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.