To Tip or Not To Tip? When the Service Is Not Good

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While it doesn’t always happen, sometimes a dining-out experience does not meet our expectations. Some diners may wait awhile for a server to seat them and even longer to receive menus or drinks. The food may take longer to cook than usual and it may be more difficult to flag down the server for another round of drinks or dessert or to ask for the check.

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By the time the check arrives, the diners may be less than thrilled with the overall experience and unsure whether they will leave a tip. 

Should you still tip when the service is unsatisfactory? The resounding answer GOBankingRates received from experts was yes. Here’s why your tip still matters even in circumstances where the service isn’t quite what you hoped for.

Don’t Use Inflation as an Excuse Not To Tip

In the United States, diners are typically expected to tip their servers 20% as a baseline. However, rising inflation over the past year has been cutting into people’s purchasing power.

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For some consumers, this may lead to an inclination to tip less, especially when coupled with unsatisfactory service. If a restaurant also recently has raised its prices to compensate for inflation, this could further encourage consumers not to tip.

Sam Zietz, CEO of Grubbrr, said consumers need to budget for tipping.

“If you can afford to eat out regularly even amid rising inflation,” he said, “you should factor in this difference and budget for the extra tipping cost.”

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Service Workers Depend on Tips

The income of a service worker is dependent on tips. When a diner doesn’t tip due to unsatisfactory service or inflation, service workers feel the brunt of this decision.

Dr. Ellen Contente, founder of Heart-Centered Programs, worked as a waitress early in her career. Contente, who also has a daughter who works in the service industry, knows firsthand how important tips are to a worker’s income. 

If the service is truly below par, Contente said you may decide to tip a smaller percentage, such as 10% or 15%. Exceptional service should receive a tip of 25% or more. In a recent GOBankingRates survey, 21.6% of people said they still tip 15% when service is bad, and over 27% still tip 20% or more.

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Remember: The server has financial responsibilities that depend on this pay. It’s also a tough job. When in doubt, Contente recommends giving them the benefit of the doubt and tipping anyway. Those who usually pay with a card may keep some cash in their wallet. Include the tip with the check or put it in a tip jar if the establishment has one.

Your Tip Is Split Among Servers

You might think your tip is going to one specific server. It may not matter if you don’t tip them because the next customer will, right? 

Do not make the incorrect assumptions of thinking someone else will come along and provide the next tip or only one person is impacted by the lack of a tip. Georgia Parker, project coordinator at Blue Orbit Hospitality Consulting, said the hospitality service chain usually pays multiple people. Your tip is split amongst the people within the chain. Those inclined to tip higher or lower, for whatever reason, should bring it to the attention of the manager.

“Often poor service is directly linked to poor management,” Parker said. “The server doesn’t have the tools to provide excellent service and their managers should be made aware and be held accountable for it.”

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Parker always tips 20% or more, especially if the bill is on the lower side. Tipping still should be expected, whether you dine out or order take-out or delivery, because there is always someone ensuring your order is correct and delivering it to you. 

Parker said, “A few extra dollars will go a long way to making a server feel better about their jobs and where they work.”

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About the Author

Heather Taylor is a senior finance writer for GOBankingRates. She is also the head writer and brand mascot enthusiast for PopIcon, Advertising Week’s blog dedicated to brand mascots. She has been published on HelloGiggles, Business Insider, The Story Exchange, Brit + Co, Thrive Global, and more media outlets. 

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