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Do you need to provide staff with a rationale for a lower tip?

Let's say that you normally tip at least 20%, and you receive poor service in a restaurant and want to tip 10% instead. Are you ethically obligated to let the waiter or manager know that you were dissatisfied with the service, or does the tip speak for itself? There are times when I want to tip less, but I don't want to have a big confrontation with the staff (either because I know if would ruin the whole experience for my dining companions, or because I am in a hurry and simply do not have time to track down elusive staff and then deal with the issue). But then I wonder how the waiter will interpret a lower tip--will he realize that the service was subpar? Or will he just assume I am cheap? And even if he assumes the worst (of me, not his service), does that really matter, since I am entitled to tip accordingly if the service is bad? My problem is, there have been situations in which I have been reluctant to confront the waiter or management about problems, and also reluctant to be misperceived as cheap, so I pretty much always end up leaving at least 15% even if the service is terrible, simply because I don't want to deal with the situation. Any thoughts about this issue?

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  1. You will be perceived as cheap. This doesn't have to matter to you by any means, but why not turn it into an opportunity? A good solution is to pay by credit card and leave a note for the server on the charge slip... although then the management might see it, and that could have bad results (especially if the server is unaware of his/her shortcoming and genuinely wants to improve). So I guess the better idea might be to leave a note on a separate piece of paper, kindly (emphasis on kindly) explaining what your issue was. On the flip side, a note of praise is never a bad idea, when deserved. I got a note -- along with a very generous tip -- from a customer maybe 13 years ago now. It said, "Excellent service! You should open up a school for servers!" I still have it, and it still makes me happy.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ctscorp

      It depends. There are nights when I just got completely weeded and KNEW my guests were mad about something but it was just one of those nights where everything was wrong - some my fault and some just "circumstances" (such as running out of teaspoons. What IS IT with restaurants and not ordering enough teaspoons. I would love to work some place on a Saturday night that doesn't involve the server selling dessert and/or coffee which results in a mad hunt for teaspoons while ALL my tables wait, usually ending with hastily grabbing some out of the dish area, hand washing them myself, drying them and running them out to the dining room, by which time EVERYONE is annoyed. But I digress).

      People screw up. When I screwed up, I tried to make up for it and be nice but once people are mad it's hard to get them back on your side even if you do everything right. At one restaurant where I worked it was SUCH a particular issue of when to place the entree order. If they order apps you have to wait, and time and time again I would get so busy I would all of a sudden look over and see my table has finished their app and oh no, I forgot to send their entree order! So you order it on the fly, run back and get salads and try to come up with a decent sounding excuse such as the kitchen being backed up (which it usually is). Now the kitchen hates you along with your guests for asking for something on the fly, and no matter what you do you know they're going to leave a lousy tip. And probably so will all your other tables as they've all suffered because of a problem with ONE, be it the teaspoon problem or a new silverware request or forgetting to send the entree order or whatever.

      when I've given less than great service I am not surprised if the tip is low. But if I *think* I've given good service or that there isn't anything I'm aware of that put the guest off and they leave a low tip, yes, I think they're cheap.

      So IMO the answer is if the service was obviously bad and you could tell the server knew it (they were apologizing for a mistake or problem, for example) and you tip low, they'll expect it. If they don't seem to have a clue and you've taken offense to something they clearly don't know about, whether it's because the server referred to your table as "ya'll" or made a joke you didn't like or touched her hair or whatever your issue is, no, they won't automatically know, they'll just think you're a cheap tipper and it's very frustrating. At first you look at it going, "WTF. What did I do?!" and when you can't come up with anything, you just think "Cheap b*stards." and go about the rest of your evening. If there is really something you think should be brought to their attention that EVERYONE would find problematic and the server obviously had no clue about, maybe you should let the manager know. (i.e., don't pick on little things that are just personal preferences, and if they tried to suggestive sell you something or upsell your item, that's just part of the job) I don't think I would take kindly to both a rotten tip and a nasty note; I'd much rather receive the criticism from my manager once my busy shift is over so it's not upsetting me the whole rest of the night. But that's just me.

    2. If you're leaving less than 15% under any circumstances, you need to make some sort of effort to let them know why. A poor tip is akin to constructive criticism only if you can substantiate it, otherwise it's little more than an insult.

      The serving staff and managers are not mindreaders--once you're out the door, the opportunity for constructive criticism is lost and you're viewed as nothing more than a cheapskate.

      5 Replies
      1. re: tubman

        It never occurred to me to have a conversation with a server about their performance as to why I am tipping them a sub par amount (-15%) unless it is a glaring problem and then I would get the manager involved. I am pretty verbal during a meal and if the server is sincerely trying to do their best I can over look a lot but if I figure if the server is too obtuse to get it during the meal, it's not worth the effort after the fact. I figure the tip speaks for itself-mediocre service=mediocre tip. Great service=great tip.

        1. re: Fru

          It doesn't though, really. There are people you clearly have given great service to who thank you effusively for this, that or the other and then they leave you 10%. Or less.

            1. re: rockandroller1

              Well, I cannot speak on the behalf of the obtuse diner who doesn't get it either.

          1. re: tubman

            If a restaurant wants me to train its servers and give constructive criticism, it can put me on the payroll. Otherwise, it's not my job to make sure the server interprets my tip correctly.

          2. To provide the short answer to your Title specific, the answer is no. There are only two conclusions to be drawn from the 10% tip. First you were less than satisfied, or second, you are a poor tipper, hence cheap. The onus is never on the customer to provide a reason for your gratuity. Why should your day or evening be disrupted with a confrontation the other side may not agree with or resent. I would imagine in most cases as this, the customer would not usually return for another visit,,,,,but if your intention is to return another time.......a discussion would be welcomed for both the patron and establishment so you should never have another poor experience. Another way to handle this is to draft a letter to the establishment via e-mail or USPS and convey your thoughts. If you do this anonymously, expect nothing, but if you provide your contact information, you should expect a response........form your opinion on the specific establishment then.

            4 Replies
            1. re: fourunder

              Based on my experience with an uncaring server and an equally uncaring manager, my answer is no.

              1. re: fourunder

                I totally agree with this. And I strongly recommend a letter.

                Regardless of what business you're in, in this day of text messages and emails, when a customer takes the time to write and mail a letter it makes a statement. If the manager doesn't jump up and take notice of your letter, smile, move on and think happy thoughts of the high restaurants failure rate.

                1. re: fourunder

                  Completely agree fourunder. The customer does not owe anyone anything in the way of an explanation. For many a confrontation is not what they had planned for the evening. They just want to pay and leave if they were unhappy. If you want to speak up by all means do so but you do not need to provide the staff with a rationale for a lower tip.

                  1. re: fourunder

                    I rarely undertip, but if I do I:

                    a) Feel no reason to explain my actions to anyone
                    b) Don't really care if they think I'm a bad tipper or not. That's what they'll likely assume though, because everyone is so durned entitled these days.
                    c) Also don't get into the whole (silly, IMO) notion that 99% of things "aren't the server's fault". I really don't care. If I enjoy my experience I tip well. If I don't, I don't tip well. Carrot, stick.

                  2. There are a couple of questions laid out.

                    - Leaving less than your normal - absolutely leave what you feel is justified. If you are concerned that someone who offered you less than adequate service might think less of you, so be it. Life is too short to worry about everyone's opinions, especially those that are not performing up to standards.

                    - Letting mgt know - this basically has two answers. jfood is of the opinion that mentoring always pays dividends. is this confrontational? not if done properly. if the service was less than deserved, jfood always mentions on the way out the door to the MOD, with one exception. If he is with a group and does not want to change the flow, then he would contact the next day. so the two answers are (1) if it does not disrupt the rest of the evening then do on the way out, and (2) if it might disrupt, then call the next day.

                    - Confrontational - if it gets to anywhere close to confrontational then just leave, should never get close to that standard.

                    - Server knowing - most will, but jfood had a bottom 5 servers of all time once and jfood actually went to zero on the tip. he spoke to the MOD on the way out. And while he was waiting for the car he saw the MOD chat with the server and the server was defending his actions. So 99% of the servers will know when their game was off, but there are those one or two cases when the server is bad and clueless (not a good combo for the future either).

                    - Confronted by the server for less than his expectations - If a server ever confronted jfood on this, jfood would apologize and ask for the slip back. He would then take the slip to the MOD and tell him/her about the totally unprofessional confrontation his empolyee just exhibited and take the tip to zero. The MOD can handle the conversation with the server as inside baseball. Never, never, never confront the customer.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: jfood

                      I think "never, never, never" confronting the customer is a bit hard and fast. Customers sometimes make mistakes with their math, especially after a few cocktails. There are discreet ways of letting the customer know that you think they may have made a math error. At my restaurant, the server will simply return the change (even if already told the change all set), usually with the checkbook open, so the bill total and the change are easily visible. This almost always works for simple math errors, and is non-confrontational.

                      If there is a bad tip left without explanation, for "good" service, we just think you're cheap.

                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                        "Confront" is the key word. Server should NEVER confront the customer and the customer should NEVER confront the server. So yes, it is hard and fast with confrontational.

                        Your "is non-confrontational" is the key. But that is such a tough discussion to have for several reasons. And it's not the first question and how that is phrased, i.e. Server says "Thank you very much for joining us tonight, was everything OK with the food and service?" Then the slipery slope begins

                        - "Yes everything was fine". What does the server say? Does s/he question the tip, then the confrontational line is crossed
                        - "The food was not very good". Does the server state that the kitchen prepares the food and it should not be reflected in the tip. Once again might be over the confrontational line
                        - "Your service was not up to par for the following reasons...". Oops, probably did not want to ask that question.

                        Your cash example is nice and subtle, and allows for some math erros to be corrected, but if not how is this handled? Very tough. But you, being in the biz, have seen this many more times than jfood, who has not been in the biz, so you have much more knowledge and exerience to give better guidance. Would love to hear what happens after question 1.

                        But in the end sometimes the customer feels they have overpaid for what they received and sometimes the server feels they have been underpaid for what they delivered. One cannot expect to maximize every meal from a buyer perspective, and the server cannot expect to maximize the tip at every table.

                        1. re: jfood

                          Once the question is asked and answered per your example, the server has to chalk it up to a loss and a bad tipper. There's really not much else that can be done after that. They've politely inquired about the diner's experience, and received positive feedback. You can't MAKE people tip more, and some people are just cheap.

                          1. re: invinotheresverde


                            Number 1 - Agree, sorta like solving world hunger
                            Number 2 - some people take it out on the server which is wrong
                            Number 3 - Wow I screwed up and i gotta do better next time. And some people are just bad servers

                      2. re: jfood

                        I agree 100%. This is not the place for a conversation with a server. And any conversation initiated by management should be handled delicately so as not to cause discomfort for the guest. BTW, I am a former server - you generally know when things are not going well, regardless of the reasons. Sometimes everything is perfect & the tip is less than you would think. But thats the nature of the biz, if you aren't prepared to have your wages pegged to a changeable, often unfathomable public, then you will be happier in another profession. You are the customer - you do not owe an explanation. If you feel inclined to mention a problem to the manager, most will be appreciative for the input (if provided without attitude).

                        1. re: jfood

                          "Never, never, never confront the customer"

                          Absolutly correct!
                          No explantaion required. The tip speaks for itself.

                        2. No.

                          For the same reason I don't provide a rationale when give a higher tip.

                          The action speaks for itself.

                          1. You absolutely do not need to provide servers with rationale for low tips.

                            I have the same problem, though; I feel so guilty if I leave a low tip. I think I might be angreier, though, when my boyfriend leaves a good tip in spite of terrible service.

                            The big issue with tipping for me is tipping pools. Sometimes the service is great, but the food sucks. Or the food is amazing, but your server keeps walking by your table without making eye contact with you even though you clearly need more water/milk because your curry is hot. So with tipping pools, how do you make sure that the kitchen gets its money accordingly, or the server his/hers?

                            My worst story is when I got a quesadilla because it had cilantro, which I love. When I got it, I could neither taste it, nor see anything green in the quesadilla. Not even a speck. My waiter saw that I had a problem (I wasn't eating the quesadilla) and I asked if I could get some cilantro to put in myself. He was very nice (he couldn't see any green, either) and he insisted on having the kitchen make another one up. While I was waiting, a perosn in white came to our table, glared at me, and said in a smarmy tone "I'm the kitchen manager. There was cilantro in the quesadilla. As it is an acquired taste, we don't put a lot in. But we're making you up another one, with EXTRA cilantro."

                            I was shocked. I almost started to cry. I was so upset that I had angered the kitchen staff. My server saw what happened, though, and he immediately came over and apologized, then went to the FOH manager and got our dinner comped.(And the fact of the matter is, if you don't like cilantro, you just won't ever order anything with it. It's not one the those avoidable dislikes, like green peppers.)

                            In this case, the server was phenomenal. But I didn't want the kitchen to get a dime. So I gave the server cash, and asked him not to share. I haven't been back to that restaurant.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: miss_bennet

                              Miss, just want you to know that in 15 years in the industry, I've never once worked at a place that shares tips with the kitchen. Yes, it happens, but I doubt it's as common as you think.

                              1. re: invinotheresverde

                                I think it might be a regional thing. I know quite a few people who work in the restaurant business, and they all tip-share. Even dishwashers get cuts. But maybe it's a BC thing.

                                I also know that in some places, waiters work for tips, with a very low base wage. That is illegal in Canada. Thus, tip sharing.

                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                    No, no, no!! If you want to communicate with a Canadian you have to speak like a Canadian.

                                    http://www.talklikeacanadian.com/inde... ;-D

                            2. I say no,

                              A tip is given to reflect the quality of service given:

                              good tip = good service
                              bad tip = bad service

                              If a waiter/waitress needs this theory explained to them they are in the wrong field of work.

                              Also labeling anyone who does not reward a bad server with an obligatory good tip as a "cheapskate" is kind of funny, I do not really think twice, or care what an anonomous waiter/waitress thinks about me if they have failed to do their job, and I have tipped them accordingly

                              With the above said I tip 20% and above when I go out. I very rarely run into bad servers.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: swsidejim

                                I was speaking of bad tips for good service. Just because you tip well (which is appreciated) doesn't mean everyone else does. There are some people of the "twenty dollars is a lot of money and therefore a good tip no matter how big the bill is" school.

                                There is no "obligatory good tip", and I also reward bad service with a bad tip.

                                1. re: invinotheresverde

                                  I was not responding to anything you may have posted directly, just my opinion.

                                  I know there are people who skimp on tip, but I think it there are servers who should look in the mirror for the reason they received a bad tip, and not just write everyone who gives them a bad tip off as "cheapskates".

                                  As for my statement alluding to an "obligatory good tip", it was a tongue in cheek remark since some on these boards feel that a server should never be given less than x% of a tip no matter how bad they were.

                                  1. re: swsidejim

                                    Yes! I totally agree with your tongue in cheek! Fortunately, that "Obligatory good tip" doesn't need to happen here in BC! If they are terrible, they don't need to get a good tip!

                                    1. re: miss_bennet

                                      An obligatory good tip for bad service doesn't happen here in Westchester, NY either.

                                      There really is a place on earth where this happens?


                                    2. re: swsidejim

                                      Agreed, but I'm talking about good tips for good service and bad tips for bad service. If you don't mention a problem to either your waiter or a manager, they just assume you're cheap, unless there was an obvious blunder.

                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                        thats cool, they can assume whatever they want, my livelyhood does not depend on tips, theirs does.

                                        Bad service has been so rare, and so bad the few times it has happened it is really a non issue, I do not bother to talk to a manager because it is not worth my time or effort to tell on a server, or help a manager run their operation. They have already wasted my time & enjoyment of a meal on that visit.

                                        With the above said, I tip over 20% as a rule because I do receive good service 99.9% of the time, and I know from being a cook for years, working in the industry is a tough gig.

                                        1. re: swsidejim

                                          So even though it doesn't seem it, I guess we're on the same side of the fence.

                                2. I"m one too that doesn't want my "low tip" to be confused with me being cheap, I really want the server to know it is a reflection of them/their service or lack of. So, if I've made enough comments throughout the meal that they won't be confused - I might not say more. But if I'm just upset and feel there's no point in communicating to the server, I will always mention to management or send a note later if I'm worried about my companions, in a hurry, etc. I"m one who believes - they should know why a lousy tip was left. Whether it's ignored or used for further training, is up to them. I own a business and always want to know this feedback from my customers - we're always looking to continually improve. I can't see everything that goes on.

                                  1. I don't give a reason, unless I'm asked (politely). Unless I think there are mitigating circumstances, I also write off the restaurant as a place I want to return to. Or if I know the place has been good in the past, then I would go see the management. But a brand new place where I get bad service? I'm not going to spend time trying to explain why I left less than 15-20%. I'm just not coming back.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: Pincus

                                      I see your point but I'm thinking more of one business owner to another - I want them to know. I'm always supporting the growth of most businesses. If they don't know, they can't do anything (although some don't anyway).

                                      1. re: lexpatti

                                        I feel just the same as Pincus does. The restaurant "business" is different than when I am out doing business with other places like the dry cleaner or the lumber yard or a clothing store or what-have you.

                                        When I'm at dinner I want to relax, have a good meal and go home feeling -- if not pampered -- then at least as contented as possible. The VERY last thing I want is to have a verbal confrontation with anyone, leaving me amped up and agitated. So I don't complain, I just don't go back.

                                        1. re: Servorg

                                          I personally feel absolutely no obligation to explain why I'm leaving you a bad tip. I'm not cheap, I don't care if you think I'm cheap as I'll likely never see you again. I have no problem leaving a good tip for good service but I also don't feel bad about not tipping at least 15% for bad service. I feel no obligation to support you if you can't do your job well. That's the beauty of working for tips or for yourself, the harder/better you work, the more you make.

                                          1. re: Servorg

                                            I definatly agree with you regarding "When I'm at dinner I want to relax, have a good meal and go home feeling -- if not pampered -- then at least as contented as possible" but where we differ is that a verbal confrontation with management isn't something that leaves "me amped up and agitated". It's just a simple conversation that I feel comfortable with. but I can understand, there are many folks that aren't comfortable with any kind of confrontation. I just personally don't like to be misunderstood - I want them to know that I consciously left a low tip (and why).

                                      2. One experience where I questioned my follow through was after tea in a high end hotel. We were ignored by our waiter after the initial pour and food delivery. The other table he was servicing apprently seated someone important to whom he devoted all his attentions, by my observation. We brought the situation to the attention of the headwaiter, who failed to rectify the situation adequately. We left a ten percent tip and were pursued out to the door by the waiter, asking if there was anything wrong with the service. Unfortunately, my friend felt humiliated enough not to tell him directly about the problem with his service, and I followed her lead since she was older and had been there before.

                                        I left feeling like we should have done something differently, but I wasn't sure quite what, since it seemed no one really cared that we enjoy our tea, not the waiter, not the headwaiter. Strange, and I won't go back there, ever.

                                        1. I don't believe you need to provide any rationale for any tip you leave. I also don't believe that the customer needs to try to take into account tipping out, sharing tips or any other divvying up of tips amongst the restaurant staff because every restaurant does things differently.

                                          Providing feedback/rationale to the manager or owner may help the business, so if you are interested in that for some reason it'd be a great thing to do. For example, my wife and I frequent a local neighborhood restaurant (probably 2 times a month) and if we were to get sub-standard service we'd let the owner know because we like the restaurant and know that such service is unusual and that they'd want to correct it. If I saw a reasonable path to address sub-standard service with a manager or owner in another restaurant, I'd likely take it, but I wouldn't feel it necessary.

                                          The server will likely think you're cheap unless they're aware of having provided less than good service...but that's not your problem either.

                                          1. Thank you for all the thoughtful replies. This has been an interesting discussion, and thanks to you all I will hopefully be able to leave reduced tips (only when merited, of course) without anxiety in the future. :)

                                            1. i don't feel obligated to mention something to the management or waiter, but, as it happens if the service is bad enough to warrent a small or no tip, i am usually frustrated enough and more than willing to have a confrontation with my server or management.

                                              thankfully, it's something that rarely happens. Like when the server throws a plate of fries at me. When I mentioned that particular incident to the manager his answer was "was X serving you today?". I guess she must have been a habitual fries thrower. Needless to say, we never saw her there again.

                                              1. Tipping is part of the expense of dining out, and I think people will often cite some hiccup in service as a way to justify a poor tip in order to save money.

                                                Low tips on good service are not uncommon, so your low tip will only get you labeled as another cheapskate. A low tip will not cause a server to re-evaluate their service. If you get bad service, talk to a manager and let them know of the problem. The manager will do what they can to make you happy, including comping food and drinks. They will also try to work with the server and fix their service problems.

                                                Next time you deem your server unworthy of 20%, remember that you are affecting their livelihood. I doubt that you lose out on a day's pay at your job because someone was upset with you. More likely you will hear something from your manager.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: mobtown hound

                                                  On being labeled as a cheapskate instead of causing a re-revaluation: That's not my problem. I view that as being a sign of the general trend in our society where no one takes personal responsibility, everything is always someone else's fault, everyone is special, etc. These servers assume that they're a great server (think about it: have you ever seen anyone here refer to themselves as an average or below average server? I always see people talk about how they're above the norm) and thus you're a cheapskate. I really don't care what they think.

                                                  On affecting their livelihood, would it happen to me, etc: Again, I really don't care. I choose a job where my pay is *not* tied directly to such a barometer. I stay employed (or not) based on general satisfaction and barring raises, my salary is predetermined. Part of the reason that I didn't select a job that's based on commission, tips, etc is that I prefer having the reliable salary number. Server *choose* an occupation that has these variabilities, as such it is their own issue - in times of low tips they feel the bad and with good tips they feel the good.

                                                  I don't see how anyone ever feels sorry for servers - they're choosing that occupation ... they can always do something else. I'd *hate* being a server and thus I'm not one.

                                                2. according to one server on another thread , servers know when they're giving crap service....so if they know this, no one need say a word.

                                                  1. Are you ethically obliged? No.

                                                    But what is your purpose in leaving the small tip? If you're trying to send a message, then the tip alone won't do that -- the waiter might just think you're cheap -- so to accomplish your goal, you'd need to do more than that. On the other hand, if you don't care, or you think the server doesn't care, then just leave the tip you think the service warrants and walk out.