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Does tipping incorporate service only or the quality of food preparation also?

My wife and I are having this debate... We were at an Indian restaurant today and ordered saag paneer. We asked if the dish was spicy at all (since it usually is) because it was for my 4.5 yo son who loves the dish but can't handle it if it is spicy. The waiter said yes, it is not spicy. So we ordered it and sure enough my son couldn't handle it because it was too spicy. So we told the waiter it in fact was spicy and he said, oh we can make it not spicy. So we said ok. He came back 5 minutes later with a dish that was a lighter green and thinner consistency than what we had originally been served. It was clearly the same dish but with water added in... And when we tasted it, had the same spiciness, just diluted. At that point, I decided I was going to 0 tip, rather than go through a 3rd attempt at getting what I wanted. My wife said that was inconsiderate. I said, let's post on chowhound and see what others think. Any thoughts?

I know this is petty... Yet, this speaks to my broader belief that the tip decision should incorporate the entire dining experience, not just the service component. I could easily get ripped apart for this, but curious to see what others think.

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  1. In your example, the question is whether the server made a sincere attempt to accomodate you. If yes, then dinging him on the tip is uncalled for.

    If the server was of the "roll his eyes" and you know they are not going to remake the dish properly camp, then server is complicit in the deception/insincerity and tip should reflect this.

    Also, you don't know what goes on in the kitchen and you don't know if the server is actually an owner/manager (and thus actually making the decision to water down versus refire). When you don't know, you have to give the server benefit of doubt.

    1. I come at this, as a European, where I am used to seeing service charges added to a bill in place of old-fashioned tipping. And, as such, I understand that the service charge might well be distributed to the full team, rather than just the servers. I am very comfortable with that concept and, certainly, it's my preference over traditional tipping, so I understand the OP's view about it reflecting the total experience.

      That said, when I am in restaurant that has traditional tipping, I regard it as income only for the servers. I would not expect a server to do other than return the dish to the kitchen, drawing their attention to the complaint. I would not expect them to be involved in how the dish was going to be re-presented. So, on that basis, I'm with the OP's wife.

      By the by, I think there is always a difficulty in differing perceptions about what is "spicy". Presumably in this instance we are understanding it to mean "chilli hot", rather than an excess use of a range of spices. That leads to the difficulty in differing perceptions about what is "hot". By co-incidence, we were at a South Asian restaurant last night. Unusually, the waiter asked how hot we wanted the dishes. Not having been to this place before (and, therefore, not knowing how they cook dishes), we all said "medium" (appreciating that was pretty meaningless in practice). When the dishes came, I got a taste of three of them - and there was a surprising range - from quite mild to quite hot. So, even the kitchen had its differing perceptions when it was preparing the dishes.

      1. "not too spicy" is a totally subjective term. What is not spicy to someone who grew up eating Indian food might be inedible to a westerner. Don't take it out on the waiter.

        1. Just the fact that you say that saag paneer is usually spicy makes me think that this is a matter of miscommunication about what "spicy" is, as I love saag paneer and consider it pretty much "very mild" on a typical Indian restaurant menu.

          1. I believe tipping incorporates the quality of the food preparation too. But in your specific case posted, I would have to take some responsibility for the problem because you brought a 4 or 5 year old child that doesn't like spice to an Indian restaurant (a cuisine well known for "spice" of all kinds)...then were frustrated at getting spicy food.

            "Spicy" is subjective to be sure, but I think some cuisines are just not (inherently) the best choice for children with sensitive palates and I imagine sometimes even YOU are not sure what is "too spicy" for him. One of my daughters was the same way, I always ordered rice for her when we were at a restaurant that mostly offered spicy cuisine (Indian, Thai, Mexican). I guess I wouldn't entirely blame the waiter or cooks, and I would have left a reasonable tip.

            3 Replies
            1. re: sedimental

              While working out the how spicy part may be tricky, I certainly wouldn't fault parents for the problem or for bringing their kid to an Indian restaurant. Given how picky many kids are, and the junk often eaten, I applaud a 4.5 yr old American (I assume) kid who loves Saag Paneer. And his parents for that matter.

              1. re: snippet

                I don't fault them for trying either. I just wouldn't penalize the waiter when it didn't work out.

                1. re: sedimental

                  We did end up tipping full. That being said, if I ask a waiter whether the saag can be made without spiciness, I think that's pretty clear. If, the saag cannot be done that way, then say no, not absolutely yes.

                  It is interesting though that I dont have this issue at Thai and Mexican restaurants (the other two cuisines you mentioned). I assume that's because the heat is added ad hoc for each dish, as opposed to Indian where the sauces are made in batches.

                  On that note if anyone has a recipe or saag pander, I'd love it.

            2. As many people have mentioned, spiciness is subjective. I love Lamb Phall, but my friend who loves spicy Indian Food can not eat it. Sang Paneer at my local place is considered a medium spiced dish one level of mild, medium, hot and very hot. I personally don't find Vindaloo to be too hot, so you can guess where I am on the spectrum.

              I feel that the waiter answered you based on his personal opinion and then did the best he could to alleviate the situation. What I don't understand is, and maybe this is just hindsight, why didn't you specifically ask them to make it sans the peppers? I'm sure they would have they would have accommodated you had you explained it was for a child.

              That being said, if I felt that the only adjustment they made was to add water, I too would have been upset. I don't know if I'd leave no tip, but I might explain I wasn't happy with how they went about it. Not tipping someone for doing whatever he could isn't fair to the waiter. I would have tipped whatever your average percentage would be and be done with it. Stiffing the waiter is just wrong.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jhopp217

                Agree on ordering it sans peppers, if that's an option at that restaurant.
                I'd probably take off a bit from my usual tip, but not stiff the waiter totally.

                And, yes, spicy is certainly subjective. First trip to India, my mother-in-law (limited English) said she'd make food for me "like for baby." Well, that Indian baby must have a cast iron stomach, because it was hotter than blazes (and, for a Westerner, I think I eat pretty spicy food).

                And I'm drooling: saag paneer is my very favorite Indian dish, along with a stack of naan or pooris.

              2. Tipping is solely for service by those being tipped (the server). It has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the food. That subject is for the manager, and should be addressed immediately (and, if something is removed from the bill, but the server served, you should still include that item in your notional base for the tip). I am something of a hard ass on tip standards (that is, not a fan of the tend to declare they've suddenly expanded), but it cuts both ways in this context.

                1 Reply
                1. Agree ultimately with most of what was said. We ended up full tipping because its not worth ending a night on a bad note. But it did raise the question for me of what hte tip encompasses and it sounds like most believe it is predominantly service focused only. Wife wins... oh well.

                  1. The only time where I incorporate "quality of food" into my tip calculus is at coffee shops with baristas.

                    1. I would only cut my tip if service was bad, if the food is bad I tip 20% and then never eat there again.

                      1 Reply
                      1. I don't know about how you should have handled the tip, but I would be annoyed that the 'new, not spicy' dish was just the same dish with water added to dilute it. That is not acceptable. How big of a restaurant is this place? Sometimes these small, ethnic restaurants have the owner's family waiting on tables. If that's the case the waiter represents the owner in a manner that is different from a non-family member employee. I don't know why I'm making this case except to say that if it's the owner I'd reduce the tip. I suppose the TIP should be a separate discussion from the quality of the food, but I cannot imagine the food not having an impact on the tip. I know if we get good service and great food the tip will be higher. If the food is lousy but the service is good? I don't know.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: John E.

                          Tipping is INTENDED for the server; but in many many places, the tips are divided among most of the staff. I know I would share my gratuities with the bussers and when needed, the line cooks, as it assured that my orders moved along swiftly, and my tables were cleared properly. I think the OP made it pretty clear to his server that the second "less spicy" attempt was definitely not acceptable; however, it was also pointed out that taking a 4 year old to an ethnic restaurant and expecting the food to be adjusted to the child's preference is a chancy venture, with obvious results. The server should have been tipped appropriately (standard gratuity, with nothing extra for the "effort" taken to correct the problem)

                          1. re: Cheflambo

                            Yeah, I understand the whole what were you thinking about ordering a dish that is usually spicy for a 4 year old. I agree that the tips should be spread out among the staff, but not the owners.
                            That's a reference to Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich.

                            I don't think much about the effort to correct the problem in this instance and wonder how much the waiter may have had to do with the 'correction'.

                            1. re: John E.

                              Really? In a small, mom-and-pop restaurant, the owners are usually the hardest working people there. They get nothing from the tip pool? You DO realize that they don't get to keep but 3-4% of what you just paid for your meal ... the rest is consumed by overhead.

                              1. re: Cheflambo

                                I suppose I wasn't factoring in small Mom and Pop locations because in those places, Mom and Pop or children usually wait on tables as well. I was referring to Mario and Joe. (I find Joe Bastianich to be about the most arrogant of all the celebrity chefs I have ever seen on television. I actually kind of like Mario Batali).

                        2. I tip on the service, but part of that might include how the "food" part is handled. The food, per se, does not figure into the equation. If there IS a problem with the food, then how the server handles that, WILL count.


                          7 Replies
                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            That is the tough part though. I told the server it was spicy when he said it would be non spicy and he said ok, we can make it non-spicy. So I said ok, great. Then the dish came back watered down. Is there really a way I could've gone forward that would have a) ended pleasantly and b) gotten me a refired, non-spicy dish?

                            I guess I took issue with the server where I asked explicitly, can this be done non-spicy and he assured me it could. So i ordered it in stead of the chicken tikka which is what my son would have otherwise eaten.

                            1. re: FattyDumplin

                              I would have asked them specifically to remake the dish at zero spice level.

                              I agree that the quality of food isn't part of the tip calculus, but I don't think this is a quality of food issue. The server is your liaison to the kitchen and a big part of the server's job is to communicate to you what to expect from the food and communicate to the kitchen what you have ordered. He failed.
                              You asked a totally reasonable question and he provided an answer (not spicy), but then the answer turned out to be wrong, so your kid couldn't eat the dish. That's the waiter's fault, just like it would be if you asked him if there was X ingredient in the dish and he said no and it turned out there was that ingredient. If he wasn't sure if the kitchen could make it non-spicy, he should have checked.

                              The lame attempt at correcting the problem by watering the dish down was unacceptable, and I would have asked for a re-fire, ordered something else, or just asked them to take it off the bill. Unless this was the resto's opening day, there is no way this is the first time someone asked about the spice level and found a dish too spicy, so I don't have a lot of sympathy for the server.

                              1. re: akq

                                What you say above is exactly where I started in mindset when I originally posted. I think to ding the waiter's tip, it would have been on me to, as you said, ask for a re-fire or take it off the bill. I just didn't feel like going there because we'd had a good family day and I wanted to end it on a good note without potentially having things get nasty. Had I done so and the waiter's response been less than satisfactory, then i would have dinged him.

                                But yes, that's where I really took issue. If you can't deliver what's being asked for, then say it. You can even tell me "hey you idiot, we're an indian restaurant and we make spicy food" and I would have generally been fine with that explanation.

                                1. re: akq


                                  You make some good points. While "spice" seldom figures into the mix, I do some beef dish, often enough to know that kitchen A might have a different idea of "Medium Rare," than restaurant B. So, I describe what I want, and let the server translate that to the kitchen. If they mess up, then I do hold the server responsible, and the tip might well reflect that.


                                2. re: FattyDumplin

                                  Oh, I agree. The decision is not going to be easy. One has to weight several factors, and then make a judgement call.

                                  Could there have been a language barrier?

                                  We have done a few ethnic restaurants in London, where there WAS a bit of a language barrier - note: we have done MANY ethnic restaurants in London, but only a few, where there WAS a language barrier. I give latitude, when I think that might be the case.

                                  Just curious,


                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    I don't think so, but I gave the benefit of the doubt on that point.

                                    I think for me, it's really difficult to ding a tip because if I look at it, it's a pretty small portion of what I earn and pay to eat out, yet could mean a lot to the receiver. It feels almost like bad karma to do so...

                                    1. re: FattyDumplin

                                      Thank you for that clarification. Just wanted to get that out of the way, in case it played a role.