Dealing With a Terrible Tipper? How To Handle It

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As a polite consumer, you take pride in being a good tipper. Unless you receive seriously bad service, you always tip well — but someone in your life doesn’t share this sentiment.

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Whether it’s a friend, family member or even your boss, their stingy tips — or lack of tipping at all — makes you seriously uncomfortable. You want to speak up, but you’re not sure if doing so is a good idea or even what you’d say.

Jodi RR Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, said your first consideration should be your relationship to the person. She said to think about how well they take constructive criticism, and if you think they’d be open to a conversation, go ahead and initiate it.

“At the table is not the time to have the talk,” she said. “Instead, find a quiet time, away from any restaurants, where you can broach the topic.”

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Smith advised casually bringing up the amount they tipped.

For example, she said you might say “It was so wonderful to see you last week. I thought [the] meal and the service, were fabulous. I noticed you tipped about 10%. Did I miss something?”

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She said to listen to what they have to say, as you might’ve not been privy to something that happened or a cultural difference surrounding tipping could be the issue.

“Gently explain that 15-20% is the norm for tipping and that in many states the waitstaff is not even paid minimum wage, because the presumption is that they will be able to earn a living wage through tips,” she said.

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Smith said you have three choices if the undertipping continues. This includes only meeting the person for activities that don’t involve tipping, taking charge of the check and tell everyone what they owe — including tax and tip — or always being ready to throw in a few extra dollars to compensate for their stinginess.

Additionally, she said different rules apply if the other person is hosting the meal and you’re their guest. In this case, she said you shouldn’t say anything.

“The first time you notice them undertipping, it is a learning experience,” she said. “Then for the next time they are hosting, come prepared with cash.”

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If you take this approach, she recommended handing the extra money directly to the waitstaff on your way out the door or lingering as everyone leaves and placing it discreetly on the table.

“It can be maddening when your dining companion or rideshare buddy is a stingy tipper,” said Arden Clise, president of Clise Etiquette, based in Seattle. “You know how hard the service people work, often for a pittance, and you know how dependent they are on tips to make a decent living.”

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She said unfortunately, everyone doesn’t understand — or care — how important tips are to the livelihood of waitstaff, delivery people and ride-share drivers. However, she advised handling the situation with a more indirect approach.

“The premise of etiquette is to make others feel comfortable and to never point out their bad manners,” said Clise, who is also the author of the book “Spinach in Your Boss’s Teeth: Essential Etiquette for Professional Success.”

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One approach she recommended is mentioning your tipping app.

“When reviewing the bill, pull out your phone and say something like, ‘I always struggle with knowing how much 20% of the bill is, so I got this great tipping app and it saves me every time. So according to the app, 20% of the bill is $8.30,'” she said.

Clise agreed with Smith that it can also be a good idea to leave extra money for the tip or stop spending time with this person in situations where tipping is required. However, she said you shouldn’t write them off because of this bad habit.

“Everyone has their peccadillos, and while you feel badly for the service staff being stiffed out of their tips, focus on the things you like about your clueless tipper friend or family member,” she said. “Maybe they are generous in other ways.”

She said you should find the good in the bad tipper and let go of this trait.

Last updated: Aug. 17, 2021

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