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Should You Tip When You Have Bad Service?

Updated on March 9, 2015

So you go out for a fancy dinner. You are already spending a great deal of money on the meal. Your server is absolutely awful. It takes forever before you order your food or get your drinks. Than it takes just as long to get your food. When it arrives it's cold, You tell her and she apologizes but doesn't really do anything about it. She doesn't refill your drinks or checks in on you. Do you still leave a tip?

I go out to eat a lot and have had many different experiences. As a person who once upon a time worked in the customer service field. I know what it is like to be in their shoes. That being stated I also believe in great customer service. Here is my personal philosophy on tipping:


Great Service:

I always start out by tipping 20% of my bill. Now if my waitress was absolutely amazing, filled our drinks without asking, made sure our food was great, was friendly, and went out of her way for us. I will increase their tip to 30, 40, even a couple times 50%. If your server is amazing they deserve an amazing tip.

Normal Service:

Like I said, I always start with 20%. If my waitress is Kind of friendly, gets our order right, checks in on us, refills our drinks. But doesn't do anything out of the norm. She will get a 20% tip from us. I think 20% is a good amount, for decent service.

Terrible Service:

If your server doesn't check in on you, gets your order wrong, doesn't refill your drinks, isn't friendly. I will start at 20% and the more she gets wrong, or doesn't do, I will start to lower it. She messed up my order, I tip 15% She doesn't refill my drinks (this is a huge pet peeve of mine) I tip 10% She doesn't check in on us, doesn't make sure the food is alright, I lower it to 5% The more she does wrong the less I tip.

There has been only 3 times in my adult life, I left a restaurant without tipping, And if my service was that terrible (I let a lot of things slide, so it takes a lot for me not to tip) I will not go back to that restaurant.

The first time I didn't tip, we were out shopping. Instead of going home we stopped at this sit down restaurant. We were starving. Now I am very picky when it comes to the cleanliness of a restaurant. This particular restaurant made me uncomfortable. The restaurant was dead. I should of got up and left at that moment. I ordered roast beef, mash potatoes and a side salad. I don't recall what my husband ordered. But when the waitress brought us our water, my husband's cup had dark red lipstick on the rim of the glass. When the waitress brought my side salad. My husband politely asked for a new glass of water, and showed her there was lipstick the cup. She rolled her eyes, and said yeah. Never apologized, the only reaction we got was her annoyed, that he was asking for a new cup. About 5 minutes later, I saw the cook put our food on the window and ring the bell. Our waitress was sitting at a table, with another waitress chit chatting. Literally our food sat there for 15 minutes before she noticed it. When she brought our food, the roast beef had a rainbow-ie color to it. It was the weirdest thing. It reminded me of a fish scale. I touched the roast beef with my finger it was cold, I touched the mash potatoes they were cold. We waited for our waitress to come back so I could show her my food. She never came back. We waited 20 minutes. Finally I asked another waitress passing by for our check. When she asked how everything was, I explained it was horrible. She sent the manager over. I explained to her that my husband had lipstick on his cup. Our waitress seemed annoyed, my food was not edible. The manager apologized, and said they would make sure to keep an eye out to make sure the glasses were clean, so that it doesn't happen to the next customer. She explained sometimes unfortunately that does happen. She didn't offer a discount, or comp the meal I didn't eat. But instead I paid my whole bill without tipping, and vowed never to return.

How much do you regularly tip?

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The second time I didn't tip, The waitress took our order, brought us our food and drinks, and we never saw her at our table again. It wasn't too busy. We did see her walking to other tables. But she never stopped in to see how our food was, She never refilled our drinks, She never brought us our check. We literally had to ask other waitresses walking by. And I brought my drink up to the bar for a refill on water. Since she didn't do her job, I didn't feel she deserved a tip.

The third time we didn't tip, This has to be the absolute worst experience I have ever had with a server. It was my sister's birthday, and we all went out to dinner. It was my sister, her boyfriend, her friend, my dad, and me. The waitress was absolutely rude. When she took our order she seemed so annoyed. She was rude to the tables next to us. She seem to really hate her job, and people in general. She took forever to bring our food and drinks. She got my order wrong. She never came to back to check in. I had to wave another waitress down to get my right order. I get if it was something complicated that I ordered like, like no onions, add olives. But what I ordered was chicken, what she gave me was beef. We had to ask other waitresses for refills on our drinks. When we finally saw our waitress again, it was to bring us our checks. I noticed I was charged for a drink I didn't order. She gave me complete attitude when I asked her to change it. Then she took everyone's check holder and their payment and then brought it back, so you could sign your receipt and tip if you wanted to. My sister's boyfriend had paid in cash, so he had his change in front of him. 2 seconds later she came by to pick up black check holders. She saw the money in front of my sister's boyfriend and in a complete rude tone said "is that your money or mine". He said "it's your tip". She took it, counted it in front of us, and put it in her pocket. No thank you, no nothing. Then she took each of the black check holders. I decided she was rude, she didn't check in, she didn't refill our drinks, she got my food wrong, she over charged me, I was not going to tip her. So when she took my check holder I noticed that she opened it and looked inside. I had left the tip spot blank, but wrote the total, and I signed it. She closed the check holder, put it back in front of me, and walked away. I thought that was strange. Maybe she thought I didn't sign it or something. We were finishing our food and drinks. She came back again, picked up my check holder, looked at it and again placed back in front of me. She did this a three times. By now she would have seen that I signed it. I realized that she kept putting it in front of me because she was waiting for me to tip her. I put a huge X in the tip spot. We ended up leaving before she came back! My dad was so disgusted by the waitress's behavior that the next day he called the manager.


What to do when your gratitudey is automatically added to the tip: If your waitress is terrible and gratitude is automatically added, ask for the manager, explain the situation. More than likely the manager will understand and take the tip off.

This reminds me of the story of the couple who refused to pay for a tip and was arrested. That to me is crazy. YOU don't have to tip. If your waitress is horrible you shouldn't have to. But, If the manager doesn't understand, and explains that the tip is mandatory and is going to call the cops if you don't pay. I would just pay the tip and vow never to return, and share my experience with others. I think a $15 dollar tip is better than spending a night in jail. (how sad is that, in America we could face charges for not tipping for terrible service)

When it's not your server's fault:

Since the waitress is the person you see, it's easy to want to blame her when things go wrong. Most of the time, it's not always her fault.

If something is wrong with the food, it taste terrible, it's too spicy, it's burnt, it's undercooked, it's cold in the middle. That is the chef's fault. When you let her know that something is wrong with your food and she apologetic and does everything in her power to fix it. She still deserves a good tip.

If it's packed inside the restaurant and she is running around trying to please everyone. Give her a break. It may take a little while for her to take your order, get your drinks and food. But if she is still managing to check in and refill your drinks. It's not her fault it's overwhelmingly packed. If she is still doing her job, give her a good tip.

If the restaurant has run out of something. It's not your servers fault. This happened just the other day to us. We were out of town and we stopped by this place that is known for the chicken and french fries. So when we ordered we all ordered chicken and fries. They were out of fries. How can you be known for your fries and be out of fries? We asked for bbq sauce with our chicken, they were out of bbq sauce. The table next to us ordered shrimp, they were out of cocktail sauce. They offered them tartar instead. Then the server came back from the kitchen and told the table they were actually out of tartar sauce. It was easy to want to complain to the waitress. "Are you kidding me, how can you be out of so much stuff." But they probably got complaints like that all day. If the restaurant is running out of things, it is not the waitresses fault. She doesn't order what they need. That is the manager's job. And obviously the manager is doing a terrible job. If your waitress is attentive, fills your drinks, and is still friendly. The lack of food shouldn't reflect on their tip.


Don't feel terrible for not tipping. You are spending your hard earned money. If the waitress is absolutely horrible, they don't deserve a tip. You go out to eat for great food and a great experience and that is what you should get.

As much as I agree with not giving a huge tip or any tip for terrible service. I also believe in tipping good amounts for great service. If your waitress is amazing and is going out of their way for you. Show them you appreciate their hard work by giving them a good tip. Maybe if more waitresses got good tips, they would do better at their job.


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    • Besarien profile image


      4 years ago

      I waited tables and did all manner of other service jobs while in college. It is hard and often very thankless work. I appreciate people who do it well. If someone is making some kind of an effort I will leave at least 15%. I can't even remember leaving less. I might if a waiter were ridiculously rude to my family or a guest. Usually I leave 20% most of the time but will leave like 25% for really excellent service. I also try to thank people because sometimes that is rarer than a good tip.


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