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What is an Appropriate Tip for Poor Service at a Restaurant?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Determining the appropriate tip at a restaurant is a difficult matter. Rules for tips vary from country to country. In some countries, tipping is an insult, but in the US, the appropriate tip rate for a waiter or waitress is 15%. Most people tend to feel that 20% is an appropriate tip, especially when the service has been excellent.

Sometimes, however, service can be so poor, that leaving even 15% feels overly generous. It can help to understand the taxation process for those who make part of their income from a tip. Generally, a waiter or waitress is taxed at 8% of his or her total sales for the year. Thus, a tip of 8% is the minimum appropriate tip.

However, if the waiter or waitress has ruined a meal by exceptionally poor service, such as ignoring one for 20 minutes, failing to bring requested items, being rude, spilling food on you, etc, then it is considered appropriate to leave a smaller tip. Just as one might not pay a tab at a restaurant where all the food presented was burned or inedible, one is not obligated to pay a tip where a server ruins a restaurant experience.

It is important to decide prior to reducing a tip, whether poor service is the server’s fault. If the food was not served in a timely manner because the kitchen staff was behind, it is unfair to blame this on the server. Instead consider taking this issue up with the management and asking for a reduction on the bill.

Also consider the job of the busperson. If one’s plates are not cleared, this may be the fault of a poorly trained busboy or busgirl. As well, plates, silverware or cups that come out and are not clean is likely the fault of the dishwasher. These do not warrant reducing the appropriate tip to one’s server, although this may be the result of an inattentive server.

A very busy night in a restaurant and an overworked waitperson should be given the benefit of the doubt. One can generally observe when a server is being run off his/her feet by serving too many people at once. Having a little patience and giving an appropriate tip of 15% for fair, or even so-so service is expected when the blame does not lie with the server.

When one can ascertain that the server’s actions are directly responsible for reduction in enjoyment of a meal, an appropriate tip can be lowered in percentage. One still might want to leave 8%, or with terrible service, the most appropriate tip may be nothing. If necessary, one can even inform the management why a tip was not given, either at the time, or through a letter to the restaurant.

A sticky issue occurs when large parties may incur a service charge of 15%. This is a fairly common practice in better restaurants. This is, in essence, the tip, and can be made larger when service is exceptional. However, poor service might warrant a smaller tip. This must be discussed with the management, since such a charge will occur on one’s bill automatically. Generally after one leaves a restaurant and has paid the 15% tip, it is too late to request a refund on part of the tip.

Some people still leave an appropriate tip of 8% or more for poor service but then tend to avoid such a restaurant in the future and seek out restaurants with better service. This is always an option when restaurant staff in total has contributed to bad service. By never going to the restaurant again, one makes a much more effective statement then by failing to leave a tip.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By EugeneBrown — On Jun 30, 2022

During my college days, I worked in a Turkish restaurant where every waiter strived to improve his or her level of service.

However, working in a restaurant is a team effort, and everyone can screw up, from the chef to the dishwasher. So don't blindly blame waiters for all the woes. Most times, they don't mean to make you uncomfortable.

Now I've gone from employee to customer, and I leave the reward to all waiters who behave with decency. I try to get into their position. Even if I'm sitting somewhere with a large company, we fairly split the tip with tip-calculator.org and leave the waiters satisfied.

By anon353971 — On Nov 04, 2013

@anon113076, who states that she expects to be tipped regardless of whether the food is good or bad, as when it is bad it is not her fault.

This would suggest that she has zero input into whether the food is good or bad. And so logically speaking, when the food is good, it is not to her credit.

And so therefore her job is simply taking an order and then ferrying a plate from counter to table. Hardly worth a tip of any amount.

By anon139846 — On Jan 05, 2011

I was at this chinese restaurant today and the waiter had the face to ask me to tip him even though his service was rather horrible. I was going to tip him anyway, but after that rude comment from him I really wanted not leave him any tip. Well, I ended up being nice and gave him a 10 percent tip. Now that I know about the 1.6 percent rule, I am going to tip rude waiters 1.6 percent from now on.

By Vernon Chalmers — On Oct 10, 2010

Poor service does not deserve a tip. Zero.

And discreetly discuss the service levels with management or use the power of online social media in severe/repetitive cases. --Vernon C.

By anon113076 — On Sep 23, 2010

I have been a waitress for 10 long years. You do not ever not leave a tip and you never leave a penny. This has happened to me before! Sometimes the food that i do not make takes forever or it's not done the way I put it into the kitchen. That's not my fault! You have to remember that servers are people, too! We have bad days. too!

I will not go out of my way for a costumer who is rude or nasty. When we say hi to you, respond! Don't ignore us. You will get bad service if you are rude and when you tip poorly we remember you. Oh yes and we will tell every other server we know "hey you see them they don't tip" You will never receive good service then. Because you're cheap!

My paycheck every week is for a big fat 0. It says this is not a check! Be kind to your servers. We are handling your food. Thanks. proudly serving media PA

By anon105823 — On Aug 22, 2010

The restaurant should pay their wait staff enough so that tipping isn't required.

I've eaten in restaurants where patrons were told that this is the policy. Also, it takes just as much work to bring me a hamburger and fries on one plate as it does to bring me a lobster and baked potato on one plate.

I do not tip on the amount of the bill but on the service I received. Sometimes on the hamburger plate I might leave a 50 percent tip and a much smaller amount in the larger bill.

By anon72164 — On Mar 22, 2010

I'd like to know when the heck tipping became mandatory. It used to be a reward for a job well done. An extra out of the good heart and generosity of the diner, now it's expected and even taxed on? come on.

By anon13743 — On Jun 03, 2008

The 8% allocation rule is a requirement placed on the employer not the waiter or waitress.

Here’s how the 8% rule works:

The employer has to determine if the employees have reported tips in the aggregate of at least 8% of the establishment’s gross sales subject to tipping. To put it another way, the employer adds all the establishment’s gross receipts (sales where tipping is involved). Then the employer figures 8% of that number. If all the employees’

reported-tips total less than that 8% figure, the employer figures out the difference between what the employees

reported and the 8% amount. The employer then allocates that difference among all tipped employees. If an employee

reported less than the allocated amount to the employer, that allocated amount will appear on the individual’s Form W-, Wage and Tax Statement, in the box titled Allocated Tips.

Even if waiters or waitress have to report 8% of total sales for the year, they won't be taxed 8% of total sales.

IRS will tax them 8% * their tax rate(ex. 20%).

As the theory above, the good tip for poor service will be


It is 1.6%.

For $50 dinner, it'll be 80 cents.

Leave some quarters, not pennies.

By malena — On Dec 26, 2007

Have you heard that TIP is an acronym meaning "to ensure promptness"?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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