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Bad service (not horrible). Check adjusted. What to tip?

  • l

Ate at an upscale, if not quite fine dining restaurant with a party of four. There were a lot of small missteps that shouldn't happen at that price point (not knowing who ordered what, leaving the apps plates on the table til actually serving the entrees, handing food across the table, serving a beverage by reaching across another diner and almost putting a sleeve in their food, not clearing empty glasses....). Only the slow appearance of salads and oysters could have been at the kitchen end.
The manager came by to see how things were. I told her. Said they were all little things, but they added up since there were so many. She actually thanked us for bringing this to her attention so she could make sure it didn't happen again and then took a number of items off the bill. She was, perhaps, overly generous in the discounts as it took the bill from about 170 to 110.
Normally we tip in the 20% range. Service like this would generally get less from us. When we get a discount, we always tip on the full amount. But the discounts are usually either a coupon or an issue with the kitchen. My father-in-law paid the bill so I'm not sure where the tip actually ended up. But how do you tip if the discount is because of the less than optimal service?

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    1. re: hal2010

      I agree. I'd feel a bit guilty, with being given such a generous discount, but it's the right thing to do.
      You shouldn't reward sketchy service, but then again, maybe you'll return again and they'll get the chance to earn that 20%.

      1. re: hal2010

        I'd still leave 20% on the adjusted amount. Here's why:

        The bill was already reduced by 35% so, even with a 20% tip on the adjusted amount ($110) the server has already taken a 35% hit on what they would have received had they not made the errors (at 20% the server would get $22 vs $34).

        Going with 10% on the adjusted amount leaves the server with $11 on what should have been a $170 tab, or 6 1/2%. Quite the hit for a number of small missteps. So we should take it out on the server THREE times? 1st, reduce the tab to $110. 2nd, tip low (10%) on the new reduced tab and 3. possibly getting them in hot water with the manager (hopefully they used the feedback to improve the servers performance).

        I always try to cut servers some slack as I don't know if it's their first day or not (I'm sure most of us had some pretty bad "first days" in our time). I'm especially understanding if the server is friendly and appears to honestly be trying. As often as not, fault may lie with a training program that needs improvement. Hopefully, in this case, the server got 20% and management used the feedback to provide some remedial training for the server and maybe to look at themselves as well.

        1. re: hal2010

          hal, "actual bill" leaves a little open to interpretation. Is the actual bill the one they actually received or the pre-adjusted bill of what they actually ordered?

        2. 20% of the pre-discount bill. Less is tacky.

          2 Replies
          1. re: beevod

            Apparently you believe in rewarding sloppy service.

            1. re: beevod

              I agree - bad tipping is in very poor taste here (US) - Servers often have to share tips with other staff, etc & their hourly is often low. Even if the service wasn't great (like a bunch of little things) I wouldn't ever tip below 15% when things were Generously righted by the manager.

            2. Very good,excellent to exceptional service = 20-25%
              Just adequate service = 15%
              Poor sevice = 10% (usually with a comment to management)
              Rude service = no tip (this is admittedly quite rare in my experience, and will always be reported to management)

              I always tip on the full bill prior to any discount.

              1. I would give my usual tip for typical service on the discounted bill. You could argue that this sends the server the message that it's ok to give poor service, but given the facts provided, I'm guessing the server is going to get an earful from the manager about the service. Tipping on the full (pre-discounted) bill would, indeed, tell the server that shoddy service is ok with me, irrespective of the MOD yapping in his/her ear.

                I'm well aware that most servers either pool or tip out, but that's not my problem. If the bartender doesn't get as much from my crappy server as he otherwise could, that doesn't involve me. I'm not a party to that contract.

                1. None of these missteps would have really impacted my meal, so I'd tip my usual amount for standard service (18-20%) on the full cost of the meal.

                  1. 15%, max, on the discounted amount. We typically tip 15-20% for "good" service.
                    The combination of multiple missteps would annoy me enough to affect my enjoyment of my dining experience. (especially the sleeve thing).

                    1. I'd probably tip 15-18% on the original amount. To me, the service described sounds adequate as opposed to bad. I don't necessarily consider these things missteps, but more a possibility that the server had not being properly trained for the level of service expected at the restaurant. Things I consider bad service include forgetting to deliver drinks, forgetting courses, being absent for long periods of time, being rude, not being familiar with the menu, etc.

                      A couple of weeks ago I was at a restaurant with a similar price point and we started with a round of drinks. The server had no idea what any of the cocktails or beers were that we ordered and we had to literally point to them on the menu so she could write them down. Our starters and 2 of 4 of our entrees arrived at the table at the same time, prior to our drinks. We had to ask 2 servers and eventually the manager about our drinks. It still took 5 mins after we asked the manager for them to arrive.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: pollymerase

                        Apps and entrees appearing at once is the worst.

                      2. (Full disclosure: I have waited tables in primarily upscale restaurants for the last 20 years)
                        This is a great question. I think the discounted check scenario often causes confusion about how to handle gratuity. In my opinion, the most important factor is the reason for the discount. For instance, if there had been a problem with a food item or you were sent complementary items, you should tip as though those items are still on your check. (This is assuming that the sever was vigilant in addressing problems and/or served the uncharged items as they would have if you were charged.) The same is true if you have a gift certificate or other pre-paid promotion.

                        In this situation, the problem WAS service. It was right of you to speak to the manager, as simply refusing to return or writing an unexpected negative review might have affected the livelihood or reputation of the entire staff. In my opinion, leaving a percentage based on the reduced total is appropriate. As much as it isn't fair take discounts (in the form of a reduced gratuity) for circumstances that were not your server's fault, a low tip should be expected for sloppy service. Explaining your dissatisfaction (while sometimes uncomfortable) is incredibly helpful to management.

                        Ideally, the tipping system should work to weed out service workers who are not attempting to do their best. Your comments to the manager and the $60 comp charge should prompt some re-training.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: likemamamade

                          I agree - the server's tip was reduced by the tab reduction - they will probably be hearing from the boss as well - hopefully constructively. It is probably the right thing to do to give the feedback directly to management then passive aggressively via a low tip on full cost of meal or a nasty yelp.

                        2. I've never had a bill reduced for bad service but, if that happened, I would tip as usual on the adjusted amount.

                          In countries where tipping is the cultural norm, it's given to reflect the service, so this lower tip would reflect the poor service.

                          1. Well to tell the truth....if your father-in-law was footing the bill I would have kept quiet if I were you.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: montegirl

                              The discussion happened prior to f-i-l grabbing the bill and treating. And m-i-l was equally vocal about wondering what was the etiquette here. The thread was... to find out what others thought should this happen elsewhere.

                            2. In this case i probably would tip $10-15, and whatever math works for people is fine.

                              1. None of these things is really a "punishable by reduced gratuity" offense. Have you eaten there before? Did they usually clear your dishes & glasses at the pace you prefer? (Some servers wait for everyone to finish a course before they clear plates so that slower eaters do not feel rushed). Im surprised the manager comped as much as she did. Is this the kind of resto that expects servers to memorize the orders rather than write them down? Did you ask for a lot of special service (something "on the side", a substitution, or a dish prepared without an ingredient noted on the menu)? Any one or all of these things can throw someone off their game. I agree with the poster below who did the math and noted that you're cutting the server twice by tipping low on the post-discounted tab. 20% on the original check would have been the right thing to do. The server will surely be corrected by his or her manager.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Cheflambo

                                  I agree that the amount of the tip should based on the full bill prior to discount.
                                  I strongly disagree with the suggestion that 20% is the proper tip for what has been described as at best, mediocre service. 15% would have IMHO been generous

                                  1. re: Cheflambo

                                    Certainly, any *one* of these things is not a big deal. I mentioned it when the manager asked "how is everything?" and the list was long. Only a sample in my OP.
                                    And, no, no special requests or alterations. It's a place my in-laws like and go occasionally and they thought the service was way out of the norm.
                                    It wasn't that plates weren't cleared promptly (cause i know everyone differs as to whether they should be cleared as each diner finishes v once all are finished) it's that they tried to put entrees down on empty app plates. They brought replacement iced tea glasses and left the empties on the table. Reaching all the way across the table to serve instead of walking around.
                                    The waitstaff writes things down and is not made to memorize... so the orders were correct.
                                    We were all very surprised by the level of comps. I would not have stiffed the waitstaff, but it wasn't 20% service. Or really even 15% service. But that's at the original price point. One free dessert (a *much* more reasonable comp, imo) would have simplified the tipping discussion.