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Question arising from "new wrinkle" thread-- Do some restaurants refuse service to non-tippers?

Seems like it would be problematic either way-- big scenes vs stiffed staff. I'm honestly curious, and not a culprit!

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  1. I suspect not - at least not overtly. If it was overt, the business could run the risk of it being raised as a discrimination issue - "You're not refusing me because I didnt tip, you're refusing me because I'm....."

    Of course if, like me, you live in a part of the world where tipping is always discretionary, then the question is never going to arise. I see the whole issue as very much an American problem that most of us just look at and think "huh?"
    The big difference in culture is one of the reasons why I always think that America is the most "foreign" country I visit regularly - in spite of the use of the same language.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      there are many ways to discourage people who stiff the servers to discontinue being customers of the restaurant.

      some ways are overt, some are not overt.

      1. re: westsidegal

        There is something very sinister and threatening about your comment. I have been a far too generous tipper in situations where I should have left little or perhaps nothing. But this is not for fear of "overt, some are non overt ways to discourage people" it is a recognition that the server is probably under paid and should have a basic livable wage. I have after reading discussions here on tipping to, going forward, reflect in my tip the quality of service. Your comment would be all that would be needed for me to discontinue tipping and/or visiting a particular establishment. A thinly veiled threat! UGH.

        1. re: Bacchus101

          many restaurant owners will discourage people from returning who
          1) stiff or otherwise treat the restaurant employees poorly
          and/or those that
          2) camp out at tables not ordering much, during the few hours out of the day that the restaurant must kick-ass in terms of revenue (meal times) just in order to stay alive.
          and/or those that
          3) create an unpleasant situation in the restaurant for the other patrons or for the employees.
          (i.e. the person who spends his/her entire meal having a shouting match and spewing profanities with someone on his/her cell phone.)

          there is nothing sinister about it.
          the restaurant is a business and this is good buisness practice.
          successful privately held restaurants, for the most part, do what it takes to keep competent, reliable, friendly, honest, hard-working, careful, employees from turning over and do what it takes to keep well-paying, well-tipping, pleasant, regulars from leaving for other restaurants. (keep in mind, many times the well-paying and well-tipping folks will follow the competent employees if they go from job to job. when my friends and i go out for a drink, we will tend to go wherever our favorite bartender is working --usually he stays at any given restaurant about a decade at a time).

          if you think about it, the restaurant owners have much more skin in the game than does any run-of-the mill customer. they have a responsibility to themselves, their lenders, and to their investors.

          <<Your comment would be all that would be needed for me to discontinue tipping and/or visiting a particular establishment. A thinly veiled threat! UGH.>>
          if you are the kind of customer that the restaurant management wants to jettison, believe me, your absence from the place would be considered a good thing.
          also, it will be a much more positive experience for you and for the restaurant if the management were to get rid of you in a "non-overt" fashion rather than an overt fashion.
          also, it will be a much more pleasant experience for the other patrons (that the restaurant wants to retain) and for the restaurant's employees for the dumping of undesired patrons to done in a non-overt fashion.
          the non-overt approach has the jettisoned customer walking out believing that s/he is the one doing the rejecting; better situation all around.

          1. re: westsidegal

            Well, interesting comments. However your detailed response has moved the target quite a bit, indeed. The situations you stated in this reply are far more egregious, in my mind, than "stiffing the server"which may be in the context of poor service. As one who is yet to experience being jettisoned. When I select a restaurant I expect the demand for performance to be on them not on me. As one who has often been agog at the lack of decorum of patrons I do appreciate some of your followup thought. The day I have to worry about what a restaurant thinks of me, even a 5 star, is the day adjustments need to be made either in the looking glass or in my restaurant selections.

    2. A business refusing service in the US is definitely complicated based on what does/doesn't fit in a protected class. Going to the 'no shirt, no shoes, no service' signs - not wearing a shirt or shoes counts a protected class. After that, as a non-lawyer I'm not going to pretend to understand all the ins and outs.

      That being said, if any business was having a repeat problem and felt like they couldn't ban a customer due to fears over protected class issues - then I'm sure they could always institute a policy of X% service charge added to every bill.

      11 Replies
      1. re: cresyd

        We recently had an interesting case in the UK, where a couple of guys were banned from an "all you can eat" buffet. Basically because they could eat an awful lot. But the restaurant tried to spin it that the reason was because the were rude


        1. re: Harters

          This story makes me think about "bad behavior" and how that can be determined by any business owner as a reason to ban someone. I know of a number of annecdotal case of bar owners in particular banning patrons for behaving violently/agressively. It doesn't always have to go to the realm of actual physical violence - but just contributing to an "unsafe environment". I also know of cafes/restaurants that have banned individual homeless people because of concerns that they panhandle.

          That being said, in none of those cases do I know someone who tried legal action to be re-instated service.

          1. re: cresyd

            In the case of disorderly conduct (offensive, annoying, alarming behavior) , the key is to call the police and have the incident made a matter of record including the names of the offenders. Once official notice against trespass has been given in the presence of Law Enforcement , in most jurisdictions, if the subject(s) return, criminal complaints can be signed.

            1. re: Tom34

              I was in a bar fight a few years ago. The bouncer told us "next time there's a problem come to me right away" and my friend said "I don't know where you are and I don't have time. Either I handle it myself or I'll call the police." And he said if the police were called the place would've been shut down for the night.

              Of course that was a bar, and I did punch dude in the face at 10pm... anyway my thinking is unless the patron is making bomb threats or swinging a knife, its preferable not to call police.

              1. re: youareabunny

                The presence of bouncers often speaks to the age and overall rowdiness of the clientele. This type of crowd can be very profitable and desirable to some owners but also very disorderly & often dangerous. If the owner solicits such a crowd, the owner better spend the money to control it because if the police have to constantly intervene it will get shut down and the owner will eventually end up in court.

                I think what people on this site are talking about are upscale bars / nice restaurants / nice restaurants that have a lounge / bar area......In these cases, the police are usually very willing to accommodate an owner's rare request to remove a disorderly person because they know the owner does not solicit that element nor tolerate any rowdy behavior.

                1. re: Tom34

                  It's a bar, of course there are bouncers. Be it a dive or the five star restaurant, the police officer to citizen ratio is anywhere from 1:1000-3000, so they have to prioritize. I called in a drunk driver and they responded within 2 minutes. My ex-roommate once called the police re: a threat made by other roommate involving a knife. "We will get an officer to take a record of it within the next 8 hours."

                  Maybe you've seen it done where police have had to come in, but from my understanding (majored and interned in law enforcement) they just don't have time.

                  1. re: youareabunny

                    Most of the bars in my area that I frequent don't have bouncers but they are also not big night club / dance bars that attract large young out of town crowds with big beer muscles.

                    The frequency of serious crimes against persons & property per 1000 citizens will often have a far greater impact on response time than officer to citizen ratios (UCR). If an establishment is in an area with a relatively low crime rate, response time for a low priority call will likely be good.

        2. re: cresyd

          Not wearing a shirt or shoes is not a protected class. Protected classes are race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, familial status, disability status, veteran status, and I feel like something else I'm forgetting. But not the wearing of shoes and shirts.

          But maybe I'm misunderstanding your post?

          1. re: debbiel

            Oh, oops - I meant to write that it wasn't a protected class. You weren't misunderstanding, I was typing too quickly.

            That being said - if a business can refuse someone service for not wearing shoes - wouldn't it make sense that they could refuse someone service for not tipping?

            Lower in the thread it talks about Denny's with "under tipping" patrons - but it involves both a protected class and not barring one or two customers who are repeat offenders but rather targeting a group. However, if you've got a customer or two who either never tips or tips at a rate of 5% or less - might that not fit into the idea of not wearing shoes?

            1. re: cresyd

              Ha! I've made worse typos. :)

              Note: I am not a lawyer....I'm pretty sure a restaurant would be quite free to ban a poor tipper. Or a group of poor tippers. If the people of that group of poor tippers all belonged to the same protected class, they might argue that the poor tipping is just a cover for not serving a protected class.

          2. re: cresyd

            there are hundreds of ways to encourage customers to stop frequenting your establishment without having to resort to the refusal of service.
            i've seen sports bars do this by simply manipulating their TV for an evening.
            either the TV is kept on a sport that the undesired patron doesn't want, the sound is too loud or too soft, the patron is seated where they can't see the game very well, the patron gets seated at a TV that stops working or has it's sound kick in and kick out randomly, etc.

          3. Denny's - a few years ago had an issue with black people....being POOR tippers, not skipping the tip altogether. Seems to recur every once in a while with that chain

            1. How does an establishment know if someone is a non-tipper? Do they ask before you're seated? awkward!!

              5 Replies
              1. re: treb

                Maybe, from a previous experience, they have been tattooed with a big "NT" (Non-Tipper) on their foreheads - sort of a "Scarlet Letter" thing?

                Though I am a liberal tipper, I doubt that a restaurant, new to me, would know that, in advance, unless they had a copy of the CIA's dossier on me?


                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  they may not know on your first visit, but after that. . . . .

                  1. re: westsidegal

                    Then, in my case, I should be quite safe. I tip well, though do grade service fairly harshly - it needs to be good. However, then the tip reflects the level of service, starting a good "base point."

                    Maybe that is why, when I return to a restaurant, the entire staff throws rose petals in my path... [LOL]

                    Now, with programs, like OpenTable, I could well imagine that there ARE some notes in clients' dossiers. Hope my "notes" are good ones, as I would have to be dining on the patio, when they call in a drone-strike! I mean, mixing the Chef's Surprise with a hellfire missile attack, is NOT a pretty thought. [Note to self: when restaurants get drones, then tip better... ]


                2. re: treb

                  I can think of one person in my former town who had a reputation as a poor tipper/pain in the behind. Across town. I think it had started becoming part of new servers' training.

                3. If I owned a restaurant that was busy I would try to select out the lousy tippers. I cannot say exactly how because I have never been in this situation. One possibility would be denying them reservations. The worse they were the bigger the effort would be. Stingy tippers make the decent tippers look like suckers -fools and I don't like that

                  In the early 1990s I drove taxi and the Europeans were awful. They liked to pretend they didn't know the tipping customs in America, they just wanted cheap taxi and cheap no-tip meals unlike what they were stuck with in Europe. I knew that taxi fares in Germany were damn high in part due to no tipping.
                  The Japanese were nice and did know the American tipping customs

                  16 Replies
                  1. re: lastZZ

                    I would never go back to a restaurant where the service were so bad. I suspect there is a self selection process.

                    1. re: lastZZ

                      I know how easy it is to slag off "Europeans" on the tipping issue for not tipping like Americans. I wonder if Americans vary their tipping when they visit a European country?

                      But bear in mind that we are a diverse continent of different nationalities and cultures. And that diversity applies to tipping as much as anything else. In some countries, tipping is usual, in others only a token few coins, in others nothing. We are not all the same.

                      By the by, my brother in law ( a Spaniard who lives in the UK) is a taxi driver. When he started about 10 years ago, he would get some tips during a shift. Now it is a rarity. We've changed our cultural norms in this respect.

                      1. re: Harters

                        I do, as best as I can. I always research tipping customs when I go somewhere new. It does feel odd not to tip in situations when I am used to doing but I get over it.

                        Just as I judge harshly those foreign visitors who don't adhere to American tipping norms when in the US, I'm equally against offending locals or trying to cultivate a US-style tipping culture where it's not wanted.

                      2. re: lastZZ

                        there once was a terrific french bistro not too far from me that i adored.
                        i suspect that one of the factors that contributed to it's demise was that it was located near a hotel that catered to european tourists. the european tourists often stiffed the waitstaff. it made it practically impossible for the restaurant to keep enough competent staff to provide good service.
                        if they had tried to raise their prices they would have out priced themselves for their american customers who expected to leave a 20% tip.

                        1. re: westsidegal

                          "if they had tried to raise their prices they would have out priced themselves for their american customers who expected to leave a 20% tip."

                          They could, of course, have adopted an innovative marketing concept (for America) in making a great play that their increased prices included service and that nothing further was expected or wanted.

                          I understand that this is exactly what a growing number (albeit still small) of high end places do. I look forward to a future trip across the Atlantic to see if America is really starting to have a cultural shift on this and that customers are starting to see the improved level of service that should come from it.

                          1. re: Harters

                            it would have taken much bravery to try to be the point man on that issue.
                            even looking at what people on this board write in many of the tipping threads, some folks would take great umbrage if their "right" to decide the tip amount had been usurped.

                            you would think that leaving a reasonable tip was something that required great justification, perfect service performed by perfect people in a perfect organization, no missteps whatsoever, fawning and obsequious servers, etc.

                            i have to say, that when i first read this stuff, i was stunned.
                            now, i realize there is a whole contingent of folks who feel this way.

                            1. re: westsidegal

                              Maybe not so much bravery needed.

                              By co-incidence, I was scanning one of the regional boards out of interest for a forthcoming trip to America and came across the undermentioned place in nashville. In its FAQs, there's a question of how much does it cost (they only do a tasting menu for $100) it then adds "tax and gratuity is added to the total bill at the end of the meal"

                              Just like we have in the UK, with our service charge (although our tax, at 20%, is always already included in any menu price)


                              1. re: Harters

                                since i miss this restaurant so much, my current viewpoint is that they should have tried anything and everything.

                                that said, in my heart of hearts, i believe that trying include a fixed gratuity in the bill would have hastened their demise.

                                they made the very best bouillabaisse i've ever had.
                                their tuna tartar was phenomenal.
                                their desserts unparalleled.

                                1. re: westsidegal

                                  Understood. But don't Americans generally accept an automatic fixed gratuity added for larger parties - I notice it often on US restaurant websites? Can't be a "matter of principle" objection then that it's accepted when your dining with a group of friends and family but not when you're alone or , say, a couple.

                                  1. re: Harters

                                    since i don't think like that myself, i have no clue how one can justify that kind of thinking.
                                    i'm with you on this.
                                    i believe it would be better all around if servers, in the absence of the rare severe service breakdown, could reasonably expect a decent tip.
                                    even when a standard gratuity is added to the check, i normally add some more.
                                    i am mystified (not in a good way) by the people who would object to such a charge.

                        2. re: lastZZ


                          On CH, there have been myriad "tipping" threads, and there have been many more research projects (from the industry, and others), on "tipping," in general.

                          I have read several of those research projects, and there do seem to be a few common demographic elements, that *might* point to an unknown person being a good tipper, or a bad one.

                          Since I find myself in all sorts of social situations, that revolve around bars and restaurants, I try to observe. That simple observation is not enough for me to form a definite pattern.

                          For instance, some of those studies point to "professional women," and I do not mean "the *oldest* profession), as being poor tippers, in general. I spend a lot of time with several, and in all professions. I do not observe that, but there could be some truth?

                          By all accounts, I am anything BUT a "high-roller," come from a humble background, and worked very hard, most of my life. I have done almost NO time, in food/drink service, but I tip well, at least IMHO.

                          I have tried to come up with some profiles, that might indicate a good tipper, or a poor tipper, and just cannot do it. Probably due to the small sample size.

                          My father was a horrible tipper. My mother, better, but still deficient, by my estimation. My M-I-L was about at the level, as my mother. However, all grew up in the Great Depression. They experienced things, and times, that I never really knew. I do not factor them into my observations.

                          Now, here is my question: If one is a restaurant owner, and a new patron walks in the door, or calls for a reservation, what would indicate to you, that they would be a good tipper, or a bad one?


                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            You can't necessarily tell when they walk in the door, but there are telltale signs during service. I'm sure many here will protest much of this, but 19 years of experience tells me that if they:

                            ask your name and proceed to use it as if you are their best friend whenever they want some thing

                            Tell you at the very beginning, "Don't worry. We'll take care of you"

                            Gush at the end of the meal how wonderful everything was and how wonderful their service was.

                            They are probably bad tippers.

                            Everything else is really a crap shoot. I've had people come in, adding prices in their head, ordering the cheapest things on the menu, obviously strapped for cash - give me 20% Cue the opposite scenario. One thing I've learned in this industry is that people will always surprise you.

                            1. re: hilltowner

                              I worked as a bus boy as a kid....$1.86 p/hr plus a voluntary % of the servers tips. Some of the servers were consistently generous, some were middle of the road and some were consistently cheap. Guess who's tables got cleared and set first?

                              I was brought up t leave 15% - 20%. If you can't do that, go to McDonalds. Having said that, to earn that %, the server must present themselves in a professional manner and provide professional service. When over the top 25% or more is not uncommon for us and our friends. Many times we have left 50% to 100%, especially if the drinks were good :)

                              I can't take it ($$) with me and sometimes a great server can make the difference between a good night and a great night that is talked abut for years to come.

                              1. re: hilltowner

                                Well said! In my experience (not food-related), if a first-time customer says "Take care of me on this, and there's plenty more to come," it means I'll never see you again (and you'll probably slag me).

                              2. re: Bill Hunt

                                I wonder how much the perception that "professional women" are bad tippers is based in the fact that professional women often get inferior/disrespectful service. For example, I was out with a woman (a banker), her husband and some kids we were mentoring. She handed the server her credit card, but when the server brought it back, she handed it to the woman's husband (seated at the other end of the table, so there was no mistaking it was deliberate). The assumption that the man was paying the bill, even when the woman had handed over her credit card, brought about an automatic "ding" to the tip. Female servers are often flirty with a group of professional men to bolster their tips, but male servers who are flirty with professional women are walking a very fine line. Basically, there are still a lot of people out there who are uncomfortable with a woman paying her own way, let alone for other people.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  When I was a waiter, many years ago, professional women were among my favorite customers. As a class, they weren't bad tippers at all.

                            2. They don't "refuse" service.

                              They just give you "bad service".

                              17 Replies
                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                or seat you an an uncomfortable part of the restaurant.
                                or serve you food at in incorrect temperature (i.e. refrigerated bread).
                                or, if "tap" water is ordered, serve real tap water rather than filtered water.
                                or, or, or.

                                1. re: westsidegal

                                  That's exactly what I mean by "bad service."

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    i know a restaurant that keeps a supply of bread in their freezer JUST for this sort of customer.
                                    they partially thaw the bread in a microwave before it gets served to the lousy customer.
                                    makes the starch set up.

                                    customer leaves citing "bad food" and "cold bread."

                                    1. re: westsidegal

                                      It's like everything else in life.

                                      You be good to someone, and more likely than not, they'll be good back to you.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          Now that does make sense.

                                          Still, if I have never dined at Restaurant X, have a 7:00PM reservation for two, have requested a "romantic table," and pointed out that my wife cannot eat veal, would I be treated at 100%, or would something flag me as a "poor-tipping, problem diner?"

                                          I cannot see how most restaurants would be able to develop a "profile," and respond to that, unless I was sort of a "regular."


                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                            if, on your first visit to a privately owned restaurant, you stiff a server when there hasn't been a real breakdown in service, it will be noted.
                                            if you do it again, in many restaurants, you will not be given the opportunity to become a regular.

                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                              I think the thread refers to regulars, not unknowns.

                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                My guess is that some profiles are easier to establish that others.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        Understood. But I got the impression from The Nasty T-shirt Thread that some people thought restaurants could do it pre-emptively rather than post-emptively (if you can follow my fractured English).

                                        1. re: monfrancisco

                                          in small towns, or small restaurant circles, word can get around.
                                          for instance, many of the staff members of the high-end restaurants in santa monica regularly patronize each other's restaurants.

                                          (i.e, if one of them opens for dinner at 5 and another one, across the street, starts service at 6, often the servers at the 6pm restaurant will pop over to the 5pm one for quick snacks before they start their shift.)

                                          the restaurant staffs often know each other by name.
                                          when they change jobs they often just rotate from one of those restaurants to another.
                                          they talk with each other.
                                          they romantically connect with each other.

                                          if a customer were to do anything outrageous in any one of those restaurants, it wouldn't take long before almost everyone in the circle will hear about it.

                                          and, if you think about it, one of the more important abilities for a server/bartender to posses is having a good memory. many of the people in the "good server/bartender" group remember their customers' food and drink preferences even if they don't see the customer for a year or so.
                                          given that, d'ya think they might remember information that would directly affect their income? their reputation? and the most critical decision, how they can best prioritize the use of their time?

                                          1. re: westsidegal

                                            Do some restaurants refuse service to non-tippers? Was the question. According to Ms. westsidegal the answer is "of course", for sure. I would not doubt that; but to add the entire social interaction structure of restaurant works to support the premise is way over the top. Too much drama for the customer who in most cases just wants to enjoy a good meal and have the service people go unnoticed. The current popular focus on "chefs" by the media has unfortunately made a soap opera of the entire experience of just "eating out". Just serve the food in compliance with "current good practices" and expect some tip based on the service you provide and cut the drama! If no tip is forthcoming that is the risk you take in this job where individual definitions of "good service" exist. With all of life's challenges one should not have to worry about being labeled a "poor tipper". Reprisals, marked, banned, jettisoned welcome to the 60's USSR.

                                            1. re: Bacchus101

                                              <<but to add the entire social interaction structure of restaurant works to support the premise is way over the top>>

                                              you missed the point.
                                              i didn't add the social interaction to support the premise you cite.
                                              i added it to answer the question of <<what would indicate that a new patron would be a good tipper or a bad one?>>

                                              clearly, getting the 411 from other nearby restaurant personnel is a major indication.

                                              in regards to:
                                              <<Just serve the food in compliance with "current good practices" and expect some tip based on the service you provide and cut the drama>>

                                              i don't know anyone who works for a living that is complying with "current good practices" that just expects to get "some" remuneration.

                                              if that is how you operate, i would like to hire you because clearly you will not feel exploited if i pay you "some" remuneration for doing a good job.

                                              also, i would not need to worry about being labeled by you in a negative fashion because you will be content to labor away for "some" remuneration.

                                              also, i would guess that if i should chose to stiff you, i wouldn't have to worry about any "drama" either because you would view any drama about your income as being similar <<to the 60's USSR.>>.

                                              you sound like the perfect employee: someone who is willing to work hard for uncertain pay or even for no pay and who is willing to do so with no complaint nor drama.

                                              when can you start?

                                              1. re: westsidegal

                                                Exactly, good thinking, nicely stated, what??? Interestingly you have taken a relatively basic task and transformed it into a drama. It is the restaurant owner who has encumbered servers with the yoke of low wages and high expectations at the expense of the diner who just wants his dinner placed before him in a courteous manner. Perfect employee, well thanks flattery will get you everywhere. You win, now just bring the food!

                                        2. re: ipsedixit

                                          I am still totally unclear on how a restaurant would know that a customer was "marked." Are these reprisals for previous visits, or is there something else, that has remained unspoken?

                                          Just curious,


                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                            are you asking about what behaviors will result in getting a person identified as a lousy customer? or are you asking about how the information is stored and communicated?

                                          2. "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone", a sign seen in many food/alcohol retailers. As long as this policy/practice is not in conflict with The Civil Rights Act of 1964; it is enforceable.