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Should You Tip for Bad Service?

Your burger is cold, the service is sluggish and your gum-chewing waitress snaps your head off when you ask for extra ketchup. When you have a restaurant experience this bad, is it ever okay to show your displeasure by stiffing your server on the tip?

That’s the question we asked Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of famous etiquette expert Emily Post, in an interview about all things tipping. Here’s her take:

“You should never let your money talk for you. If you get good service, in addition to leaving a good tip, you would want to thank your server, bellboy, etc. When it goes the other way, you still should leave the customary 15 percent. If you had horrendous service and it was the service provider’s fault, some people might go as low as 10 percent. But we suggest that you leave 15 percent and then immediately speak to a manager to express your dissatisfaction. Say that you’re unhappy with how you were treated and that you’re reluctant to return after such an experience. That will speak volumes to a manager.”

The idea of paying someone for lousy service is anathema to some travelers, but personally, I’m with Post on this one. Waitstaff, bellhops and other people in the service industry depend on tips to supplement paltry salaries — and I rarely get upset enough over poor service to harm someone’s livelihood. Besides, speaking with a manager is arguably more effective than withholding a tip; he or she has the authority to encourage better behavior or take action against the server if necessary. Finally, remember that tips are sometimes pooled among multiple members of the staff (such as busboys or bartenders), so in stiffing your waiter you could also be penalizing people who did nothing wrong.

You can read the rest of our interview with Lizzie Post in Tipping Etiquette: A Guide for Travelers.

Do you leave a tip for lackluster service?

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