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No Tip=Thievery

My story is about an extremely rude customer I had last year while working as a waitress in the only bar in my hometown. In the US, servers only make $2-4 an hour in wages, so tips are our livelihood. Unfortunately, a lot of people like to find a way around tipping their servers, out of either ignorance or malice, and although I do believe most people mean well, it is people like the man described below that make servers the hardened, overly-wary people they can sometimes be. This particular incident involved a family of four. I do my best not to be judgmental about people, because you just never know each person’s situation, but honestly, I shouldn’t have put forth so much effort to be nice to them. I had six other tables, and I was working up a decent sweat, mostly to continue keeping this man’s sweet tea above half-full. When it came time to take their orders, the husband ordered for his wife, and altogether their tab came to about $65, because they had also ordered appetizers and the most expensive menu items for the man and his son (the wife and daughter were limited to only items that wouldn’t make them fat and didn’t cost over $15, if you catch my drift). All seemed to be going well, I joked with their son about a local college sports team, smiled graciously, no one’s drink ever reached empty, and all of their orders were correctly placed.  I am a very good server, and I’ve received plenty of company-compensated meals as a result of compliments from customers about my excellent service skills, which is why I was so surprised to find this on the credit card slip:

Total: $65.00
Tip: $0.00
On the back, it said “Tip of the Day”:  Never put the check down in front of a lady when a gentleman is present.

He must have been using the term “gentleman” loosely, because this guy came in to a public place wearing a cutoff tee shirt, sweat-stained ball cap, which was NOT removed during the meal, muddy work boots (which tracked filth in so heavily that I had to quickly sweep it up before the next table came in), and grass-stained jeans. He was rude, bossy, and frankly, smelled like a sty. And since when is putting the check in the middle of the table considered rude?  Even if it is, it’s doubtfully rude enough to earn only the second “stiffing”  I’d had in 3 years as a server! What is this, the 19th century?! Am I to assume that no women want to pay for their families’ meals?! I get nauseated remembering how warmly I told them to have a nice evening as they walked out the front door, having not yet seen the lack-of tip. Moments later, as I was bussing their table, I saw them driving out of the parking lot, looking inside at me, pointing and laughing.

My mom told me to consider the source.

Fortunately, I’m working on my third degree, and I only waited tables to make ends meet until I was a working professional again, but what if I had been one of my coworkers, who depended upon tips as my only source of income, to support my family, including children?   10-08-08

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Failure to tip a server in the US for acceptable service is equivalent to theft of services.  Non-tippers should be ashamed of their parsimonious dealings with wait staff.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Alexis July 10, 2009, 3:08 am

    In a perfect world,the RESTAURANT would be required to pay the server when the customer stiffs a worker. After all, it is the restaurant that is, unfortunately, legally allowed to pay less than the minimum wage to the employees in the first place. Who else gets to tell their employees ‘sorry, but I don’t feel like paying you enough, but maybe the person you wait on will make up the difference.’?
    Something tells me that if the restaurant started having to shell out the cash, they’d find ways to make absolutely sure the cusomers tip.
    Men who wear hats indoors, anywhere, and people who dress like slobs in restaurants are 2 of my pet peeves. If it’s too much trouble to bathe and dress yourself properly, how DO you manage the effort to get out of the car and walk all the way into the building? Go to a drive through. Please.

  • Mary Bernard August 15, 2009, 12:14 pm

    I have never worked as a waitress. I DO believe in tipping. However, I’ve noticed that some people don’t tip no matter how great the service is, and some people will tip no matter how horrible the service is. Sometimes I wonder why a waiter/waitress knocks himself/herself out to give great service, because the non-tippers won’t tip anyway, and some people tip no matter what.

  • Ms Kate NZ September 4, 2009, 8:47 am

    I worked as a waitress in college. I have always tipped 20% or more, even if the service was less than satisfactory. The answer to poor service is not to stiff the waitperson, it is to ask for a manager. Only twice have I felt compelled to speak to a manager and both times I made sure to tip my standard 20%.

  • Ling October 21, 2009, 11:47 am

    Over here the service charge is included in the price. Whatever you choose to tip is extra. I guess it can be of great importance to waiters anyway.
    A Gentleman is someone who treats others with respect and kindness. That does not fit in with that rude slob. Tip of the 1700’s, more like it.
    I often pay for our meals out, we share all expenses and incomes, so it doesn’t matter who pays, really.

  • Kymberly March 11, 2010, 1:33 pm

    In some states, the employer needs to make sure that the server’s hourly, plus tips come out to minimum wage. Even with less than generous tippers, it is pretty rare that a shift doesnt balance out to minimum wage.

  • McGroom March 12, 2010, 11:36 am

    I grew up in a country where tipping is considered very optional, as it is considered irrational to expect the waiting staff’s wage to depend so heavily on the customers’ “good will”. In most menus, a “service charge” is included – a fixed amount rather than a percentage of the value of the meal.
    I have to say that I worked as a waiter for three summers, and I was very seldom tipped – and I am proud to say that nobody complained to the manager about me except for a small blunder on my first day on the job (I had served the wrong pizza).
    Now that I live in the UK, I struggle to remember the importance of tipping, although I guess I learned – and if the service is not satisfactory I will both speak to the manager and avoid tipping. I have been educated to consider a tip as a gratuity given as a gesture of thanks for an above-average service, and in certain cases I really struggle to remember that it is considered mandatory. And I can’t understand why, in this case, it can not be directly added to the price of the meal.

  • nkkingston March 12, 2010, 11:48 am

    I tip when I can, but only ever in cash (which does mean occasionally I find myself caught short). If you tip by card (in the UK at least) it goes to the manager/owner, who may or may not pass it on to the wait staff, where if you tip in cash it legally belongs to the waitstaff.

    Until recently it was legal in the UK to pay wait staff as little as half the minimum wage and expect them to make up the rest out of tips. As far as I know it still is legal in the US. Frankly, I think that’s disgusting, and I can’t believe that waiters and waitresses get treated that way.

  • Casey April 3, 2010, 7:32 pm

    According to the US Labor website, if a waiter doesn’t make minimum wage including tips the employer has to make up the difference. It’s the waiter/ess’s job to track their tips. I believe the IRS even has books to track them for tax time. And if I remember correctly, you can either add up all your tips and have that amount taxed or use the assumed amount by the IRS (your tax preparer will advise you which course of action is best). So no, it’s not theft of service. They often times are well paid. They at least make minimum wage just like the rest of us.

    I have refused to leave a tip and have never felt ashamed of it. If your service is that bad it’s not my place to reward it with extra cash.

  • Marnen Laibow-Koser April 21, 2010, 7:15 pm

    Casey: exactly. I think always tipping 20% in the US is as stupid as not tipping at all. If you want a good tip from me, serve me well and I will happily give you one — you’ve earned it. Bad service=bad tip — you’ve earned that too. What the heck is the point of tipping 20% if the service was so bad you need to speak to a manager?

  • Kim May 1, 2010, 4:01 pm

    There is just no excuse for that level of cheap-er-y. We have only not tipped once, and that is because the waitress was quite possibly the rudest person I’ve ever met (“I probably forgot to write down ‘no mayo’, you’ll just have to scrape it off because I’m too busy to go back to the kitchen”).

    Hubby and I are notorious over tippers, even for slightly off service (everyone has bad days). In fact, now that we have a toddler, we will often tip as much as 50% depending on how messy our daughter has made our booth (we do attempt to clean up a bit after her, too). This stay at home mom is all too delighted to enjoy a meal where someone else is doing the serving and cleaning up, and compensates as such.

    If you cannot afford to leave a tip, you cannot afford to eat out. Or maybe forgo the $10 appetizer or cocktails or dessert and have some cookies and coffee at home.

  • Mandy May 4, 2010, 1:43 pm

    Oh bless you Kim! You would be a server’s dream table with that attitude. I don’t have kids yet but when I do, I intend to take the same approach you do with your toddler.

    I don’t think that bad servers ever deserve to be completely stiffed unless like it has been mentioned, it was an extraordinary circumstance and the manager has been contacted. I think 20% should be standard and anything subpar deserves 15%. It’s hard, physical work for a long period of time and to completely stiff someone (and then laugh and point about it) is just incredibly rude.

    As a server for over three years, I have had my share of ridiculous tips but my “favorite” story was when I worked a chain restaurant in college on a Sunday morning. We were notoriously busy as church was letting out and therefore had a full staff (i.e. same amount of servers on a busy Saturday night) which meant each server had four tables at the most. I was generously seated with a table of 16 which took up every one of my four tables. It was a large family and since they were in non-smoking, they were continuously going up to the bar to smoke, order additional drinks, bring them back to their original tables without paying the bar for them, children were generally just making a mess, etc. This lasted for at least 2.5 hours, they sat at the tables and conversed for long after they were done eating. Unfortunately for me, our restaurant had a policy of no automatic gratuity for tables over 8 or 10 or whatever, because they though that you would serve them better if you weren’t guaranteed that tip. The matriarch of the family paid the $121.50 bill and left me $125.00 total. I made $3.50 for 2.5 hours of great service. And by the time I left, the rush was over and I was sent home, lovely!

    • admin May 4, 2010, 2:17 pm

      Mandy, that patriarch of the family was a thief of your services. I’ll break out the E-Hell BBQ for him in your honor.

  • Shelby May 7, 2010, 10:53 pm

    My grandmother is notorious for tipping poorly, maybe because she tends to be cheap in general. My mother and I don’t live in the same state as her, so we can’t usually control this. Whenever we do have dinner with her and she grabs the bill, we always check after she leaves the table to see if the tip is enough. Often we add in some cash to make sure that the waiter/waitress gets at least 15%.

  • Jayna May 11, 2010, 8:37 pm

    I must admit, it’s stories like this that make me very grateful to live in a country where tipping is optional – you can throw forty cents into a communal ‘tip jar’; or you tip for a supremely awesome service/dining experience, and even then, it’s usually 5% or less. I think the parts of this I like the most is that the servers are earning a decent wage ($15+ an hour, I think the minimum is) and that there’s no etiquette to get tangled in.

  • Kammy May 31, 2010, 10:27 am

    I have only not tipped a server once, and that was when I took my grandmother out to eat. My grandmother has alzheimer’s and my grandfather takes care of her, so I took her out to give him a break for a little bit. My grandmother is more like a child than an adult and so I took her to a resturant during thier slow period between 2-4. I called ahead and asked to speak to manager . I explained my situation and asked for a table or booth in a corner away from the other customers if at all possible. The manager agreed and said he would get one of his more experienced servers to help us out. So I got my grandmother, got to the restuarnat and we were seated in a corner booth. My grandmother asked if she could have some crayons to draw with and the hostess said yes. Our waiter came and got our drinks and brought them out. The problem, she knew my grandmother had alzheimers and she acted like my grandmother had aids or some kind of contagious disease. She was rude and our food order was wrong. It took forever to get our drinks refilled. Before we left, I told the manager what had happened and he comped our whole ticket. I told him I wasn’t worried about that, but he insisted. I have been back since with my grandmother and every time is perfect. Also, that server is no longer working there.

  • Lucy June 6, 2010, 3:38 pm

    I’ve been waiting tables for several years now, and one thing I have learned is that people can surprise you. I’ve had people who were as polite and kind as you can imagine, who left me miniscule tips, and people who seemed like they weren’t really generous in any way leave nice tips. So it is usually a good policy to try to treat every table as well as you can.

    But I think that tipping something shameful, like 5%, or even not tipping at all is a pretty despicable thing to do to someone who has basically been your underpaid servant for the last hour or so, regardless of the level of service. Oh, and regarding that, in the U.S. server wage varies by state. Some pay regular minimum wage, and some pay less, and some pay a lot less.

    The commenter above mentions a laundry list of poor service. The server’s rudeness is not excusable so I won’t comment on that, but do you know if she had any other tables or if the restaurant was busy (you say it was during the slow period of between 2 and 4 but you never know when a slow afternoon will turn hectic when 6 groups decide to go down to X restaurant and don’t know that by then there is likely only one server on)? You said you requested a table that was away from the other customers. The reason servers have sections is so their tables are close together and they are able to take care of all of them at once. So a table that is away from this section can be more difficult to get to as often, and this is probably the reason your refills “took forever”. Also, your server is the one responsible for taking your order and getting it to the kitchen, but she is not responsible for cooking it, and if it is busy she might not be the one to bring it out to you. Sometimes people don’t see things on the tickets. Mistakes happen. And as for the being afraid of your grandmother thing, I had a great grandmother who had Alzheimer’s, and as a child I was terrified of her. I don’t know why, she wasn’t threatening or dangerous, but I was extremely uncomfortable nonetheless. I think many people react this way to disease and disability. You had spent years adjusting to the change in your grandparent, this girl was likely given 20 minutes notice and didn’t know what to expect. I think you are being unfair, but I’m glad the manager was able to help you out and make sure you were happy enough to want to come back.

  • PrincessSimmi June 6, 2010, 8:39 pm

    Kammy: good on you for taking care of your Gran. Alzheimers is not contagious and it is ridiculous for a server to act as though it is. My Nan doesn’t go out very often but orders in a lot. William, who owns the local Chinese take-away always makes sure to pack a fortune cookie for my Nan when she orders and she always gives a large tip to the delivery boy as he will bring it into the kitchen for her as it may be hot/heavy. Good service makes SO much difference.

  • Sonja June 11, 2010, 12:08 am

    When I was younger, I will admit I never left a tip. That is until I became a waitress myself. Now I alway leave a tip. My husband and I recently went out for supper with some friends and we took our toddler with us. She threw rice everywhere. We did clean up as much of the rice as we could but knew the waitress would have to clean up the rest and probably have to get the vaccum out. I still laugh at the shocked look on the waitress face when I left her a 30% tip. I told her I knew she would have to clean up after my child and apologized for the mess.

  • KK July 13, 2010, 12:31 pm

    I never tipped for three years a while back. Why? Because servers in Japan are paid well, so no one tips. I went out by myself soon after I got there and left a tip on my table and then got up to pay (they are VERY cash oriented there). I had barely left the restaurant when the waitress chased me down to give me back my money! “Miss! Please wait! You forgot your money! Here. Thank you for coming! Please come again soon!” When I came back to the US it was difficult for me to remember to tip. So I may have accidentally forgotten to tip the first time or two I went out……

  • Liutgard July 24, 2010, 7:31 am

    My main reason for tipping *even when they don’t deserve it* is the way our tax laws are set up. I live in Oregon, and we pay a state income tax as well as federal. And when they calculate income for someone in wait service, the state *assumes* that you will get tips- and taxes you on that amount whether you actually get those tips or not! So our Lovely Leader is dead on- here at least, failure to tip equals theft!

  • TheBardess July 24, 2010, 11:38 am

    “So our Lovely Leader is dead on- here at least, failure to tip equals theft!”

    If you look carefully though, that’s not what our Lovely Leader *actually* said. She said, and I quote, that failing to tip for “ACCEPTABLE service” was equivalent to theft (emphasis added). I’m a pretty generous tipper and I don’t think I’ve ever not tipped in my life, but if I found the service truly abhorrent and unacceptable, I would not tip and I would not feel bad about it. I’m not going to pay you if you didn’t do your job.

  • Liz August 27, 2010, 11:27 pm

    I can’t comment on the U.S. way of doing things, but here in Australia it is not custom to tip. I absolutely HATE seeing tip jars that some places have here in Australia, it is SO tacky -there is no income/tax/legal reason to tip in Australia. I work in retail, wait staff get paid what I get paid, I don’t get get tips either, so no I won’t be tipping in Australia…

    As for the U.S. not paying staff minimum wage because it is assumed that they will make it up in tips… that’s horrible, and yes it is theft, on the part of the employer…

  • Lexi September 12, 2010, 5:18 pm

    My husband works the graveyard shift so our schedule is a bit off.
    One night, at about 3 in the morning (on a day off), DH took me out to eat at the local 24 hour restaurant.
    We were the only people there, from the time we arrived, to the time we left.
    Our server was a young (18 or 19?) woman and she was very rude.

    When we walked in, she didn’t even bother to look up from her book, but yelled, “Have a seat anywhere!” We did and waited for our menus and for her to take our drink order. And waited. … And waited. Finally DH cleared his throat and asked her, “Can we get some menus?” She huffed over and brought them to us and sat there with her pen and pad out. Apparently waiting for us to tell her what we wanted right then and there.

    We’ve been at that establishment plenty of times before so we ended up just ordering what we usually get.
    Our lovely waitress’ boyfriend came to visit her and she went outside. When the cook rang the bell twice, he finally came out to see what was up and saw that she was gone. He brought us our food and refilled our drinks.

    The server peeked her head in and saw that we /were/ being taken care of and shut the door again.

    Needless to say we tipped nothing. But the food was very good so before we left my DH walked into the back, and handed the cook a $10 tip and told him to NOT share it with the waitress. He nodded and thanked him very much.

    Our meal was only $15.
    I have never seen that woman working there again.

  • Abelone April 27, 2011, 5:56 pm

    My god, Lexi, what a terrible server you had. Good thing the cook was told not to share with your waitress. The cook was nice enough to serve you when she wasn’t.