticism, be nice.

I have used the penny tip before. But for something like that, the server has to pretty well straight out offend me. It's not something reserved for poor service.

Tipping aside, keep in mind that you CAN speak with the servers' manager, about their performance. I will stress with this statement, that if you have an amazing server, that's just as important to convey to the manager as well, so that they can be rewarded for being awesome.

  • Tips in the US are frequently pooled, with the waitstaff cutting dishwashers and sometimes other kitchen staff in, so you are not tipping just the waitstaff. – Russell Borogove May 19 '15 at 22:10
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In all but the most exceptional circumstances try to tip between 10-20% (even 10 is a bit low) however certain scenarios would definitely lean towards not following this standard, keep reading for my own personal example.

I went to a Chili's restaurant for dinner, it wasn't busy at all and we were seated immediately. Our server took our order and then we never saw her again, another server dropped off our food and no one ever came to ask how it was or check if we wanted anything else. Finally we ended up needing to walk up to the hostess to get and pay our bill; we made a point of not tipping at all.

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A feedback to the managerial staff of how the waiter/waitress served you will do it I believe. However it the food is great surely leaving a tip is something that can be consider, since in the kitchen there are some dedicating cook that are making everything they can to put a smile on your face when you're leaving the restaurant.

  • You tip for service not the quality of the food. – Andy May 31 '15 at 23:27
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Just for additional information and warning:

A lot of restaurants in New England and along the Canadian border will add an automatic 18% gratuity to your bill. This means they've decided how much you're going to tip and put it on your bill.

They will always tell you that they're adding it, or forewarn you that it will be added... but only ever in small print. A lot of people don't notice and tip twice. Servers will never turn down two tips on the same bill.

  • From my experience, the auto 18%-tip thing usually only for parties of 6 or more, OR in unusually swanky restaurants. But I have only limited experience dining in New England or along the Canadian border so maybe something peculiar is going on there. – Kenny LJ May 23 '15 at 17:46
  • I live in NE near the Canadian border, and the auto 18% is the same as it is anywhere else I've been in the USA, only done for parties 6-8 or more. – Andy May 31 '15 at 23:29

protected by Ankur Banerjee May 22 '15 at 22:38

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