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Oh no another tipping thread! When is no tip justified?

I am probably opening Pandora's box here but I wanted to get some views on whether it is ever justifiable to leave no tip and under what circumstances you would not tip.

Here's what happened to the wife and me a while back. We went to dinner at a place we had been to a few times before and the dinners had been perfectly pleasant in the past. The restaurant is owned by a chef who has at least 3 places I know of and a Michelin star to his credit. In our prior experience at his places, the FOH staff was always professional. We are generally good tippers. I've waited tables in my youth so I have no issue with tipping and generally tip at least 15% even for sub-par service.

So we are seated and given the menus and wine list. I order a bottle of wine. Waiter brings the bottle and after opening it pours the wine until each of the glasses is nearly full. Almost to the rim. That's ok if you're getting a generous pour of wine by the glass but I have bought the bottle so I ask the guy to ease up. By the way, this is one of the places where they don't leave the bottle on your table but where the server is supposed to make sure your glass doesn't go empty.

So we give our order. Wife is eating light so she skips the app but orders a main. Waiter recites the order and then leaves. So we drink some wine and it seems every time we get a little below the 3/4 level, the waiter refills the glasses. I think to myself what is he trying to do? Have us finish the bottle before we get the app so we will order another bottle?

App comes and my wife shares some of it. I'm guessing by this point the bottle of wine is 3/4 empty. My app is cleared and the waiter brings my main. Nothing for my wife. We wait a few minutes and nothing else comes.

I flag down the waiter and ask about my wife's main.

He says she didn't order anything.

I say are you nuts? Of course she did. You repeated our order back to us when we ordered. You didn't think it odd that we would come in for dinner and only one person would order anything to eat?

He gets defensive and rushes back to the kitchen to tell them to get my wife's entree started. I sit there with my dinner getting cold. My wife tells me to go ahead and eat. So we begin to share my dish.

Next thing I see our waiter come out of a door in his street clothes and begins to walk out of the restaurant. I call out to him and ask what in the world is happening. He said he's leaving and another waiter will cover our table. Then he walks out the door. It becomes clear that the crappy service we had been getting was a result of his rush to leave.

So now what? My dish has been finished and cleared and another waiter finally brings my wife's dish. We have finished the bottle of wine and I ask if we can get the wine list so that we can order some wine by the glass while my wife has her main.

Never get the wine list. No one is paying attention to our table.

Wife finishes her meal. We wait for her place to be cleared.... forever....

Her place is finally cleared and we're asked if we want dessert. By this point my wife is fed up with what has happened and all she wants to do is leave. We say no and ask for the check.

And again we wait. Nothing for at least 15 minutes. We've been here now for 2+ hours. My wife is furious at this point. She gets up and goes to the manager and asks for our check. When we get the charge receipt back, she takes it and draws a big X through the tip line making it clear we did not forget the tip.

The sad part is that we used to like the restaurant but the experience so infuriated my wife (who is normally a very good tipper) that we don't go there anymore as she refuses to step in to the place again.

Does an experience like that justify no tip? When have you left nothing and made it clear that you didn't simply forget?

Europeans and other non-Americans are welcomed to add their thoughts! ;)

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  1. I would not have left a tip for the lousy service/lack of service you received.

    and I would not be returning

    1. "No tip for you!!!"

      Since you've taken the time to write a detailed account of your disastrous meal you may want to cut and paste it into a letter to the owner.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Bob Martinez

        Yeah... most likely this was a one-off problem (maybe your server truly had an emergency), and hopefully management would rather make it up to you than lose you as customers. I would make the effort only because you previously liked this place.
        Emergency or not, I wouldn't have tipped either, and my own "no tip for you!" stories are similar, as in continued problems, neglect and delays throughout a meal that is in obvious contrast to other tables, ending in absolute HANGER (hungry anger) for me. I've also had some 5-10% type situations for similar reasons. I'm not a nit-picker and I'm generally going to leave my standard 15%, but I do reserve the right to leave less on rare occasion. Otherwise what is the point of the practice?

      2. I too would not have left a tip and I'm a sympathetic former server.

        Since you normally like the place a call to the owner/chef might be in order. For all you know this dingbat server will last two weeks. Is there a server your prefer? Can you request him or her?

        1. When the service and food sucks. And neither give a shit about what they are doing.

          1. I would have left no tip in that situation.

            1. Okay, I'll bite.

              First, what a night---awful! Sorry for that.

              Everyone is correct in saying that your experience was awful. Waiter one was a mess.

              Did you tell him not to keep filling your glasses to the brim?

              Did anyone approach management when, after a huge delay in your wife's meal, the wine list did not arrive?

              When asking the manager for the check, did your wife explain the horrid service scenario?

              I would absolutely tell the owner this tale of woe, but in a case as bad as this, I'd let the manager on duty know, too.

              1. I probably wouldn't have tipped, either. And you should tell the manager and/or owner.

                1. Bkeats

                  My thanks for the warm welcome to European contributors.

                  As always when tipping and other restaurant matters are discussed, the cultural norms of wherever one is eating apply. Had that happened to me, in the UK where I live or in any other European country that I visit where tips are expected, that would definitely be a zero tip occasion.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Harters

                    In a culture where tipping is not the norm, what recourse does a customer have when this sort of things happen and the manager simply shrugs his shoulders over it?

                    1. re: jpc8015

                      If the manager wasn't responsive I wouldn't go back. I'd also post a tartly worded account on Chowhound and Yelp.

                      1. re: jpc8015

                        In my experience, absolutely nothing.

                        Been there, done that. Had some really lousy food, ie rotten brown lettuce in a salad. Waitstaff and management didn't care and charged us anyway for the food that could not be eaten. Another time, had a hair in my food - waitstaff didn't care, neither did management and no discount on the food I could not eat.

                    2. I wouldn't have left a tip either. I don't spend much effort complaining or trying to get a comp but just won't be back for a year or two. Or three.

                      1. I don't think I would have left a tip in that situation, either.

                        However, I would have contacted a manager before that point and I wouldn't blame a server for my own alcohol consumption. That point you made seems wildly out-of-place.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: LeoLioness

                          My discussion of the wine was as part of the bad service. I told the waiter to stop filling the glasses to the rim. It felt as though he was pushing us to drink more so that we would buy more.

                        2. Definitely no tip. The only time I never left a tip was back in college. A mostly empty restaurant outside of Toledo (on our way back to MSU) and a surly waitress who literally "dropped" the plates on the table from about a 6 inch height and left to talk to her friends. I'm sure we paid in cash being college students, and we may have left 4 pennies on the table to make our point!

                          1. YES. In our life together, we've experienced service even more egregious because the owner was standing nearby while we wasted hours and a day's vacation at a "must visit" breakfast spot. Had to go fetch the check after hours wasted and left no tip. Another time, had an experience like yours, only he was present the whole time. We left 6 cents so he'd know we didn't forget. Typically tip 20% for adequate service, 15% if sub par but not stiff worthy.

                            1. No tip. But in the USA, barring a medical emergency, always explain a no-tip (frankly, any subpar tip like 10% or less) to manager on duty before leaving.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Karl S

                                I personally don't feel obligated to do this, but thinking back, in most of my experiences the situation was bad enough that more than one staff member was already aware of it. I also generally eat in places that are small and casual enough that the server is the "manager" is the owner, or related to them.
                                If the place is so big, busy and impersonal that they can't figure out what the lapses were, I probably don't want to take my time to track down a manager anyway. But these occasions are pretty rare, like once every couple of years.

                              2. A couple years ago I had a dinner with three friends where we experienced epicly, surreally, comically, please-just-get-this-person-away-from-me bad service. In that case the owner/manager stepped in, finished up the service himself, and comped our entire check (even though we insisted that was too much - the food and drinks when we actually got them were quite good). In the end we still left a tip and asked that it be applied to the pool for the bussers, bartenders, etc. who had all done their jobs well. No idea of course if that in fact happened. But if the owner/manager hadn't stepped in as he did, I probably would have left no tip at all, for the first time in my life.

                                1. My SO and I had an experience like this once. We were in a rush to go to a Christmas party and asked for food (one app and one pizza to share) to come to our table whenever they came out. The pizza came out first, I had a piece of it in my hand, and our server rushes to grab it. "No, they had an appetizer." Whisks away said pizza, we wait another 10 minutes and brings our app. He asks my husband if he'd like another beer, DH says yes and he clears my half full glass of wine as well! Pizza eventually comes and it is obviously the same pizza that had been sitting under the heat lamps. Still no beer.
                                  We know the chef and we were sitting near the (open) kitchen. Our friend notices, replaces our pizza and brings the beer, with another glass of wine for me. The server eventually drops our bill on the table. We try to get his attention, no dice. Our friend gets a supervisor to speak to us. We add a 6 pack for the kitchen and no tip for the server. Only time in my life I didn't tip. I wish more restaurants had the option to buy beer for the kitchen. If only to show a server a tip is earned not owed!

                                  1. I would have tipped and I would have engaged the manager far sooner than you (your wife did). No offense to you what so ever, but when a night is starting to tank you have an opportunity to try and right the ship by notifying management at the first miscues. For myself that would be when the waiter argued that my wife didn't actually place an order. I would have called a manager over to the table, explained everyone makes mistakes, but no reason for the waiter to be belligerent (even if the waiter was polite, this is hospitality and the golden rule is "The Customer is Always Right", so he should have NEVER engaged you) and if the manager could please look into it.

                                    Once you are on the managers "radar" if the problem(s) persisted, then perhaps I would consider not leaving a tip. Key word is "consider", having been in the industry my entire life I don't believe I have ever stiffed a server.

                                    I personally believe leaving 10% is more of a statement of your displeasure than stiffing them all together. Just my opinion.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: jrvedivici

                                      how is giving a greater tip a sign of greater displeasure?

                                      1. re: kpaxonite

                                        If you completely stiff them in many cases they just think you're an asshole. By leaving 10% it shows you gave it consideration and consciously made the calculation to leave them a sub par tip.

                                        Believe it or not, it's not uncommon for people paying with a credit card to pay, leave the tip line blank or with an "X" and leave. Only to call or come back when they realize they forgot to leave the cash tip they intended.

                                        1. re: jrvedivici

                                          Hence the need to advise the MOD why you are leaving no tip.

                                          1. re: jrvedivici

                                            no thanks.. if service is that bad i wont leave anything...any sound minded server would figure it out

                                            10 percent is 10 percent too much!

                                      2. I might offer a different perspective:

                                        Every restaurant has it's own policies regarding how the brigade of FOH staff gets compensated. The ranges of this can vary as wildly as the types of restaurants out there.

                                        In the past, I have worked for companies where the service staff pays the support staff (bussers, runners, baristas, hosts, the bar, etc) strictly based on their sales.

                                        For the sake of argument, let's say that a restaurant requires that a server pay:
                                        3% of sales to a busser
                                        2% of sales to a food runner
                                        1% of sales to a host
                                        2% of alcohol sales to the bar

                                        We're looking at anywhere between 7 and 10% of the server's sales being tipped out to other people, in other words, roughly half of their take for the night. Tipping anything below this mean the server lost money.

                                        I am all for not compensating poor service. As a former server (and rather hard-ass manager), I expect things to be done properly, and the first time. Mistakes happen, certainly, and how they are handled is a big factor.

                                        Here's what I can't advocate: tipping in a manner that causes your server to actually lose money. In my humble opinion, no one other than an employer should actively decrease an employee's income. To make nothing additional, yes. To take away, no.

                                        If I were to the point that I did not want to tip the server, I should also be speaking with a manager. I would want them to know what happened, and I would also want to know that I don't plan on compensating the server. It's an easy question to ask what the tip out procedures are, and then you can ensure that those who didn't mess up are compensated properly, while those who did are not.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: plaidbowtie

                                          I think that is a bit over the top. If the server is screwing up that badly they should just be fired..the restaurant cant force them to pay anything...if there is a customer who tips nothing for no reason Im sure they can mention it and not be forced to pay out on that sale...

                                          1. re: kpaxonite

                                            They can't be forced to pay anything. The laws are pretty clear about that sort of thing. Threats to a unschooled, uneducated waiter might work but there we go back to unskilled labor.

                                          2. re: plaidbowtie

                                            "If I were to the point that I did not want to tip the server, I should also be speaking with a manager."

                                            Of course, if the patron is leaving zero percent plus a verbal tip, all the manager would hear would be praise, same as the server.

                                            1. re: plaidbowtie

                                              This is the precise reason why I dislike tipping. "No one other than an employer should actively decrease an employees income" - and yet the entire tipping process places a server at an antagonistic relationship with their customers and not management.

                                              I am perhaps the "cheapskate" on other threads based on things like not tipping on the "full price" during happy hour - but I never tip less than 15% because I don't see tipping in the US as "tipping on service" but rather the full price of my meal. If service is really bad, I'll complain to the manager. After that if I really love either the food, convenience, price, etc - I'll return and accept the place as a 15% tip with bad service (or be pleasantly surprised if/when service improves). Or if the manager doesn't respond in a great way and other factors don't outweigh the negatives, I'll never return.

                                              This may be heavily colored from having lived in Jerusalem for years where on average service is mediocre to poor. Rude, dismissive, abandoned, antagonistic, all of it. But you tip 10% on the meal because you tip 10% on the meal. That's just what it costs. And then you as a patron vote with your return visits or not.

                                              1. re: plaidbowtie

                                                Does the restaurant require that the server pay them as a percentage of his tips, or as a percent of his sales? Does the restaurant actually tally the final sales every server makes and take it out of his/her pay so everyone is paid those percentages?

                                              2. Another vote for "No Tip"

                                                I would make a point to speak to the owner/manager.

                                                I'm a 20%+ -kinda-diner and if I am not tipping it is for a reason. I would want to make that reason known.

                                                On the other side of the coin...as a business owner wouldn't you ~want~ to know if a customer had been treated egregiously by an employee? In this case it sounds like the waiter needs more training (the wine debacle for instance).

                                                1. I don't explain myself very clearly to mgmt once I get to the point where 2+ errors have been made and I'm at "rant mode." Instead I fume and say overly loud sarcastic things hoping someone will notice I'm unhappy and embarrassing TeenHound.
                                                  However, I have learned the (infamous?) strategy of making a tightly factual list of the problems on the back of the receipt. The tip line is then for the arrow ----> pointing off the side. If at all possible, I then leave a very small cash/ change tip.

                                                  I forgot to tip the first TWO TIMES we ate out in 2011 after moving from Beijing. As I was paying in cash, I didn't get that receipt with a line for added tip.
                                                  I didn't realize/ remember until a third outing, once I'd set up a bank account and had card-in-hand.
                                                  And (geographically) I was unable to go back to the first two places.
                                                  Of course, this is matched by the first few months in China, where we were chased by waitstaff, when already out on the road hailing a cab, because we'd "left money by accident at the table."

                                                  And, I just realized why Asians probably won't adopt tipping within Asia. It's not because they "don't know how," but IMHO, because they fully understand a system of extra cash transactions where you pay in advance for an obligation towards what services you might expect at a later date...and you don't expect enough from a service person to enter into a kind of "tit for tat" culturally contractual agreement.


                                                  Kris now in DC/NoVA

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                                    not to mention that often the service is so bad there it would barely merit a tip...

                                                    1. re: kpaxonite

                                                      It's the "style."
                                                      Customer Service isn't a philosophy, but relationships ARE.